Putting fun into the equation

9th February 2007 at 00:00
Take girls who are floundering in maths, subtract the pressure of coming up with an answer, add the fun of working in groups and what do you get? A leap in results. Hannah Frankel reports

Girls are conscientious high-achievers, right? Well yes, but what happens when that same sense of purpose actually hides the fact they are struggling? That is what is happening with girls in primary maths classes according to national numeracy strategy consultants, who blame inefficient methods.

Instead of multiplying six by four, for instance, they are laboriously adding up four sets of six and so masking their need for extra help. By the time they are 11, girls who did well at seven have fallen behind because they have not mastered key techniques.

"Girls are not always prepared to take risks," says Carole McIntyre, a senior director of the national strategy. "They don't necessarily want to draw attention to their difficulties. It means the most able girls, who should be getting level 5, are not doing as well as the brightest boys."

But the Cognitive Acceleration through Maths Education (Came) programme is starting to redress the balance. About 200 primary schools have embraced the project, which was developed by Professor Michael Shayer at King's College, London. It follows a similar programme involving secondary science, called Case, which was successfully piloted 22 years ago. Teachers and research suggest Came is having a considerable impact on maths results.

Through encouraging pupils to think and discuss mathematical problems when they are 10 and 11 years old, the emphasis is on the process rather than arriving at the correct answer - something which particularly appeals to shy girls.

The Grafton School in Holloway, north London, introduced the programme five years ago. Since then, the number of pupils gaining level 5 in maths at key stage 2 has leapt from 18 per cent in 2002 to 56 per cent last year.

Meanwhile, 90 per cent now get at least level 4 in maths, up from 78 per cent in 2002 and well above the national average of 76 per cent. And all this from a school where 60 per cent of pupils have special needs and more than half are eligible for free school meals.

"These are not privileged pupils, but the quality of speaking in class is exceptional," says Marie Michaelides (above), a teacher at Grafton and one of the first primary teachers in the country to train in Came.

Staff report that it has transformed their teaching and all subjects have benefited. The number achieving level 5 in science has more than doubled from 34 per cent in 2002 to 79 per cent last year.

"The difference between level 4 and 5 is application," says Marie. "The programme allows pupils to take what they know and apply it to any situation. But because lessons start at a basic and visual level, both special needs pupils and those with English as their second language can access it as well."

More than half of schools in west Berkshire are using this approach, both for 10 to 11-year-olds, and in a similar programme called Let's Think for five to six-year-olds. At Hungerford Primary School, girls now have the confidence to share their ideas with the rest of the class, safe in the knowledge that they have discussed it with a classmate beforehand.

"The pupils are so much more enthusiastic about maths now," says Geoff Downing, the maths co-ordinator at Hungerford.

"Their enjoyment, motivation, understanding and quality of response have all been enhanced. To see the children smiling in maths is marvellous."

Alan Edmiston, an education consultant and Came tutor, believes the project is reversing the public's perception of maths. "People think it is all about getting the right answers and practising drills and routine, but that turns a lot of pupils off.

"This programme is the antidote to competition and pressure. It gives girls the confidence to take their time in class, think things through and then talk about it. The results speak for themselves."

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HOW IT WORKS

Each Came lesson is split into episodes which consist of a teacher's introduction, pupils attempting a challenge in small groups and then sharing their findings with the class.

Each episode (there are usually three per lesson) is then built on until the pupils are discussing quite complex concepts.

This way, pupils are never far from doing a practical activity which involves plenty of discussion.

Came courses involve 12 training days over two years and cost pound;1,500 per person.

GETTING THE RIGHT RESULTS

The Year 5 pupils at Grafton School are visibly excited about their Came lesson, which they have once a fortnight.

To begin with, they discuss why it is important to work collaboratively.

"Because two brains are better than one," says one boy. The other children nod earnestly, putting into practice their newly-learnt listening skills.

Teacher Marie Michaelides introduces the topic of the lesson: football results. After a brief explanation, each pair of pupils is given a full-time football score such as 2:3 and is asked to write all the possible half-time scores. In the ensuing class discussion, they have to explain their method.

Through open-ended questions, Marie guides them towards realising that a systematic approach prevents any possibilities being left out.

Eventually, pupils are using algebraic formula to express the rule.

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