In their own words
Our Maths — No Problem! journey
At Three Bridges, we began to change the approach to the way we teach mathematics in the summer of 2013. There were a number of factors that lead us to change. Firstly, we were looking to truly change the way children engaged in learning at our school. We were unhappy with the idea that mathematics should be something that is ‘done to’ children.
While our test scores were high, our success at creating lifelong learners in mathematics was low. Secondly, as the curriculum was beginning to align with our belief that all children should be moving through the curriculum at broadly the same pace and challenge should exist for all learners, we were keen to find a programme that aligned with that belief.
As a school interested in practice-based research, we immediately began exploring the different avenues that the world’s top performing jurisdictions were using. Time and again, enquiry-based models seemed to be dominating among the world’s top performers. Canada, Singapore, Japan — countless others — were enacting curricula that were explicit about the belief that children are much more than empty vessels to be filled, and should be at the centre of problem-based curriculum that had a regular and in-depth focus on problem solving.
To get the process rolling, we read as much as we could about these approaches and their practical implications. Under the tutelage of skilled practitioners and experienced educators, we began forming the initial components of what we now believe to be a strong problem-based lesson structure. As a team, our school engaged with the literature and identified key ideas. We noted what we believed we were already doing well, and the areas in which we believed better was possible. In a culture of collaboration, autonomy and trust, we went back to our classrooms and enacted what we could do better. We would meet regularly as a staff team to discuss what was going well for us, and what we were still struggling with. In essence, we used the same approach as a staff team to develop excellent practice that we would expect from the children: to explore, structure, reflect, revise and define. This year-long focus was one of the most creative periods at our school.
Maths — No Problem! in our school
The impact of Maths — No Problem! in our school has been widespread and overwhelmingly positive. For the children, they have lost the belief that maths is not for them — every child at our school is a mathematician. The children are involved in every aspect of the lesson and nothing is done to them or for them. They are independent, collaborative, creative and resilient learners. They enjoy the learning experience, and our results have never been better in any area of the school. For the adults, the most common phrase from the time we started this change was “I wish I had been taught maths like this.” There is a tangible feeling that every child can achieve and that every teacher can succeed. The Maths — No Problem! materials were designed at a perfect time for us, as we were just completing our in-house research and teachers were asking for a resource that had daily, incremental problems linked to the curriculum and support materials to enhance their content knowledge.
We have a firm belief that nothing is ever finished at Three Bridges. We have a great maths programme now — but know that things can always be improved or refined to improve the experience. We regularly use Lesson Study to focus on learners and learning, all the while refining our practice based on our own research findings and experiences. We draw on the expertise of research, other schools, and each other to constantly improve our practice and refine our methods. In the last year, we have refined our approach to journaling by comparing our own to that of Singaporean schools. We have also enhanced our anchor charts with a renewed focus on key vocabulary, misconceptions and patterns/rules uncovered in the anchor task.
In the last two years, we have hosted over 200 schools and 500 school leaders and teachers from across the UK and Europe. We have had international visitors from Singapore, New Zealand and Canada as well. We have provided bespoke consultancy and advice to a number of schools in the Greater London Area and surrounding cities. This has served to sharpen our own practice and enhance the great practice we’ve seen in other schools. While we are nowhere near perfect, we are great partners as we firmly believe in learning together. We have the benefit of three years worth of mistakes, wrong turns and successes and we have the experience of helping many others.