"Mr Tennant, Jonny still can't do long division. Should I be worried?" Parents' evening was stretching inevitably into its second hour and I was faced by an odd dichotomy. The concerned parent was focused on a gap in her nine-year-old son's mathematical knowledge, whereas I had been thrilled with what my class had achieved so far that term.
My pupils were motivated, engaged and loved the challenge of problem-solving. Indeed, the calibre of their enquiring natures was outstanding. They were making mistakes, learning from them, and using cooperative learning and peer-to-peer discussion to discover solutions without being prompted.
How to convey this to Jonny's parents? Then a light went on in my head: I should put the parents back in school.
On the day of the lesson, 32 parents filed into the classroom, looking a little nervous. As a warm-up I gave out calendar pages with the names of the months removed, and asked them to arrange the pages in the correct order, working in pairs. I was quite surprised when they immediately started discussing strategies. Three minutes passed, and correct answers were spread neatly across each desk accompanied by contented grins.
Next, we played a few strategy dice games before discussing the merits of the activities. The conclusion was that they had been fun and inclusive. "Perfect," I said. "That's the point."
Over the next hour and 20 minutes, I put questions on the board (x + 24 = 38) that gradually became harder (x(3) + 2x - 4 = 432.875). The "class" listened to their peers to agree on the most efficient methods and all answered correctly.
At one point I asked, "What have I taught you so far?" One parent shouted, "Nothing!" He was right. I had introduced a question and then acted as a mediator, while each problem was discussed and the solution presented collectively.
By the end of the lesson I think they had begun to grasp the point. I concluded with an excerpt from a presentation on YouTube, "Did You Know?Shift Happens", which explains the world we live in and what the future might hold for our children. It highlights that the children who leave our schools need to have learned how to learn.
The feedback from the session was overwhelmingly positive. One parent wrote: "I felt that I had been brought into the 21st century by your explanation and demonstration of today's maths. I appreciate all you are doing for my son and trust you will give him confidence to solve problems with a curious mind."
The entire venture was completely worthwhile. I have even booked a repeat performance for next term.
Andrew Tennant is head of maths at Davenies school in Beaconsfield and is maths subject coordinator for the Independent Association of Prep Schools. Watch "Did You Know?Shift Happens" at: bit.lyDidYouKnowYouTube
Encourage your pupils to work together: try the TES Collective Memory maths collection for inspiration. bit.lyCollectiveMaths
Help pupils to remember basic angle rules in a team game from nottcl. bit.lyAngleRules.