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All the fours

q I have recently taken on my first teaching role in a primary school and find that I have a maths graduate as learning support worker. She is very helpful, but I feel inadequate as teaching maths was never my strong point. How can I get more confidence?

a There always seems to be someone with more skills than we think we have.

This can be at any level. But even some professors of education have never been school teachers, despite their title. Then we have those that are right there with us and because they have been in the classroom and still return on a regular basis, they can and do empathise. Theory is all very well but practice is perhaps more important. How does your maths graduate feel? I wonder if she watches as you work with a pupil explaining a particular concept - thinking in awe, "wow, I really hadn't thought of that".

The next time they teach a pupil they will almost certainly use one of your techniques or ideas. You also have knowledge of other subjects that she probably doesn't have. Let her know that you admire her knowledge in maths, and prepare some work together. Make sure you set the ground rules and how you want your teaching assistant to work with you. This is helpful for her as well. Should you still find it difficult then I would suggest that you make an appointment to speak to your headteacher, who will have a wide range of experience and will provide you with guidelines on how to work with your LSW, perhaps having a meeting with both of you. Alternatively heshe might suggest that you work with a different teaching assistant.

Q Have you any ideas for bringing times tables to life?

A Learning should be fun. Get the class to focus as a group on one of the times tables, eg four. Brainstorm about what sorts of things occur in fours, eg tins of cat food, desks arranged in fours and so on. For homework, ask them to collect or draw pictures or cartoons of items that come in groups of four. Make a wall display of these. Use the photocopier to present the table visually, eg one pack of cat food, two packs of cat food and so on. Then use this to create a cross-curricular link to English by asking pupils as a class or in small groups to write a poem about the four times tables. This can be done with each of the tables. Your contributions are welcome and may be published on

Send poems or digital photos of your display. Inspire others around the world! Your letter stimulated me to write the following poem: Four times table

When I multiply four by one, Really the fun has just begun.

Come on and let's explore; The answer, why yes it's four.

When we come to four times two With people standing in a queue, The total legs the bus await Must always come to eight.

Three lots of four, Can I be sure?

Networks I delve To find it's twelve.

Carpet tiles, four by four, Put down pair by pair.

The total we have laid; Sixteen the square is made.

Five groups of four Will give us a score A score is plenty, Because it's twenty.

Four children are sitting at a table, Working hard when they are able, There are six full tables in the hall, Twenty four, if you count them all.

Netball teams of seven to be sought!

Four from all the children taught.

That's a total twenty-eight to choose, Making sure that we don't loose.

Eight, 'Four' packs of cat food Loud purring! Judge their mood.

It's as if they really knew, The number of cans is thirty-two.

Nine plants in a tray.

Four trays bought to day, Creating a nice pick and mix That makes in all thirty-six.

Ten millilitres of medication will lead to a 'bug' eradication.

When taken four times each day Forty millilitres to chase it away.

Multiply four by eleven Well that's just heaven You couldn't ask for more The pattern gives us forty-four.

This verse really begs!

Four boxes of twelve eggs, Piled high upon a plate the total comes to forty-eight.

Wendy Fortescue-Hubbard is a teacher and game inventor. She has been awarded a three-year fellowship by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) to spread maths tothe your questions to Mathagony Aunt at write to TES Teacher, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX

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