Maths - Explore the topics

21st September 2012 at 01:00
An approach that's successful in English adds up for maths, too

As in so many other schools, our writing results dramatically improved when we taught literacy as part of our other class topics. What helped the children was that they were familiar with and enthused by the matter they were writing about.

I have always tried to teach investigative maths and maths that relates to real life but, while my teaching of literacy was becoming more creative, I felt that my maths lessons all too often became textbook-based.

Our deputy head made a brave leap of faith. If it worked for writing and we believe in the power of real-life maths, why not have topic-based maths? We continued our usual maths lessons most days of the week, but on Fridays we introduced an extended lesson that incorporated maths into the class topic for that term.

At first, I experimented. I tried investigations and topic-based lessons - and sometimes both combined. Our English results had benefited from Talk for Writing as well as a topic-based approach. As Talk for Maths has always been a school aim, I tried to include it in the Friday lessons as well.

As part of the Explorers topic, I created a session in which pupils used Google Maps to plot an imaginary bicycle route around Britain. Initially the pupils had a limit of 50 miles a day, but then, later on, a budget and we started to visit restaurants and hotels along the way. This complemented our calculation and money work in a way that helped to make sense of the lists of sums we had practised.

During our Aztecs topic we studied chocolate, using Dorothy Heathcote's "mantle of the expert" teaching approach to encourage pupils to become make-believe designers of chocolate boxes after working on 3D nets. And as the pupils acted as mathematicians, they became inspired to do additional learning at home, bringing in PowerPoint presentations and leading the mental warm-ups.

Preparation for the Friday lessons took longer than for other maths lessons, especially for single "stand-alone" sessions. However, I found that the planning became easier as pupil-led work spiralled to provide new learning experiences.

Now the autumn term is upon us, I'm looking forward to teaching a topic-based maths lesson every week rather than once every blue moon. My new Year 4 pupils will have a curriculum that empowers them as mathematicians, ignites their enthusiasm and inspires independent out-of-school learning.

Jon Makepeace is a Year 4 teacher in West London.

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