From start to finish

Marjorie Gorman looks at ways to get more out of maths lessons for infants

The aim of the daily three-part numeracy sessions is to create balanced lessons focused on a particular aspect of mathematics. They are split into a whole-class introduction, followed by differentiated activities then a plenary discussion.

While the middle part is easy to do, beginning and ending lessons has proved harder. Teachers' uncertainty about how to make best use of the start and end of the sessions, combined with a desire to meet what they saw as Ofsted's demands, meant that fun maths disappeared from many schools.

Inspectors, however, really long to see more creative teaching, and by being more creative you can also stimulate the pupils and get more out of the daily numeracy session for both them and for you.

Beginnings

The starter session's aim is to get pupils thinking mathematically. At key stage 1 there needs to be a balance between the familiar, to give confidence to the less able, and new material to challenge the more able.

The mental skills involved in the starters need to be varied. Young children love repetition but enjoy surprises. Counting in unison is a good starter, but it can become tiresome, so ring the changes by asking children to whisper or shout numbers, clap, stamp their feet as they call out, start from different numbers and count backwards or forwards. Aim to extend the range of the counting a little each day.

Visual stimuli and props reinforce learning and are fun - a poster, a grid a number line or even a sheet of colourful wrapping paper. I have a telescopic pointer which children love to use to demonstrate something to the rest of the class. Puppets and bags and boxes can hold numbers and shapes, and puppets can also be used to "hide" parts of shapes or numbers, and to "ask" pupils what may be missing.

Put number lines along the floor that the children can walk, skip or jump along. Pupils enjoy "pegging" number cards on a washing line, or wearing large numbers to make a "living" number line. Number lines and grids help children develop mental images of numbers and their relationships. Use the grid on the flip chart or OHP, or occasionally on the floor with the children in a U-shape round it. Keep the children involved by choosing several of them to place transparent counters on the grid to support class counting activities. After a while remove the grid or ask the children to close their eyes and see if they can count just as well without support.

Endings

Plenaries are a time for children to reflect on what they have learned during the lesson and for the teacher to assess progress. Variety is vital.

A quick recap of what you have been doing can be alternated with asking pupils to show answers to questions using digit cards or number fans, or asking individual children to describe to the rest of the class what they have done, encouraging reluctant talkers and those who have problems with the maths.

Another possibility is to present children with a challenge that explores what they have been doing. Allow them to talk to a neighbour for a few moments if they are daunted by the task, then take individual answers without indicating whether they are right or wrong. You may find that some have misconceptions that need discussing. For example, after a lesson on odds and evens, I was surprised to find some children thought 30 and 50 were odd numbers because three and five were odd.

The plenary is also the time to make links. Suggest things for the children to look out for around the school (such as shapes) or give them simple homework activities that will reinforce what they've been learning.

Remember to allow more time for plenary sessions that round off a unit of work so that you can recap what the children have done over the whole unit.

Resources

Posters from Tarquin Publications, Stradbroke, Diss, Norfolk IP21 5JPGrids and telescopic pointers from Educational Initiatives, Cardew Farm, Dalston, Carlisle, Cumbria CA5 7JQ Fax: 01228 711090Number cards and fans from Beam, 72a Southgate Road, London N1 3JT Fax: 020 7684 3334

Marjorie Gorman is a maths consultant

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