Multiply the magic of maths

19th November 2004 at 00:00
It was great to read the letter (TES, October 22) that called for mathematics to be not only useful, but "a source of delight and wonder, offering pupils intellectual excitement".

However, for most teachers it appears that there is lack of clarity on how they might "create a mathematical culture which embraces creativity". A recent study of experiences in Reception classes (Drummond Moyles, 2004) highlighted a need for teachers to "re-examine the values and priorities of their approaches to numeracy teaching" calling into question the limited value of certain aspects of teaching maths and emphasising "the low level of cognitive demand".

A major new study (TES, October 29) raises many questions concerning the way in which our youngest children experience maths - and the way in which it is taught. It points to an emphasis on teaching to the test and teachers' difficulties that result in lessons that "fail to challenge and extend the thinking of their pupils". Our research shows that teachers need clear guidance on how they might embrace creativity and challenge and extend the thinking of pupils.

One significant study we carried out highlighted ways in which children in Foundation and key stage 1 can engage in deep levels of thinking about maths. It shows the tremendous range of creative responses children use as they develop understanding of written calculations and explore abstract symbols. We have also explored the pedagogy that supports such deep mathematical thinking.

Our research has uncovered huge misunderstandings concerning the exisiting guidance for teaching written calculations. Rich, deep and creative children's thinking about mathematics is sorely needed.

Our current research focuses on teachers' beliefs about creativity in maths. It shows that it is seen only in terms of symmetrical "butterfly" prints, making patterns with blocks or playing in the sand. While these can have an important role to play, they do not guarantee deep levels of thinking. Significantly, they do not support children's understanding of the "written" language of mathematics.

Kevan Collins, the director of the National Primary Strategy, points to the catch-up sessions that have now been introduced for children who are low achievers - but it is important to ask why they might be achieving at a low level from such an early age.

The forthcoming Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Co-ordinating Centre report calls for in-service training for teachers.

This may be just what is needed - unless all that is offered is more of the same.

What is clear is that young children urgently need a new vision to support their learning in mathematics.

Maulfry Worthington

Elizabeth Carruthers

Children's Mathematics Network

5 Globefield

Topsham, Exeter

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