Joy when the maths adds up

29th January 1999 at 00:00
Elaine Williams and Karen Thornton report on mixed reactions to the daily 60 minutes of numeracy and reading

"Yes!" Arms punch the air, pupils are jubilant. You might think that these Sheffield children had been given the day off school due to adverse weather (lots and lots of snow everywhere), but the triumph among Shirecliffe junior school's Year 4 was entirely down to getting their maths right.

It's surprising - though it shouldn't be - to see pupils so animated by arithmetic, and the staff have been impressed by the enthusiasm and concentration shown by their classes during this pilot of the Government's numeracy hour, due to be introduced in September.

On this occasion, pupils were celebrating their quick oral response to the sum of 38 plus 39. They were learning about working with "near doubles" and Roxanne was at the front explaining in shy, halting terms the process used to reach her answer - she doubled 30, then doubled eight, added them together, and then added one. As she did this, other pupils' hands were waving wildly in the air desperate to respond as well - hence the cheering when the correct figure was revealed.

Corina Giles, the class teacher and the school's maths co-ordinator, worked her pupils at a fair pace. Sitting close together on the carpet around her feet, they spent the first 10 minutes adding and subtracting in units of 10, as she exacted quick oral responses, moving rapidly from pupil to pupil, always requiring an explanation of how they came by their answers.

During the 40 minutes when pupils learnt about "near doubles", she constantly required them to explain the processes of their calculation, moving them on with praise and encouragement. During the last 10 minutes of the session, pupils seemed keen to show what they had learnt, vying to test their new-found knowledge before the class.

Sheffield has 24 schools taking part in the numeracy project and is investing an enormous amount of time in staff training.

Shirecliffe elected to be involved in the pilot due to its low national test pass rate in maths (42 per cent last year) and is dedicating 90 per cent of its INSET budget to maths this year. A struggling inner-city school in a poor area close to Sheffield Wednesday's Hillsborough ground, Shirecliffe is determined to raise standards.

Corina Giles believes the pace of maths now being taught and the emphasis on developing mental and oral number skills by discussion, is capturing pupils' attention and achieving real progress.

She said: "Pupils are far more interested in maths now than when they were working through maths schemes individually. They enjoy learning mental strategies; they're not frightened of tackling problems any more."

Shirecliffe's pupils are not the only ones to make progress. Gillian Cooper, a Year 4 teacher who has also received training for the numeracy project, believes she too is gaining in mathematical agility. She said: "I was one of those that struggled with maths at school, but now I'm really enjoying it."

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