Case study: Liz Holloway, Fir Tree primary, Berkshire

31st March 2006 at 01:00
In Years 5 and 6 we use a programme called cognitive acceleration in mathematics in education (Came). We've been teaching it for the past three years and already we've seen a big change in children's attitudes to the subject.

Came was developed at King's College London and was recommended to us by a local authority maths consultant, Sue Clarkson. It appealed to me straight away. It uses maths as a vehicle for developing problem-solving and thinking skills. Not only is it a lot of fun, we've found that it motivates children in a way that the national numeracy strategy sometimes fails to do.

It also makes children aware of the practical uses of maths. They no longer ask, "what's the point?". Came gets them to consider problems connected to the real world, and apply their knowledge of mathematical concepts to come up with a solution by metacognition and bridging.

One lesson centres on desk design. We were having the school refurbished when I first taught this, so it was easy to see its real-life relevance.

There was a lot of measuring involved, as we tried to find the optimum-sized desk for people of different ages, as well as rooms of different shapes or sizes. When you've considered the specific challenge in question, you can make bridges to other situations, and consider where similar thinking would apply. In this case, my Year 6 group began to understand why they had to be 1.4m tall to go on some of the rides at Thorpe Park.

Once children realise that maths isn't just something you learn in a classroom, but is actually something that's happening every day out in the real world, they become more motivated. And, of course, everyone loves solving problems. It's satisfying, especially when a light suddenly seems to switch on in a child's brain as they achieve and overcome the conflict within the problem.

When we're doing "thinking maths", there isn't a great deal of recording in exercise books. It's more a question of talking about problems, and perhaps jotting down a few calculations. The children are learning from each other, by sharing ideas. It can be liberating for those who don't like the idea of writing everything down. They still have to do the number-crunching, and they still have to have a good grasp of mathematical concepts, but they find it more exciting to work together creatively.

We still teach all the elements of the numeracy strategy. The cognitive work takes place over and above that. One of the problems with the curriculum is that it can be hard to make routine maths fun. It's not like literacy, where you can have great stories and use your imagination. It's understandable if some children find learning the skills boring or difficult. But once they understand how they can apply those skills, it's a different matter.

Came is written for Years 5 and 6, but right from Year 1 our pupils are encouraged to think using the Let's Think approach - a resource for five and six-year-olds - rather than just learn in a passive way. It's probably too early to say what effect teaching "thinking maths" will have on our Sats results. Sats only test learned maths skills, but the confidence and positive attitudes that the programme has nurtured must make a difference.

Came develops a different kind of numeracy; it leads children to a deeper level of understanding. When our pupils move up to secondary school they're better prepared for the type of maths they'll be learning at GCSE. It's nice when children go away and think for themselves, and then come back the next day still asking questions. I find that exciting.

Liz Holloway is maths co-ordinator at Fir Tree primary school in Berkshire.

She was talking to Steven Hastings

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