It wasn't like this in my day;Mathematics

23rd May 1997 at 01:00
Maths can be fun. Gill Pritchard and Julie Shields explainhow their school's event took everyone by storm

I never liked maths," and "I can't do maths," are some of the all-too-frequent comments of parents as soon as the word "maths" slips into the conversation. And with few children rating maths as their favourite subject, staff at Stocksfield Avenue Primary School, Newcastle upon Tyne, realised the subject needed a major overhaul.

The appointment of a new maths co-ordinator, staff Inset looking at aspects of the subject, and an injection of cash from the school budget (always popular) all helped raise the profile of maths throughout the school. But staff wanted more - we wanted maths to be equated with enthusiasm and vitality.

Pupils and parents had to be targeted - to show parents the scope of the subject and how it is taught, and demonstrate to everyone that maths is fun.

Teachers came up with the idea of a "maths focus", planned as a one-day event. But as the ideas and suggestions snowballed, the timetable was extended to a week.

The week started to take shape with the planning of a series of workshops for parents. Various visitors were also invited to share their expertise.

The result was stunning. Maths was everywhere. The school buzzed with excitement. The workshops were a runaway success, with parents joining in, playing games, helping with activities, and, in the words of one mum, "having a great time, and what's on tomorrow?".

The tired old saying "Maths wasn't like this when we were at school," took on a new meaning.

Of the celebrity guests, Liz Meenan, Channel 4 schools' education officer, captured the attention of Year 6 and brought alive the relationship between maths and art. Folding paper into kites, rhombi and parallelograms, and highlighting the impact of colour, she created dramatic patterns - work that will be permanently included in our curriculum to strengthen understanding of shape and space.

Meanwhile, Geoff Giles and Bet Sampson, of maths consultants Dime Products, helped develop spatial awareness, using their Build Up materials. The pupils rose to the challenge, twisting and turning to make the desired shapes - lateral thinking was much in evidence.

Maths demands some basic computation skills. But these, too, were seen in a new light. Children from Year 1 to Year 6 benefited from the carpet tile numbers brought by Geoff Faux, an independent maths consultant from Cumbria. Addition, subtraction, place value and tables, each had its turn as the children worked with the huge squares.

The Evening Chronicle Maths Challenge taxed Year 4, with the children using and applying their knowledge as they worked out the cost of advertising, looked at sales figures, followed the TV guide - and read the paper.

Rod Bramald and Peter Whitfield from the universities of Newcastle and Northumbria respectively offered a similar challenge to Years 1 and 2. Creating buildings with Multilink was one thing, but working out the taxes and cost of windows added a further dimension, while Peter Whitfield's Maths Circus had the children involved in maths activities from basic computation to shape, space and measure.

Daily competitions offered challenges to the whole school. Parents particularly enjoyed trying to work out the combined age of the staff.

A family quiz had a huge number of entries, and homework, with a maths flavour, was completed by everyone - and handed in on time. (The prizes may have helped.) The week ended for Years 4, 5 and 6 with a presentation by children's TV presenter Johnny Ball. In an entertaining but demanding programme he challenged the children to think, support their answers and look at the methods they could use - giving a lesson on the history of tables on the way, and showing how many discoveries relied on maths. His comment "If I can do this so can you," made the children think, and raised aspirations and self-confidence.

The infants held a maths sing-along on Friday, charming parents and, in the words of the maths rap, echoing feelings across the school: "Learning maths is as easy as can be."

The event was a great success, even though it involved a tremendous amount of work. But what next? The enthusiasm and interest generated must not be allowed to fade away. Maths games for homework, inclusion in the school's scheme of work of some of the week's activities and a maths club are some of the ideas put forward to ensure that "maths is fun" is a frequently heard phrase in school.

If you want to repeat our success, make sure you:

* Involve the whole school

* Start advertising the event to parents in good time - some may want to take time off work

* Reassure parents they don't have to join in if they don't want to

* Go for maximum publicity. Invite advisors, staff from neighbouring schools, the press

* Keep governors informed and up-to-date - they can help with the advertising, answering parents' queries and telling people how good it is going to be

* Allocate a budget

* Think carefully about who to invite into school

* Contact celebrities early - their diaries are booked well in advance

* Ask directly how much guests will charge - be honest if you cannot afford their fees - they may reduce them for a good cause

* Barter if appropriate - offer to do something for them if they can help you by coming into school

* Check on details such as travelling expenses

* Explain your aims and what you would like each guest to do - ask for their input and use their ideas

* Enjoy it!

Gill Pritchard is headteacher and Julie Shields is maths co-ordinator at Stocksfield Avenue Primary School, Newcastle upon Tyne

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