Around this time last year I started reading about the work of the Ark group and Mathematics Mastery. So it was that as I moved to KS2 in September, I set about leading my year team – and an adjoining one – on a mastery maths journey. We’ve not reached the end-point yet, but it seems to be a hot topic at the moment, and following on from Bruno Reddy’s great blog about how he’d tackled mastery maths at Secondary, I thought it would be worth sharing what we’d done in KS2.
My initial thinking was led by what I’d read about the Ark scheme, and then built on by what I read in Dan Willingham’s excellent “Why don’t students like school?” about how children learn. It was soon put into context by my early experience in KS2. Having moved from KS3 I had previously taught maths sets; now I would be teaching a mixed ability group at a very different level. In KS3 I had previously moved towards what I’d considered to be longer blocks of two or sometimes three weeks on a unit. That had worked quite well for the high ability groups, but it had become clear for others it had still been too much too fast. I hadn’t previously been dealing with the need to teach and learn tables, or introduce area, but it felt like this was a good way of getting it right!
As the new curriculum was on the horizon, it was a useful starting point, and seemed to fit rather well with the mastery approach anyway. I began by mapping out broad units, using a model based very loosely on the Mathematics Mastery secondary curriculum map. It has’t held fast all year, but it provided a perfectly good starting point.
It meant that the first half term of the academic year was spent almost exclusively on place value and addition/subtraction. Within that we drew in elements which related to those skills. So, it seemed a sensible time to tackle in aspects like calculating perimeter, or finding missing angles on a straight line. Interestingly, there are plenty of similarities between our plan and that of KSA, particularly in that first term. See also what it says about separating minimally-different concepts (such as area & perimeter!)
In the Spring term, we took the step of spending a whole half-term on fractions. I’ll be honest, I was nervous about it. It’s never been my favourite area to teach, and rarely is it students favourite area to study. However, the system seems to have paid off. Knowing that we had weeks to spend on it meant that we weren’t afraid to take the time to secure the basics before launching into the higher level skills suitable to their age. And we weren’t abandoning it for another topic just as they were getting into things.
What’s more, I drew on the things I’d seen of the Singapore bar method to really secure understanding of fractional calculations. We’d been using thinkingblocks.com in school as a general problem-solving tool, but it seems that for fractions this approach really comes into its own. It allowed the children clearly to visualise the problems we were tackling, and to secure a much clearer understanding of why mathematical approaches worked. I cannot speak highly enough of the bar model in the context of mastery!
We haven’t been working on this approach for anything like as long as Bruno Reddy’s school, but initial results look positive. We’ve trialled the approach in Years 4 and 5 and seen a substantial improvement in ability to master the key methods, as well as spending more time to drive a focus on number bonds and tables. It seems that the approach will likely be even more successful in data terms once the new KS2 tests begin with the additional arithmetic paper!
Although it’s early days for us, some of the most significant evidence of success has come from the teams teaching the curriculum. Not all were sold on the idea at the beginning, but it has garnered the support and enthusiasm of those involved because it’s working! You can see it in the progress made by groups who traditionally do well, but perhaps more importantly in the successes of those learners who might traditionally have found making progress more challenging!
There’s still plenty to iron out and tweaks to be made over the coming years as different cohorts come up with different experiences. I still don’t think I’ve spent enough time and effort on securing number bond and tables knowledge – despite finding myself in every week’s work saying at some point “Now, can you see why it helps to know your tables?”. I still think we can do more to incorporate the important stages of concrete and representational development before the abstract. It’s not perfect yet.
But I can no longer imagine teaching any other way. Five years ago I was arguing that we needed to move away from week-long planning for maths; now I’d argue that anything less than six weeks is probably doing our students a disservice!
Ask me next summer how it’s paying off in terms of KS2 results!