Melanie Bowden, mathematics subject leader at Sandon JMI School in Hertfordshire, explains how the school has effectively communicated with parents to encourage them to support and get involved with pupils’ learning
The National Curriculum for mathematics demands a new way of learning; the objective being that all pupils will become fluent in the fundamentals of mathematics, through varied and frequent practice, with increasingly complex problems over time.
It isn’t difficult to understand the government’s reasoning – teaching children in a way that allows them to develop a conceptual understanding of maths, which will in turn lead to an ability to recall and apply knowledge accurately and effectively, is fundamental to building confidence in adulthood.
Our own journey started with supporting all staff in getting to grips with changes to the curriculum; we provided additional resources so that teaching methods could evolve. Furthermore, we recognised that to achieve a high level of success, we also needed to encourage the whole school community to be a part of that process and embrace this new method.
We began by focusing on the ‘parent’ tab of our website. Our website hosts information for parents such as: internet security, the school uniform policy and events, but we also added a section entitled ‘Supporting Your Child’s Learning at Home.’ Here we illustrated a number of maths fact sheets for each key stage, which explained to parents some of the different methods of calculation.
These sheets provide links to online films so that the methods can be demonstrated and easily replicated.
However, we understand that parents are busy people, and communicating successfully with them needs to be appreciative of their needs. We therefore decided to provide an additional concrete representation of maths which parents could take away and refer to.
In order to do this I started by adapting our Calculation Policy as the current version was too long for parents to read. I condensed it into a short booklet which aims to outline the progression of calculation from Foundation through to Year 6. Whilst, we live in the 21st Century and are encouraged to adopt a paperless environment, it is important to understand how best to communicate with our parents. Storing information online is important, but a booklet that they can take away with them and read at home has produced a higher level of interest.
Despite hosting the fact sheets online and handing out the booklets, we couldn’t expect parents to instantly understand the new methods of teaching maths: learning through the application of a broad range of mathematical skills to solve a problem. We decided to communicate with parents from all possible angles, and invited them into school to discuss our goals and ensure they understood how they could help. During this session, we used games such as Battleships, dominos, card games and snakes and ladders to illustrate ways in which parents could share the teaching of mathematical concepts and use the opportunity to develop their child’s mathematical competence.
Alongside parental involvement, we have found that pupil voice is also key to improving the experience of learning. Recently, I met with the school council who expressed an interest in additional cross curricular maths activities. We believe that pupil voice is so important.
Not only does it provide an insight into children’s thoughts but equally children feel they have been listened to. As a result of a meeting, over Easter, our whole school homework project was to design and produce hats that would illustrate mathematical thinking. This not only gave children the opportunity to link art with mathematics but provided time at home to discuss maths in a fun and engaging way.
Certainly I believe my role is to try to ensure children are excited about learning so that in the future they grow to be adults who will wish to continue to learn. This will in turn mean that they become able to contribute more independently and effectively within society. In order to achieve this, we need to support both parents and children to understand and appreciate how fun maths can be. Most of us grew up in a learning environment where maths focused on facts, and involved reciting times tables, and repeating individual mathematical skills. For some this generated a negative view and has in some cases resulted in adults who feel they ‘don’t like maths’. We believe changing this opinion is a vital part of helping children thrive.
ONLINE LEARNING AT SCHOOL AND HOME
Therefore, part of our journey has been to help change parents’ mind-sets when it comes to maths, and as a result, ensure their children develop a positive view of the subject. Parents may not realise the potential damage they may be causing when they offer ‘sympathising’ words of “Oh! You poor thing, is it maths today?” or “I won’t be able to help you I always hated maths”, when their children come home with maths homework.
It is alarming the power of such comments, in turning a child away from learning to love and enjoy maths. After all, maths is everywhere and sooner or later they will enter adulthood and have to use it every day.
Whilst we encourage children to use mathematics in different learning environments, one of the key areas they enjoy is technology. We therefore decided that it was important to implement an online learning resource that worked in-line with the new curriculum’s requirements and one that could also be used with their parents at home. We reviewed a few primary maths resources, but for us, Matific was exactly what we were looking for as it adopts a fun problem solving approach to learning.
For each online activity, the children have to reason mathematically by following a line of enquiry, conjecturing relationships and developing a justification of how to solve the problem. Another priority we believe is for children to feel that it isn’t necessarily about getting the correct answer, but the process and the reflection afterwards, which hopefully leads towards success. The software helps us to achieve this by ensuring that every pupil operates at their own level to explore various mathematical applications.
Each week we focus on an area of mathematics and then children are encouraged to compound their learning by attempting tasks at home. They love it and enjoy showing their parents what they can do.
It is early days, but we certainly feel that by including parents in their child’s mathematical development, introducing maths across all areas of the curriculum and implementing Matific as part of the home-school learning process, our pupil’s achievements and enjoyment will continue to improve.
Of course, depending on the IT hardware that each child has access to, it may not be possible to do this at home; we therefore set up a ‘Homework Club’. What we actually find now is that most children use computers or mobile devices at home and then also come to the club. As all activities are mapped out as a learning pathway, each child can start at their current level, and work at their own pace.
In order to assess the impact, I sent out a survey to both parents and children to gather feedback. The main reason was to ensure both parents and children were involved in our assessment of the product as we value their opinions After all, why would a parent bother communicating with their child’s school if they felt their views weren’t taken seriously?
All parents surveyed responded. The majority said that their children were increasingly more enthusiastic about maths. Others wanted to stress how much they enjoyed sitting alongside their child at home while they were doing the fun online activities.
It was also interesting to note that some children and parents wanted to know what level the children were being given. Whilst Matific is levelled, this isn’t something I want to focus on; there is of course a starting point, but from there, children are encouraged to progress at their own rate. Equally any unit studied might provide a different starting point, so levels will not be consistent across the board. We are proud of our community’s attitude towards mathematics.
Children recently stated in a whole school council meeting (Foundation through to Year 6) that they enjoyed mathematics. Personally, I was absolutely delighted and will continue to research effective methods to support this in the future. I firmly believe that our approach to the teaching of mathematics, alongside the involvement and communication with parents, created a positive learning experience for the future. L