Pupils look back on Maths — No Problem! (Part 2)
“The way it was set out, the visual way, especially the bar modelling, sets you up really well for senior school maths.”
— Sophia, 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 were 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: This is Part 2 of the post. Read Part 1 here. Questions and responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Victoria: How did it work if you ever missed a lesson?
Olly: I remember I missed the lesson on fractions. I remember coming into school the next day and I was confused. I didn't know what was going on. It was a completely new method to me. So I went around the classroom — there were extra seats where you could perch and ask people for a hand. And I remember, I easily caught up because they knew what was going on and they knew how to explain it to me, so I could easily catch up.
Victoria: Do you think the format of the lesson helped you with that? At the beginning you had the Explore Task, which let you experiment amongst yourselves. Then you got into the workbook, and it builds up step by step, doesn't it? So it's not suddenly in at the deep end.
It helps you with problem solving.
Olly: Yeah, definitely. I could see if I could figure out myself what was going on. We had whiteboards in the front and then if I couldn't do it, that's when I would go around, asking people if they could help me. And normally the answer was yes, and I remember easily catching up with the lessons I missed.
Roger: How did Maths — No Problem! and what we did with it in the prep school help you in Year 7, Year 8, now in Year 9 and going into GCSE next year. What has it given you for where you are now?
Will: I never used to like maths before I came to Wellington. That’s where I started doing Maths — No Problem! That made me really change my mindset on maths and I really started enjoying the lessons from then. So then as I went through into the senior school, my opinions on maths were completely different. And I actually enjoyed the lessons.
I never used to like maths before I came to Wellington. That’s where I started doing Maths — No Problem!
Olly: It also helps you with problem solving, especially the bar modelling. So going through different lessons where problem solving was required, that really helped me just improve my problem solving as a whole.
Sophia: The way it was set out, the visual way, especially the bar modelling, sets you up really well for senior school maths. It definitely reinforced my understanding of algebra and helped me out in Year 7 when I was trying to get my head around that. So the fact that I already knew about that helped a lot.
Robin: It made me enjoy maths more. It became something that I looked forward to, and I carried that forward into Year 7. And then we got on to senior school maths, and I didn't enjoy it as much.
Roger: Is that because they changed how the lessons were run?
With Maths — No Problem! there were multiple methods you could use.
Robin: Yeah, absolutely. It wasn't such a chatty thing. It wasn't such an interactive thing. But with Maths — No Problem! there were multiple methods you could use. And there was always something to talk about and to work with.
Roger: What's your attitude to maths now?
Sophia: I've always really enjoyed maths as a subject and I definitely enjoyed the lessons when I was in Year 6. But now that we've gone back to more normal maths — that is, traditional maths and the way of teaching it — I still really enjoy the subject and I like doing the work, but I find the lessons not as engaging or as interesting.
Roger: Do you have some kind of future aspiration for maths?
Sophia: I think I'm definitely going to take a maths A level, at least. I don't know about degrees or anything yet, but yeah, definitely.
Victoria: A lot of the points you've mentioned, collaboration and problem solving, the multiple methods Robin that you talked about, does that apply to other subjects that you're doing at the moment? Take the maths out of it, but do all of those things come into your learning across the curriculum?
The skills that it's given us, the collaboration and the problem solving, are applicable across all of the subjects that we do.
Sophia: Definitely, yeah. The skills that it's given us, the collaboration and the problem solving, are applicable across all of the subjects that we do. I know that in biology, when there's maths questions, I know that it's other skills apart from maths but it makes you think about the question, you know, because sometimes the way that these questions were worded can be quite confusing. So it definitely makes me read the questions a couple of times and really think about what I'm doing and what I'm writing.
Victoria: And that kind of ‘can do’ attitude, that you're not you're not going to stop until you've found the solution, which is something that I saw in a lot of you in Year 6, that's sort of embedded without you realising it now. Would you say that's fair?
Sophia: Yeah, definitely. There was no shame in being wrong at all. Especially with this because we could talk, and getting it wrong was almost an opportunity to go and speak to other people and learn about how they've done it and their methods.
Chatting is a good thing in a maths lesson, not a bad thing.
Question from the audience: What makes a good maths teacher and what would you tell your maths teacher from Year 4, before you came to Wellington?
Will: I would definitely tell them that chatting is a good thing in a maths lesson, not a bad thing. And I would also change the way of just going up and getting a sheet and then once you’ve completed that sheet, getting a new one. I think you should go through that with the people in your class or the ones you’re sat next to and compare answers and then debate your answers and your results. And then you might have a different answer to the other person and they can explain it from there. That's what I’d change.
Olly: A good teacher is someone you can have a laugh with but also somebody who you can also get the work done with. I've got some fond memories from Year 6, and it's all sort of jokes but we also did a lot of work and we got it all done. So I think as long as there's that funny aspect, and you're still getting the work done, I think that's what makes a good teacher.
Maths should be treated like a collaborative subject.
Sophia: Maths should be treated like a collaborative subject. At the moment, our lessons are different then they were in Year 6 because they're so independent. A good maths teacher should respect that conversation about maths is a positive thing and not always a negative thing. And I think it should be encouraged by good maths teachers, because discussion about a method, and different ways people have done it, is really important to develop how we think about each other. Now in maths lessons, we don't discuss methods at all. It's so different from what it was like in Year 6. I definitely preferred the Year 6 way.
Andy Psarianos, Maths — No Problem! Founder: First, I want to thank you all for coming. I think it's fantastic that you guys took time to come over here and talk to all of us. My question to the four of you is, what advice would you give us, having gone through the programme?
Robin: Extend it to beyond where it is. Add it to the other year groups. Please.
Roger: How far would you go?
Robin: As far as possible. Year 8, Year 9, whatever.
Having it through Year 7 and Year 8 would prepare you for GCSEs quite well.
Will: Having it through Year 7 and Year 8 would prepare you for GCSEs quite well. It would mean that you don't lose your love for maths just before you're going to take your GCSEs. It would mean that you keep up putting all that effort in and then you'll probably do better in your exams, because you're loving it and you work well with the class.
Sophia: Yeah, rolling it out to older year groups would help, because I know that there was a big, big change from Year 6 to Year 7. And it just sets you up so well as a foundation. I think to build on that would be really, really good and much more enjoyable. I think I'd enjoy maths a lot more if I was still doing this.
Victoria: Can I just add to that with my SEN hat on, one of the things that works so well with the children that I support is how visual it is, how colourful, you've got characters you can relate to, the predictability of the lessons. They know what format it's going to be taking, you've got the Explore Task you can do together and then they're a bit more independent in the Guided Practice and then they go on. It also applies to real-life situations, a lot of it is about food — cakes, pizzas, doughnuts, that kind of thing — but it's something that my students can't really relate to. And suddenly you lose that when you go across to senior school. And it's just black and white numbers and letters. So for my students that I support a lot, that visual element and the feel that that gives you from the workbook is really enlightening for them. It'd be great if that could be extended.
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