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Let's go clubbing

Sally Taggart has been amazed at the response to her after-school sessions

When I asked teachers at the Mathematical Association's conference this year why they wanted to set up a maths club, the responses were varied. While a few admitted they wanted to show off, most had more worthy reasons. These included occupying pupils, giving them an alternative to sport, providing opportunities for governors and parents to join in, developing ideas for lessons and encouraging different age groups to learn together.

Some clubs are more of a maths clinic, while others are add-ons to chess or computer clubs. However, most clubs in primary and secondary schools are designed to cover a range of topics away from textbooks and schemes of work.

My own maths club at Hadleigh High School in Suffolk is run at lunchtime for Year 7 pupils. It provides an opportunity for them to explore new areas as well as to build on previous knowledge. It is not restricted by topic, time allocation or the national curriculum and pupils have a choice of activity. Each week, they can choose to do puzzles or challenges - quizzes, treasure trails and making mathematical models.

They enjoy coming with friends from different classes and many have made new friends while developing their skills. Pupils often encounter some of the games later in their lessons and take pleasure in knowing what to do and how to win.

At St Felix Middle School in Newmarket, David Morley adopted a modular style for his club. To keep enthusiasm high, he organised after-school sessions of three weeks of problem solving, three weeks of model making, followed by computer mathematics and then SATs revision, with a gap between each module. This successful club was open to all, but particularly targeted Year 6 pupils.

St Mary's Church School, in Hadleigh, has a thriving after-school club which attracts about 50 of its primary pupils. All ages and abilities are catered for. It is run by headteacher Stephanie Holt, assisted by four parents. She provides a host of activities, including cooking to use weighing and measuring, physical activities for early years, and bingo, with differentiated questions, puzzles and investigations. The feedback has been very encouraging, especially from the middle and upper ability ranges who love to feel they can get their teeth into something new. Having run the club for a year, Stephanie has been delighted with the response and has noticed a marked improvement in key stage 2 results.

So what do you need to start your own club? At this point I need to reminisce. When I announced the launch of my first maths club in the late 1970s, I had set the programme and made a few games, inspired by two courses run by Peter Wells and Brian Clayton who were maths advisers for North Yorks and Calderdale respectively. I anticipated about 10 children.

Panic set in when 94 turned up on that wet Monday in January.

Fortunately my colleagues took off their coats or put down their marking and pitched in. That was many years ago, at a middle school in Bradford.

The content of the material being used has been adjusted as I have moved from middle to primary, from infant to sixth-form, and now to high school, but in essence it still relies on its tactile appeal and teacher and pupil enthusiasm.

From experience then, it is important to consider your organisation in three parts: lMake the games, puzzles, brain teasers, nets of models etc (simple instructions, equipment within a zip bag where possible).

lArrange the target group, venue, staff and time.

lThink of a way of introducing the club to pupils and a means of gauging how many will attend.

A humble poster or announcement can be successful but, to introduce the maths club at Hadleigh High, I begin by visiting our seven primary schools and inviting the Year 6 pupils to come along with their parents for an evening of games.

The evening begins with a brief presentation in which I explain the purpose of the games and the mathematics itself, then we all move into the dining hall which has been set out with games.

We've had more than 100 people attending and feedback has been encouraging, with comments including: "It was so much fun, I forgot I was doing maths", and "A lovely relaxed atmosphere - certainly an event I shall look forward to attending again".

For us, it gives us the chance to see children and their mums and dads laughing, finding out and playing together. It gives us the chance to promote maths as an enjoyable experience and it introduces parents to the teachers in the maths department and most of all, its good fun.

Sally Taggart teaches maths at Hadleigh High School, Suffolk

Email: office@hadleighhigh.

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