"We use any available practical materials," says P2 teacher Liz Brown, "including the children." She has just been showing her class that 5+8 is the same as 8+5, using groups of children up at the front of the classroom. It may seem obvious to us, but sudden glimmers of understanding in various corners of the classroom suggest this is a concept that needs a bit of ramming home.
We are used to seeing pictures and words on classroom walls. But at Langlee maths is finding its way on to the colourful collage. A frieze shows fruity numerals from one apple to 10 strawberries; numbers from 10 to 20 are written out in full on different coloured pieces of card; and squares, triangles and pentagons jostle for space with alphabets and seaside murals.
Then Sheila Lowe, development officer, numeracy, puts the class through their paces on the number grid. Using an overhead projector, she gets individual children to count along the line of their choice, familiarising themselves with numbers and the patterns they make. Then she puts little additions up on the screen, and asks for answers. A right answer is never enough. Craig says 6+7 makes 13, but how did he get that answer? "I knew 6+6 was 12, so 6+7 had to be one more than 12." Amy gets 9+7 to make 16, but how did she do it? She made the 9 into a 10 and the 7 into a 6 and added them together. The emphasis is always on the pro-cess, the working out, rather than just getting the sum right.
Children who are having particular problems are seen by Sheila Lowe in groups of six to eight every Tuesday. She gets them to count handfuls of different objects, making a game out of seeing how many bottle-tops they can get into one hand. They also work on a number line - a simple vertical line of numbers from zero to 20, which is used to give a visual crutch in adding and subtracting. Then two days later she takes the whole class for a session, consolidating the work done in the smaller group. "They are the ones who might not volunteer answers in the classroom; the work in the smaller group gives them the confidence to take part more."
As far as the numeracy project goes, the P1 and P2 teachers at Langlee are aware that pupils are becoming comfortable with bigger numbers, and that the whole-class practice is getting across the message that numbers are fun to play around with.
"The basic idea we want to get across is that maths is something we do need to know about for everyday life," says Sheila Lowe. "It's not more sums off the board or another worksheet. It's seeing the patterns in numbers, actually verbalising them, and showing the practical use of number."