What we learned in our first year teaching maths for mastery

|4 min read

Editor’s Note:

This is an updated version of a blog post published on December 11, 2018.

Last September, we were all set to start on a new adventure: teaching maths for mastery using Maths — No Problem! Two whole school training days had been led by Maths — No Problem! trainers, the books were all in school and the concrete resources had been delivered. It was time to jump in and get started!

Getting started

The Maths — No Problem! approach was very different from the way most of us had taught in the past, so we weren’t sure what we were getting into. No matter how much training you’ve attended or how many Maths — No Problem! videos you’ve watched, there comes a point when you just have to go for it!

As expected, the first few weeks of implementation were frantic. As the largest primary school in the UK, we’re lucky enough to have a specialist maths lead. Our maths lead supported this approach across the entire school, modelled teaching and answered questions. This made a huge difference to teacher confidence.

Our maths lead also made sure that their monitoring processes aligned with the approach. It was important that lesson observation expectations didn’t prevent teachers from removing differentiation by task or seating the children in mixed-ability pairs.

Our school’s progress

When we look back at where we were at the start of the year, we’re amazed by the progress made by both children and teachers. Our data shows significant improvement and more importantly, attitudes to maths across the school have transformed.

Pupils are resilient, engaged and able to explain their reasoning and talk about their maths. They use their knowledge flexibly and make connections in their learning. The initial weeks of pain have paid off: there’s no way we would go back to our old approach now.

So, what have we learned?

Managing change is never easy. For us, the benefits of a mastery programme outweigh the challenges of making the change. We hope these tips will make it easier for you to implement a teaching maths for mastery approach in your classroom.

1. Model expectations

We need to start off by showing children exactly what we expect of them, or how they need to work things out. Children can only meet our expectations if we’ve made those expectations explicit.

2. Give them resources

Yes, it will be noisy and chaotic to start with as you and your pupils get used to using resources. If you set clear ground rules and give children “exploration time”, you’ll soon get past that pain.

You may notice more discussion as the children explain their ideas to one another. Working like this will boost their understanding. They’ll see that maths is no longer abstract — it’s hands-on and visual.

3. Explain their reasoning

Getting the answer is no longer good enough, we need to know how children got there. The word ‘because’ is now embedded in our pupils’ everyday talk about maths.

When a child learns to explain their reasoning to you, you have a window into their thinking. This allows you to address any misconceptions they reveal through their explanation.

4. Let them work in pairs

Encourage them to talk to each other, discuss their work and try new things. Prompt them to find as many different ways of solving a problem as possible. This not only builds resilience but deepens their understanding of mathematics. Finding three ways to solve a problem is a clever day!

5. The children are learning and so are we

Progress is a succession of small steps. It can be overwhelming to focus on everything you still want to work on while in the middle of managing change. So it’s important to take a step back and celebrate the gains already made.

If you commit to improving your pupils’ mathematical learning, you’ll end up in the same place as us now — comfortable with the approach and seeing considerable progress made by our pupils and teachers. Looking back, we’re amazed at the transformation that has taken place. We’re looking forward to the possibilities for further improvement next year.

So what are you waiting for? Go for it!

This blog was originally published on Dec. 11, 2018 and updated on Dec. 13, 2021.