Maths has a reputation for being a subject that pupils can find daunting, abstract and inaccessible, even if it is essential in everyday life.
Sarah Imbush has been head of maths at Southend High School for Girls in Essex for six years. Since taking on the role she has been looking at strategies to increase engagement and attainment in GCSE, AS, A-level and further maths. Her aim is to remove the stigma from the subject and to make it more visual.
Imbush has used a variety of approaches to get her pupils more excited about maths, but has had particular success with video. Today, she creates fun videos with pupils, offers online mentoring using video conferencing and uploads recordings of her lessons so they can be rewatched.
Video screencasts came first. Imbush started by offering a mentoring scheme: she worked in the evenings with pupils who were in danger of not hitting their targets.
She now holds evening video conferencing sessions three times a week, as well as a regular Sunday evening event for Year 11s to help them revise for their exams. Interestingly, it is not only the target groups who tune in: a few pupils below Year 11, even some in Year 7, often log on to find out more about maths.
Imbush now records her lessons during the school day, so pupils can watch them again at home or see them online for the first time if they have had to miss a day. Imbush believes that the advantage of filming a "live" class rather than pre-recording an introductory video without students (which would be closer to the "flipped learning" model) is that you see the pupils' interruptions and questions. This gives her a chance to take pupils' questions into account and reiterate important points.
Recently, she and her pupils have created entertaining short videos tackling hard-to-grasp topics. They have even performed song-and-dance numbers for videos entitled Which is Your Favourite Circle Theorem? and Wanna Make the Graphs Dance?
So far they have created six of these films, though Imbush says she is now under pressure to make more, as some pupils are complaining that they have not yet performed in one.
Tips from the scheme
Don't be afraid of using online tools - video editing is surprisingly easy.
Bring passion to your lessons. Imbush says that, for her, maths is a fascinating thing and teachers should share that passion.
It is important to create as much variety as possible and listen to feedback. As Imbush says, you cannot please everyone but you can give pupils the opportunity to find one of the many things you offer appealing.
Evidence that it works?
The mentoring scheme began by identifying 36 pupils who were in danger of missing their targets in maths. All 28 who agreed to get help from the online mentoring scheme met their targets, and one pupil even went up two grades. The school reports that maths has become more popular among the pupils.
Meanwhile, Imbush's videos have also proven popular with teachers at other schools. She has uploaded some to O2's Learn homepage and won two O2 Learn Best Lesson Awards. The school received #163;4,000 and now has the chance to win another of the annual O2 Learn Best Lesson Awards along with #163;80,000 of prize money.
To get an impression of the videos, see: bit.lyGJSZGs and bit.lyI6dCQd. All the O2 Learn videos can be found on the TES Resources site.
Approach: Using videos and video conferencing to make maths more visual and exciting
Leader: Sarah Imbush, head of maths
Name: Southend High School for Girls
Location: Southend-on-Sea, Essex
Type: Academy grammar school
Age range: 11-18
Ofsted overall rating: Outstanding (2011).