It's a numbers game

22nd October 2004 at 01:00
."All children should be given the opportunity to excel in maths," says Leanne Dale, whose enthusiasm knows no bounds. She is about to embark on a video-conferencing project that will help to break down the traditional boundaries between schools and enable her to teach alongside fellow professionals as if they were in the same classroom. The exercise aims to address the current shortage of maths teachers and not only offer support to students who may have missed out on specialist teaching, but also help staff with their professional development.

Leanne Dale is assistant head of maths and director of e-learning at Manor College of Technology in Hartlepool. She is a lead maths practitioner for the Specialist Schools Trust and is known for her skills in using ICT to engage learners of all abilities. Next month, she will begin a team-teaching project with teachers at the Freeston Business and Enterprise College in Wakefield, via a two-way video-conferencing link. Staff will employ a range of ICT tools, including software created by Leanne.

She says: "Freeston was having difficulty recruiting maths teachers, and we were keen to offer our expertise. But because the school is two hours'

drive away, that was going to be difficult. I talked to the supplier RM about the potential of video-conferenced maths lessons, and this seemed like such a good opportunity to apply the technology."

Lessons will be aimed at Year 10 pupils at a stage in their careers when the lack of a specialist teacher can be sorely felt. Leanne says: "At key stage 3 it is not so much of a problem, but come KS4, if students haven't got a teacher who is confident in the area, they can feel badly let down."

At Freeston, where the school day ends an hour earlier than at Manor College, students will get the chance to join an after-school club aimed at improving their maths. They will be linked with Leanne, who will be taking one of her timetabled classes. "I will teach both classes and the students will be able to see each other and talk to each other - that's why this is so exciting. I don't see the point in them just watching me on a screen - the pedagogy behind that kind of video-conferencing isn't valid in my eyes.

I really want two-way interaction, and I hope that eventually the children will be able to work on problems or do investigations together in pairs, each pair spanning the two schools."

She will work on an interactive whiteboard using software that Freeston teachers will also be able to call up on their boards, and use as a follow-up to the lesson. MathsAlive, RM's interactive maths package, will feature strongly alongside Vital Statistics, which Leanne designed. She says: "It covers GCSE statistics up to grade C level. It is very visual, and a teacher can develop it to teach real-life applications of statistics, encouraging students to think about how they interpret pie charts in newspapers or figures in surveys. It is about maths for everyday life."

She insists that students should play an active part in lessons, so they will all be issued with handsets that will allow them to vote in class discussions and quizzes, with each school's results appearing on its own whiteboard. "A lot of children learn in a hands-on way, and it is important that they see maths as a hands-on subject, rather than something that involves sitting in rows watching figures go up on the board," she says.

"When we run quizzes, we might even indulge in a bit of friendly competition between the two schools."

The mathematicians will also be supported online via the Manor College Online Learning Environment (MOLE), which gives them round-the-clock opportunities to practise their skills and get support with homework from tutors. Manor College students are enthusiastic users of the system, chiming in at all hours. One primary-school pupil who attends Saturday morning masterclasses at the college was so keen to submit her maths homework that she logged on one evening from Corfu while she was on holiday with her family.

Freeston pupils have already tried MOLE as part of a "virtual summer school" run during the holidays. "The idea was to give students some work over the summer, so they wouldn't have a six-week gap in learning," says Leanne. "Much of the work was on general maths, English and ICT skills - all based on solving problems relating to everyday life, and all assessed online."

All Hartlepool schools were offered free access, and funding was secured to enable staff to be available in schools so students could ring up or come in for help. Freeston received no funding, but one teacher logged on frequently to help from home. The service was originally intended for students going into Year 11, but many schools said they also wanted to support pupils entering Year 10.

One video-conferenced lesson a week is planned, and colleagues at Manor College are on hand to help should demand grow. "To be successful, this needs a classroom environment in which everyone can participate," says Leanne. "What we don't want is a theatre full of children - because they will end up just watching the screen."

She believes the main strength of the exercise is in its potential for professional development. "There is a real demand for maths teachers, and it is very difficult to get people into the profession and keep them," she says. "This project gives teachers the chance to share good practice and see other people's skills. I am also hoping they will see the motivation students get from ICT, and that they will want to try out new ways of teaching."

Earlier this year Leanne was named as the North East and Cumbria regional winner of the "innovation" category of this year's Teaching Awards. The national winners will be announced at the Teaching Awards ceremony in London on October 24.

Her advice to fellow professionals: "Be prepared to try something different - even the best teacher in the world can learn something from making a new contact or exploring a new technology."

Stats for students

* Vital Statistics software can be used on a PC or an interactive whiteboard. Leanne Dale says: "Seven years ago, when I began teaching, I was conscious that maths had become very academic. But there were students who could be successful in a maths-based skill, even though they couldn't grasp the algebra and the trigonometry. So I began offering a full GCSE statistics course, but discovered I couldn't find any engaging resources."

She took a year to develop the content of Vital Statistics in her spare time, and Manor College funded the prototype CD-Rom, developed by local software firm DDL.

For more details contact Cambridge-HitachiTel: 01223 325013


* MathsAlive

Interactive maths software from RMIS designed to help teachers to plan and deliver motivating maths lessons that incorporate stimulating games, investigations and challenges. It is aimed particularly at key stage 3 - a complete KS3 scheme of work is included - and Leanne Dale will be using it to help KS4 students to revisit tricky territory.

Tel: 08709 086868

* ClassAct SRS

Student response system from LJ Technical Systems that provides handheld keypads which students can use to answer quiz or test questions and cast their vote in class debates.

Tel: 01603 748001

* ClassCampus

Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) from LJ Technical Systemsis a software package that provided Manor College with the tools for developing its online learning environment (MOLE). Teachers at the college create the learning content.Tel: 01603 748001

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