Posted 13th July 2018
We’ve had lots of great feedback about our new five-year scheme of learning for secondary schools – thank you very much!
One of the more surprising comments we’ve heard a few times is “You’re very brave to start with algebra!” We thought we’d write this short blog to explain why we chose an algebraic topic, and why teachers like ourselves shouldn't be worried about it.
Students will have met a little algebra towards the end of their time at primary school, but not that much. We think it’s an exciting way to start secondary school with a relatively new area of mathematics – a fresh start, a fresh challenge and a level playing field for all.
It’s not number
Number is at the heart of mathematics and our new schemes reflect this. We also recognise that our primary partners have done a tremendous job in developing students’ number skills and this doesn’t have to be the first focus, or the main focus, of starting Year 7.
It’s about algebraic thinking
Whilst out first block of work does include learning to understand and use algebraic notation, the focus isn’t all about procedures and routines. We want students to think like mathematicians as well as do mathematics and the tasks we recommend will encourage them to think, describe, reason, visualise, spot patterns, generalise and experiment. The work on sequences at the start is an example of this – it’s not about finding the rule for the nth term, it’s about appreciating how and why sequences of patterns and numbers grow and change, looking for and describing similarities and differences. See our example lesson to see one possible way of introducing the unit.
It gets the calculators out
Students no longer have a calculator paper at Key Stage 2 and therefore have less experience with using calculators than they used to. We believe calculator skills should be taught by maths teachers, and algebra is a great vehicle to get this going right at the start of Y7. There's little point in solving equations like x + 3 = 7, which can be solved by “spotting” the answer. We recommend questions like x + 38.7 = 245.1 which will require an understanding of inverse operations and can be accessed by all students, whatever their attainment in arithmetic skills, with the aid of a calculator. We can also informally discuss estimation at the same time.
Most of all, it’s fun!
We want students to enjoy mathematics, and we think the pattern searching and testing conjectures that early algebra involves can be highly motivating. Download our small steps guidance for algebra for examples of activities that we think will get the students thinking algebraically and enjoying the challenge of mathematics. This guidance now covers the whole of the first half-term for Autumn.
We hope you understand and agree with our rationale for starting with algebra and look forward to your continuing feedback.