Assessment + creative thinking = making maths fun

7th May 2010 at 01:00
Teachers are finding imaginative ways to meet the challenge of the new curriculum

While tensions rise over the introduction of Curriculum for Excellence in August, and secondary teachers call for more guidance on assessment, many are working creatively to give the new curriculum and assessment methods a try.

Some can be found in the unlikeliest places, such as the maths department, where skills and knowledge still need to be gained incrementally through repetitive tasks that can seem pointless to pupils. But that doesn't mean modern methods can't be made to work, says Robert Jones, principal maths teacher at North Berwick High.

"I'm not alone in wondering what assessment will look like in the coming sessions," he explains. "So, having watched a Teachers TV video, I felt inspired to try an activity that might reflect the principles of assessment in Curriculum for Excellence. It wasn't a big deal, but the outcome was interesting."

The video he watched shows a class working on the graphs and equations of the straight line.

"The teacher handed out some materials and just said, `Impress me'," says Mr Jones. "The pupils then worked in groups, and assessment was of what they did and what they said, to her and each other."

Following the viewing, Mr Jones devised an S2 lesson on money, wages, VAT and exchange rates. "The big difference from what I'd normally do was that I told them at the start that the aim was to produce evidence of what they'd learned during the topic. Then I asked how they might achieve that."

Suggestions included a test ("loud boos from classmates") and questions to use with the interactive voting system. In the end, the pupils settled on making posters.

"I've done this many times as a way of letting a class reflect on their learning and pull together a topic," says Mr Jones. "The difference here was that I was very clear about the fact that this was an assessment activity. We were doing it to gather evidence of their learning."

The experience was more satisfying than a traditional maths lesson, says S2 pupil Harriet Nicholls. "Making posters is more fun than formal assessment such as a test. You get to express your understanding of what you're learning in more depth.

"I also liked how you got to talk to people in your group. You could explain it, do an example, then show people how you did it and why. We've done posters before in other subjects - but not like this, not for assessment."

As he walked around the class during the lesson, pupils asked for guidance or approval of what they were doing, says Mr Jones. "I'd then ask whether or not they felt it provided good evidence of everything they'd learned. This seemed a very powerful question. They always responded by going back to their posters, adding more or amending what they already had."

Curriculum for Excellence talks of a wide range of assessment techniques, he points out. "So this is only one of them. But it is one that seems to work well. The challenge, of course, is gathering and keeping all the evidence it gives you. How do I capture the conversations? Now I know they have real formative benefit. They also provide me with lots of information about the learning of individual pupils that I lose very quickly."

Video or audio recording are obvious possibilities, but viewing and editing whole lessons would be very time-consuming. "It's hard to see that being manageable," he says, sounding a little discouraged. Then another idea occurs to him.

"Of course, I could hand that whole job over to the pupils. I could give them control of editing and recording what they do and say during a lesson.

"I think that would work."

- Teachers TV: Assessment for learning in maths: www.teachers.tvvideos3346

- Robert Jones: http:twitter.comjonesieboy.

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