Pupils look back on Maths — No Problem! (Part 1)
“I don't want to do maths alone. I want to work with people and learn.” — Robin, Year 9 pupil
At our recent conference in Manchester, we were privileged to hear from a group of highly articulate Year 9 pupils about what it was like to go through the Maths — No Problem! Programme in primary school a few years earlier. They appeared on stage with their former teacher, Roger Hitchin, maths lead at Wellington Prep, and Victoria Lyon Taylor, a member of staff at the school.
Here’s what the pupils — Robin, Sophia, Olly and Will — had to say looking back on their Maths — No Problem! experience.
Editor’s note: The questions and responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Roger: What do you remember about the lessons?
Will: Maths — No Problem! was a lot of fun. Everyone got involved. It was very inclusive. We chatted about the work throughout the lesson. It’s actually fun compared to most maths. You didn't just sit there if you couldn't do it. You wanted to complete the work. You’d ask everyone, get stuck in. It was seen as very cool to complete the work. So we were always trying to finish before anyone else and find the best, most effective method.
Roger: You joined us in Year 5. What was your maths like in Year 4 and below?
Will: In Year 4, we would go up to the front, get a worksheet, figure it out, then go up, get another one, and just keep going through worksheets, sitting in silence. And if you talked, you’d basically get told off. Maths — No Problem! is so much better, because if you're stuck, you haven't just got the teacher to ask. You can talk to your peers sat next to you. And they might explain it better than the teacher. They might have a way that makes more sense to you.
‘It was so much more collaborative’
Roger: Did you look forward to the lessons?
Sophia: I've always enjoyed maths, but it made it much more enjoyable the way that it was. It was almost like a social occasion, because there was so much conversation. It didn't feel like a lesson. It just felt like hanging out as a group but also doing the work.
Roger: You miss it, then?
Sophia: If you compare it to maths now, I’d so much rather go back to doing this than what we're doing now.
Robin: I do have some memories of what we were doing before Maths — No Problem! when we just, say, did timetables, and that was just boring. No offence, but it was. I don't want to do maths alone. I want to work with people and learn, rather than read and repeat.
‘I don’t want to do maths alone. I want to work with people and learn.’
Roger: You were and still are able students. You are good at your maths and I know some of you will be doing your GCSE next year a year early. So, with mixed ability, what was in it for the able, what was in it for you guys?
Robin: If we had finished, there might be something else, or we would help those nearby that would struggle.
Roger: Why was that good?
Robin: Because it helps them learn and it helps us learn and remember. If you had finished, there always would be someone to help and to work through it with. If you were occasionally struggling, and you were one of the strong ones, there would be someone else who had got it and there was always something to work for.
Roger: Olly, where was the challenge for you?
Olly: The challenge was definitely — so, there was, what was it at the end of the book, you know, make your own questions?
‘If you had finished, there always would be someone to help and to work through it with.’
Roger: Mind Workout. Or you might even have ventured into journaling territory here, where we came up with our own questions based on what we'd done before, because you could pitch them at your own level. You remember those?
Olly: You make those and then pass them over to people who were at the same level as us. They challenged us, because they were quite difficult. So they were a good challenge for the people who were definitely a bit quicker than the others.
Roger: So Sophie, when you came into Year 6, you told me that in Year 5, you used to finish the lesson, and your teacher would say ‘there's no more that you can do.’ So tell us a bit about what the challenge was for you [of the mixed ability class in Year 6].
Sophia: Once you had completed the work, there were other people in the room that hadn't finished it, and if they were finding it slightly harder, then the extra challenge was to go and try and explain it to them. Because you know, sometimes the teacher's explanation doesn't work for everyone with everything. And you know, I think it helped them to hear it from someone who had worked it out themselves.
‘Sometimes the teacher's explanation doesn't work for everyone with everything.’
Roger: Okay, to turn that on its head then, surely if someone was struggling or wasn’t sure, they could just wait for you to come round and tell them what to do.
Sophia: It was more about the process than it was the answers. Because we all worked together so well, we all wanted to get to that answer as a group together. It wasn't about completing the work because there was always more to do. It was really about trying to understand it, trying to get it so that you could join in with everyone else.
Roger: Anything to add, Will?
Will: If you're not as able in the class, then there'll be those people that can help you, and if you are more able, then just go around and your extension — if you complete all the other extensions, the top extension is just go around and help the other people to work. You’ll always give them something extra, even if the teacher tried explaining it, and other peers tried explaining it, there will always be something that you can add, which might just click.
‘ It was more about the process than it was the answers.’
Roger: What happens if you get stuck now?
Will: If you get stuck now, you put your hand up, wait. There will probably be a few of you because we set it at school, so it's all the same ability. So if you’re stuck, there might be other people who are stuck as well. So there will probably be a few of you with your hands up. And you're waiting to have your question answered. So you might be waiting 10 minutes just sitting there getting no work done. And that's just not effective at all. So looking especially on Year 6, you have those people that will just help you. And then you can still work throughout the whole lesson without having to stop and just wait.
Roger: It really brought us together as a class.
Will: Yeah, definitely. Everyone just got involved and everyone was really close. No one got left out or excluded.
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