Mission Maths

For the last term, I have been experimenting with and tweaking how I plan, organise and teach maths. Changing schools at the beginning of this academic year has given me the ideal opportunity to reflect on the way I do things. This is the first post on this and as I develop the ideas I will write further posts. All comments and ideas welcome, as long as they are constructive that is!

Why the need for change?

I have always enjoyed and been fairly successful when it came to teaching maths (even if I do say so myself). I enjoy teaching the subject, the children enjoy thinking mathematically and learning about the subject and make progress. However, saying this, my organisation and planning hasn’t always been the most structured or necessarily coherent process at times. With this in mind, I have begun to develop a structure to use when planning and teaching specific blocks or units of work. I wanted to pull together three key concepts which I believe have played a part in the success in the classroom to date: self-selecting of levelled lesson work, assessment, and a clear teaching sequence (review, teach, practise, apply, and review). Input from Gareth Metcalfe via Twitter (@gareth_metcalfe) has been invaluable. I would recommend following this gentleman if you haven’t already.

The school I moved to last Summer had already put in a lot of work converting the ‘old blocks’ (A1, B2, C3 etc.) so that each would incorporate new objectives and fit the New Curriculum. Are they perfect? No! There are things which need tweaking and changing slightly and will be added to as we go. However, do they provide a structure to help teachers think about their planning (Pitch and Expectations)? Definitely! Alongside our new assessment system for Maths (Assertive Mentoring), they provide a picture of where each child and class are at and where to go next. Please note that we have also started the process of tweaking and changing the Assertive Mentoring system model so it fits how we want we want it to work in our school.

Where do I go after that?

Using the assessment system (half termly tests and teacher assessment), gaps are identified in both the children’s individual knowledge and the class’s knowledge as a whole. This gap analysis is then used in conjunction with the planning framework (blocks) to plan out a method of attack. Which of the gaps are we going to tackle and when? How does this fit into the overall framework? For example if the children are struggling with adding and subtracting fractions this would be tackled in a block or unit (3 or 4 weeks) on fractions (equivalent fractions, comparing and ordering fractions and adding and subtracting fractions including different denominators) rather than on its own. The overall block framework ensures that the lesson planning process doesn’t just become a knee-jerk reaction to the assessments (teaching to the test).

Once a block or unit (3 or 4 weeks) is decided upon, it is broken down into smaller chunks. No point trying to eat the elephant all in one go! Our weekly timetable includes 5 maths lessons of which 4 are reserved for our block or unit and one is specifically used for Maths Skills development. Therefore a block may take 12-16 lessons. Each block may be broken down into smaller elements. The structure is flexible and requires teachers to use their professional judgement when deciding how long to teach each part of the unit and how best teach it.

Here is a rough progression for a recently taught fractions block:

  • Calculating equivalent fraction by multiplying and dividing (simplifying) – recap
  • Adding and subtracting fractions with the same denominator (including commutativity)
  • Adding and subtracting fractions by converting one fraction (3/4 + 6/8)
  • As above but converting all fractions using a common denominator
  • Adding and subtracting fractions, decimals and percentages
  • Move onto comparing and ordering fractions, decimals and percentages

I am under no allusions that this rough progression may not be the correct or best way of teaching it but it has worked well in the past. I started by revisiting equivalent fractions. Unashamedly, much of the work early on was mixed ability whole class instruction with the children selecting the level of difficulty of the work they began on. Once completed, this work was marked and formed the basis of the next lesson. I identified a ‘Misconception’, ‘Consolidation’ and ‘Extension or Challenge’ group. I (the class teacher) worked with the Misconception group to make sure nobody was left behind, the TA/LSA worked with the Consolidation group on further practise questions or their Next Steps from the marking and I set the Extension or Challenge group a task to complete in small groups or independently.

Sometimes I use Gareth Metcalfe’s First Class Maths and Maths Apprentice resources, alongside Nrich and other website resources, for these extension or challenge activities. These may be left until further on through the unit, once more content has been covered. For example on the fraction unit progression above, we worked through until the whole class have covered adding and subtracting fractions using common dominators before moving the children who were confident and accurate onto problems and puzzles which relied on Applying what they’d learnt. This gave us further time to consolidate with the other children.

Points for Consideration

As I said earlier I am not an expert in the area. I think about the best way of teaching content and concepts but I am not always right. In fact, shock horror, I get it wrong! This approach is one that I have been experimenting with this term but parts of it (e.g. self-selecting of levelled lesson work) I have been using for some time. I have been pleased with the impact this approach has had and my HT, having seen it in action in the classroom a number of times now, is keen for it to be shared around the school. Saying this, it isn’t perfect and doesn’t always work. I am constantly adapting and tweaking. Please feel free to suggest any other ideas or options which I haven’t yet thought of or stumbled across.

Although guided by a few fundamental principles that enable it to work successfully, this approach firmly places autonomy into the hands of the teachers. Know what you have to cover in your year group, find out where the children in your class are in their mathematical development, set up the open ethos in your class in which children are prepared to work hard, get things wrong and challenge themselves, and how exactly it is organised in ‘your’ classroom is up to you. If you want more group work – great, if you want to vary who the LSA and class teacher work with – go ahead, if you want to teach certain elements in a different order because you think it will make it easier to understand – marvellous, this is what is so wonderful about our job: there are many different ways to metaphorically ‘cross the river’.

A few useful links:

A video of this approach working in Gareth’s class


A link to the First Class Maths (Maths Apprentice resource available on the same website)


2 thoughts on “Mission Maths

  1. Just catching up with your posts. Have you seen the game City of Zombies? It’s a maths game to help develop mental maths particularly. I can recommend it. Check out the website. just google City of Zombies. He’s on Twitter too @cityofzombies
    I also organise my maths lessons in such a way that chn can choose their own challenge level. We use mild, medium, hot, extra hot to describe the levels. My chn love this approach. You have to guide some a bit but it negates the need for maths ‘groups’.


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