Olympic spirit keeps numeracy skills on track

7th September 2012 at 01:00
The Games have inspired one secondary to improve personal bests in number skills. Jackie Cosh reports

Up and down the country schools have been running Olympics projects, using the event as a focus for learning. At St Luke's High in Barrhead, they incorporated the Games into their numeracy across learning.

It's not the most obvious choice of connection, but it's one that has been very successful and led to the school winning a "numeracy across learning" prize at the Scottish Education Awards.

The school took a group of children to London to visit the Olympics site. They looked at the business plan required, as well as the cost of running the Games and the sponsorship.

The idea, which began in the maths department, quickly developed into a whole-school initiative. Financial education is now well embedded across the school, says principal teacher of maths Iain Mclean.

"It has been well established over the last three or four years," he says. "We run financial education weeks for first-years and now run it across all our cluster schools. The purpose is to make it a coherent programme of work.

"Their teachers deliver it and we coordinate it. Some lessons have been across webcams. We have shared resources which staff can use and we meet regularly to ensure all are the same standard. It has been a very positive venture."

Topics covered vary according to year groups. Classes have had discussions such as "What would you do with pound;1 million?" - making the subject fun and using it as the basis for covering practical tasks such as how to pay for a holiday.

The London trip was so successful that another trip has been planned, this time to Wall Street, New York, and 40 pupils will visit the city in February next year.

With the help of the Royal Bank of Scotland, pupils set up a school bank, where they were interviewed for jobs and successful applicants received training on the use of numeracy skills involved in balancing and reconciling accounts.

The bank is open once a week on a Tuesday. Tellers calculate interest and the money is deposited in a local bank, with the youngsters receiving cashline cards.

The bank was also involved in other areas of the financial education work. "RBS helped us write the programme," says Mr Mclean. "That type of input is very valuable. Their Money Sense team has also been involved and we have had help from parents.

"Other agencies such as Citizens Advice have been in, explaining entitlement to benefits and discussing how to minimise the risk of credit - not to be afraid of credit but to minimise the risk of getting into debt."

Home economics and French worked together with the maths department on a Ratatouille project. Students watched the film in French and English before making the dish in home economics. They had to calculate the cost of making it, with restrictions put on money and on profit.

"We made posters advertising it, costed, weighed and measured," says 15- year-old Christopher McCloy. "We put together surveys, asking people if they liked it, and drew graphs of how many people liked it, and how many had tried it before."

Bethany Marr, 15, enjoyed a BP project. "We were given different scenarios to do with oil and we had to decide whether to buy or sell. One day there might be lots of oil, so we would sell. Another day there might be high demand, so the price would start to go up and we would buy before it went up."

While the maths department coordinates the programme, staff work closely with teachers in other departments, with numeracy mentors in place to support faculties in their work around numeracy skills.

"Each staff member in maths supports a different faculty to support numeracy being delivered coherently, so that there is a common language and methodologies being used," says Mr Mclean.

For some subjects the link has been easier to make than in others. In PE the pupils analysed results for the 100m race, 200m and the long jump. With the teacher's support they also worked out BMIs.

But the school has been careful not to bring numeracy into areas where it obviously doesn't fit. "We don't invent things for the sake of it," says Mr Mclean.

The result of the programme is that pupils are putting their learning into context and understanding where maths fits in to real life.

"Attitude to maths, as well as confidence and motivation, has improved. But it is too early to measure impact on attainment," he says.

"They are making connections with their learning and developing skills," says depute head Clare Creighton. "In terms of achievement, they have taken this confidence to other areas. Historically, when confidence goes up, achievement goes up.

"What these initiatives do is provide a platform to perform and achieve. The more we do this, the more confident they become and success follows. Numeracy across learning is just part of what we do. We genuinely work together to get outcomes for young people. It is just part of the bigger picture. Genuinely everyone works together."


A booklet of agreed strategies and methodologies was developed in order to promote consistent approaches to numeracy skills development, as well as a spreadsheet which indicates learners' progress through the numeracy outcomes and experiences.

Staff development sessions and moderation activities across the cluster have been organised to support a common understanding of numeracy standards.

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