The vast majority of Secondary schools teach mathematics in setted groups, usually based on prior attainment. Often these sets are decided at the very start of Year 7. Decisions about which set a student goes into could have monumental impact on how they access the mathematics curriculum. This year I have been teaching both a mixed attainment Year 7 and a middle set Year 9 class. For this blog post I’ve reflected on what the students and I have learnt together in these two very different environments.

Year 7 Mixed Attainment
To allow all students in my Year 7 group to be able to contribute to lessons, “goal-free” problems have become an integral part of my planning. These give the students the opportunity to reason mathematically without the added stress of “finding the answer”.

This visual prompt is part of a lesson on coordinates. The students have met coordinates in all four quadrants in Year 6 and this task allowed me to assess their current knowledge, and to get a feel for how they think.

This simple collection of points was a textbook question that has been stripped of axes, numbers, context and wording to lessen the restriction of a pupil’s thought processes. The labels allowed for students to refer to specific points immediately, though even these could have been removed.

Some students might simply notice things (A is above B), some might want to impress with vocabulary (the line formed by joining C and B is parallel to the x-axis), others might allocate numerical values for each point. I then write all their contributions on the board for the whole class to discuss and learn from – there are no right or wrong answers here. Having established shared vocabulary and concepts and built on pupil’s understanding, the next task could delve a little further into their understanding using sentence stems to guide students:

With a mixed attainment group, this exercise allows for reasoning and accessibility at all levels. Some students might think about how their answers would change for specific types of triangle, say right-angled or isosceles. For some, writing in sentences is a good start, which then might turn to a more mathematical answer with input from others in the class or the teacher. Some schools might even have iPads or laptops to allow for digital exploration. Most importantly, all are able to access the question and contribute to each other’s learning in some way.

Material from the White Rose Maths Secondary Schemes has similar tasks that promote discussion, sharing and group work, all of which are have proven invaluable in getting the most out of every student in a mixed attainment group, and building student confidence. These Schemes of Learning and resources are currently available for Year 7, all of which are FREE to download and use in class. Release of Year 8 Schemes will commence shortly for Autumn 2019 onwards.

Year 9 Middle Set
In Year 9, as my students start to prepare for GCSE work, their thoughts turn towards scores, ratings and rankings. This fixation is natural, given that they will be given a number from 1 to 9 to work towards for the end of KS4. I find myself making a concerted effort to disregard any talk of sets, “What are top set doing?”, “Will I move down?”, “What do I need to do to move up?” as this is seldom productive or helpful discussion.

Some students already had a fixed idea of how good (or not) they were at maths, and I soon realised that goal-free problems would work well here too, removing pressure of right or wrong and allowing everyone into the conversation. Using a similar structure to the tasks I had used with my mixed attainment Year 7s, wide gaps between student knowledge were revealed, even within a supposedly similarly attaining cohort of pupils.

Given the same collection of points on axes, and the question, “Which two points are furthest apart?”, conversations started about which pairs easily expose the distance between them, how many times longer some distances were than others, some measured and some used approximations. A handful postulated that the addition of a right angled triangle might reveal that Pythagoras had hidden yet more of his work amongst the coordinates. All from the very same set of dots that Year 7s had looked at previously.

Reflecting on these two cohorts, I find that goal-free problems not only open up maths for all the students, regardless of the make up of the class, but also reveal hidden links to other areas of maths for us teachers. To strip a problem of its question and its identity seems such a simple technique, but allows for so much scope and allow children to see the same image grow up alongside them, maturing in its mathematical richness and possibilities, just as they do with theirs.

Secondary Maths Specialist for White Rose Maths

What is GESS Dubai?
This February I had the pleasure of attending the GESS Dubai Exhibition for the second time, but my first as an exhibitor. I was accompanied by Jessica Easton, Head of CPD for White Rose Maths.

GESS Dubai (Global Education Supplies and Solutions) is an educational exhibition held at the World Trade Centre in Dubai. The exhibition saw 550 educational companies from 31 countries exhibit their educational resource or service to thousands of visitors. We were warmly welcomed by BESA (The British Educational Suppliers Association), who supported UK companies at the event. We exhibited alongside some of our partners TTS and Pearson, as well as many other companies who are providing educational services from textbooks and assessments to virtual reality robots to support work in the classroom!

Why did we make our debut at GESS Dubai?
Across the 3 day event, we shared the White Rose Maths vision to representatives from the Ministry of Education, directors, head teachers, and math subject leaders. There are many British International and local schools who are already using or beginning to implement White Rose Schemes of Learning and resources, to contribute to the improvement of their mathematics teaching and learning. However, it wasn’t just representatives from schools in Dubai who attended the event.

We provided information and guidance for schools from Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Abu Dhabi, India and Europe. Some of these schools had never heard of White Rose Maths and were eager to gather information from myself and Jess about our JIGSAW training and how we can support their schools – not forgetting those who were excited by the free pen giveaway!

Having led maths in a British International school myself, I have first-hand experience of the barriers maths leaders and teachers face when trying to access quality professional development for their staff. Since the introduction of the new UK national curriculum in 2014, and the shift towards a mastery approach to teaching this, it has become increasingly difficult for staff in large British International Schools to keep their subject knowledge up to date. This is fundamental to implementing and embedding a new scheme of learning and teaching approach. GESS Dubai was a fantastic opportunity to provide some guidance to schools who had come to the exhibition particularly to see us with key questions they wanted answering as they begin their mastery journey.

An exciting development for White Rose Maths CPD
Attending GESS Dubai was also an ideal opportunity to exhibit a sample of our Schemes of Learning, assessments and interactive whiteboard resources. We were also able to preview the forward-thinking online CPD we are developing, to support schools who are seeking easily accessible and cost-effective training.

Our CPD team have been working on developing a series of online tutorial videos, which will allow schools around the world to access and engage in our professional development. Our training has been broken down into small steps to create a series of consecutive online sessions, which are ideal to use in staff meetings or staff PPA time. They develop subject knowledge and contribute to the continuous professional development of individual staff and across the whole school. We showed a taster video of the online bar modelling session throughout the exhibition. Some of our visitors were starstruck when they realised the presenter in the video they were watching was Jess, and even asked for a photograph with her! This is an exciting development for White Rose Maths, and we can’t wait to release this online tool to schools in the future. Look out for further announcements on our web site and also by following us on twitter @WhiteRoseMaths.

How has GESS Dubai impacted White Rose Maths and our International links?
As a result of exhibiting at this event, we are receiving an increasing number of enquiries from International schools, including from Dubai and Nepal. We are thrilled to be visiting these schools to deliver training, and to see how they are using our free schemes and resources, in the near future.

We are looking forward to exhibiting at GESS Dubai again in 2020 to demonstrate the many more exciting resources we are developing. We aspire to return to GESS Dubai next year as a finalist for one of the GESS Awards, for our contribution to primary education online resources and as a CPD provider.

Watch this space!

Hannah Jones
Primary Maths Specialist for White Rose Maths

At the end of March, White Rose Maths announced that we would be discontinuing our Year 1 mini assessments. Within our announcement, we explained the reasons for doing this. Our main reason stemmed from our belief that assessment for young children needs to happen in a variety of ways and the way that we had presented the assessments gave the impression of a more formal assessment in the style of a worksheet. Since then, we have been carefully considering how we can provide teachers with more child-friendly assessments that give Year 1 children the chance to demonstrate their understanding in their own ways.

We are now very excited to release our brand new mini assessment task slides for Year 1. These assessments still have the high-quality questions that they did before, however this time we feel the presentation makes their use more flexible and child friendly.

Our top tips for using the assessments are:

1. Ensure that all children have access to concrete resources to support understanding on each question. Give children chance to choose their own manipulatives as this will give you insight into how they think about and represent the concepts. Suggestions for manipulatives are given in the notes section below each question slide. Children may also choose to represent the questions pictorially.

2. Carry out the questions in small groups or as a whole class. The questions are designed to stimulate mathematical thinking. Children need the chance to talk to their peers about the questions and the way that they have chosen to represent their answers. Looking at what’s the same and what’s different about how they have represented their answers will develop even more mathematical talk. Careful eavesdropping will help you assess each child’s understanding.

3. Enable or extend thinking by using the notes on each slide. To improve the assessments further, we have provided extra questions for the teacher to ask orally. The notes provide suggestions of concrete materials as well as extra questions to further the children’s thinking. The extra questions are often similar to the original question with a slight change. Encourage children to think what’s the same about the question and what’s different to help them consider how this will affect the answer. This supports children’s reasoning and deepens their thinking about concepts.

4. All children should have the opportunity to investigate the final question. We have chosen the final question as a more open ended activity to give children the chance to come up with multiple answers. Ensure that they have the opportunity to work in pairs or small groups to investigate the question and provide them with a range of resources to represent their thinking. When feeding back ideas, encourage the children to explain how they solved the problem and model their thinking.

We hope that our new mini assessment task slides will support Year 1 teachers in their classrooms. Assessment for learning is vital to support teachers in highlighting children’s strengths and gaps in understanding. The mini assessments are just one way to assess children’s understanding. Teachers can assess on a daily basis through observation, questioning and activities to provide a more accurate reflection of a child’s mathematical understanding. Finally, assessment should act as a tool to inform teachers about a child’s next steps in learning, not to form a judgement about their future attainment in maths. As always we welcome your feedback on this new resource.