Mathematical masters study for grumpy teachers

Perhaps spending the first days of your summer holiday at a 2 day conference on maths is not the perfect thing for many teachers. I have certainly heard some teachers expressing opinions other than perfect happiness today. In fact you could say that some of them are downright grumpy. I’ll proceed to explain why towards the end of the post, but first for the important bit – my learning.

I’ve experimented a little today. as I have attended lectures, rather than taking notes I have tweeted what I think have been the key points under the hashtag #mastHEI2 (that stands for Mathematical Specialist teacher Programme Higher Education Input Day 2). Now I’m going to go back over those tweets and see if I can explain the learning.

Tweet1: Ian Sugarman lectures on subitising. Introduces Mayan numbers.

In Ian’s lecture he introduced the concept of ‘subitising’, which is defined as: ‘Instantly recognizing the number of objects in a small group, without counting,‘ according to It is important because it is the step between counting and recalling number facts that leads to really confident calculation skills. He showed us how Mayan numbers use this concept by having up to 4 dots in their number system (apparently it’s hard to subitise more than 5). Mayan numbers are logically – a bit like Roman Numerals or indeed the Arabic number shapes that founded our own number signs: 1, 2, 3, 4, etc.

It’s useful when you see groups of things. Take a group of 7 dots for example. Do you actually count each dot? Children do, when they are first starting out, but then they learn to do something else. At least most of them do. Some children seem to miss that bus and need a chance to catch it again.

Tweet 2: Ian Sugarman says we are aiming for automacity of recall at #mastHEI2

Of course what I meant to say was ‘automaticity’ but my fingers didn’t quite go fast enough. so we don’t just teach counting. We teach subitising too. Then children have a chance to have really quick recall of number facts – they can just see them in their minds eye, and eventually even turn that visual concept into an abstract one. Ian has written some software called ‘Numbergym‘ that helps develop this concept.

Tweet 3: Andy Tomkins talks about search strategies at #mastHEI2.

A little bit dry for me and stuff that I already knew, this short lecture covered ground such as Boolean operators and the * for making searches. He went into detail around academic searches for online journals and the like. However the journal that he experimented on, I subsequently found on Google Scholar a few moments later, so my question is – do universities still hold information that you can’t get hold off anywhere else? Or is everything accesible via the web? That is why I tweeted this: Tweet 4: excited about amount of academic info available through Edge Hill’s online databases – but are they rivalled by Google scholar?

Tweet 5: Sharon Pieroni speaks about Harvard Referencing at #mastHEI2 Got to get this right – don’t want to be accused of plagiarism..

So in a few months I have to write an assignment. I haven’t done that since 1996. This was a short lecture that reminded us of the basics of how to reference something and then include that reference in your bibliography.

Tweet 6: Nick Dowrick speaks about Every Child Counts at #mastHEI2 6% of KS2 children don’t achieve level 2. 40% don’t get C at GCSE. Hence ECC

It seems that some of our children just aren’t getting it in maths. Every Child Counts is a 1:1 intervention over the course of 3 months that tries to help 5, 6 and 7 year olds catch up. It is led by a well-trained specialist teacher and seems to be doing an excellent job. It’s ironic that with the first lecture being about the importance of subitising, this one referred to counting so much. I wonder if there will be an intervention programme called Every Child Subitises? It doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

Tweet 7: Numbers count programme focuses on lowest attaining children rather than targeting the children who are just behind.

‘Numbers count’ and ‘Every Child Counts’ are both terms that seem to be used interchangeably by the lecturer, Nick Dowrick, although there is probably some subtle difference that I didn’t quite get.

Tweet 8: Numbers count programme focuses on lowest attaining children rather than targeting the children who are just behind.

I felt this was important. So many of our interventions and foci in school are on those children that are just behind the average. If we could get them to achieve, then we would be making a significant difference to our performance figures with minimum effort. It was refreshing to hear someone talking about a meaningful intervention for the lowest achievers, and one that actually works too.

Tweet 9: Nick says ‘the floor is a natural place to do mathematics’ referring to the fact that many of our lowest achievers are kinesthetic learners and just need to get on with doing maths in their space and at their level. This leads on to Tweet 8: ECC isn’t filling the gaps in the wall, it’s knocking down the wall, re-laying the foundations and rebuilding the wall fr scratch I’ve met so many older children in primary schools who have holes in their conceptual understanding and they’re desperately trying to plug them or they have just given up. We need to recognise that for some children we need to start some of their concepts again from scratch. An example is my friend (whom I won’t name) who at the age of 24 was getting many subtractions wrong. For example trying to work out what he was doing 6 years ago, he would go 24-6 and then get 19. He did that because he counted the 24 when he counted backwards. I taught him to count the jumps (the gaps) not the numbers themselves and he got it. At what age should he have learnt this concept?

Tweet 10: ECC gain is over a year in just 3 months

The data from Every Child Counts is very encouraging. In just 3 months each child had made over a year’s progress, however: Tweet 11: ECC problem in Year 3 for lower attaining children who make only 3 months progress in 6 months. Is this consistent for all in Y3? indicates that all is not a complete bed of roses. Those children who had ECC intervention late (at the end of Year 2, when they were 7) slipped back, making only 3 months progress in 6 months when they got to year 3. Why? No-one yet knows. But the lecturer finished by saying that it could be down to an attitude change – first of all changing attitude to one of confidence and positivity by being part of the ECC program, then having to change attitude again when met by barriers of the broader curriculum experienced in the new Key Stage at Year 3. Tweet 12: Nick Dowrick at #mastHEI2 says a successful intervention should be indicated by a complete sea-change in the attitude of a child.

I finished my lecture-tweet extravaganza by attending the course rep meeting. I hadn’t intended to be a course rep, but the person who was doing it went on holiday and asked me to step in. This is where I experienced some of the grumpiness. Tweet 13: Now acting as Birmingham course rep for #mastHEI2. People disgruntled about workload, but hey, that’s Masters study. The thing is people were complaining that the course has demanded too much workload, but I think this is down to different levels of communication between the course, the LAs, the government who set the course up (who are no longer in power), the headteachers and the teachers – lots of different groups. I’ve got no personal frame of reference for how much study a third of a masters should be, and I suspect neither do many other teachers on the course.

After the meeting I bumped into a couple of teachers, who were beyond disgruntlement, or even grumpiness, one could even be said to have been angry, or even mildly furious. He said he had got nothing out of the day of any consequence at all.

“Subitising,” I could have said, “Strategies for engaging lower achievers”, even “Mayan numbers.” But no I just listened. Then he confessed to having got very drunk on the previous night and was worried about making his ferry to France the next day – both factors that may have affected his concentration and enjoyment of the day I suspect.

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