Monday, 17 April 2017

Number Agents - Why, What is it, What isn't it?


Number agents came about following my discovery of Mantle of the Expert.  Through Mantle of the Expert I found a whole new way of engaging and motivating children and particularly those children that were not engaged through traditional ways of teaching inquiry.

My maths teaching had become stagnant.  I felt like I was just going through the motions.  I planned well, used group specific teaching, tried to incorporate maths games and materials where possible...but felt bored.  I felt like the 'children' were missing from my teaching.  Maths teaching was something I was doing 'to' them.  I also noticed that children's oral language was really lacking.  They struggled to share understandings and lacked the words for what they wanted to say.

The potential for Mantle to transform my maths teaching was not lost on me...I also saw the way children responded to programmes like Number Jacks, Dora the Explorer and Little Einsteins.  My lightbulb moment came when I suddenly thought "What if children could be posed as the hero in their own story?"  "What if I could design a programme that could do this for them."

And so Number Agents was born.  Children responded instantly to this imagined world.  To begin with villains were simply represented as static images...children didn't care, they loved it.  I noticed their engagement and love of maths lift straight away.  I also began to love teaching maths again.  Best of all I didn't have to change what I was teaching, just how I was teaching and how it was delivered.

Adding in current and up to date maths PLD Number Agents became an approach that allowed me to teach maths effectively, but also give an imagined authenticity to what we were doing that inspired children to want to participate.  Through my discoveries and explorations into play-based learning Number Agents began to sit beautifully alongside and complement my programme.

In Number Agents we are is like each day is a chapter in our with the addition of puppets in the role of villains and helpers a new dimension has been added...we are characters in a powerful story and just like any story it has a beginning, middle, and end with lots of tension and resolution throughout.  A good old hero vs villains story :)

What it is?

Number Agents is an approach to teaching maths in a junior room.  I see huge potential for it to be used further into the middle and perhaps senior school with tweaks along the way.

Number Agents is dramatic, it is playful, it is a way of delivering maths.  It casts the children in leading roles.

Number Agents is a philosophy, a philosophy that embraces how children learn best, it embraces the huge role imagination and emotional connection plays in how children learn and what they remember.  It puts children at the centre of their own storybook.  It gives an authentic reason for children to learn maths and improve on their knowledge and strategy each day.

Best of all it has a huge oral language component.  Discussion, maths talk, elevated language, questioning, noticing and sharing all play a huge role in agency.    Number Agents has lifted the level of oral language of children in our class.

What it isn't

Number Agents is not a programme.  It does not prescribe how you teach maths.  Number Agents is an approach that allows you to deliver maths in a different way.  There are no expensive resources to go along with this approach.  You can modify it to suit your needs...your agency does not need to look exactly like mine.  As long as the philosophy and integrity of this approach is embraced, Number Agents can look however you like.

It is not student led play.  Whilst it is playful and it does sit beautifully in my play-based class it can not be defined as student-led play.  I do not and would not ever define this approach as play-based.  It does work in my play-based room, but when we are running a session of Number Agents, while we are playing with power and casting children as experts, we are still largely leading the learning.

And it is not just Number.  Number Agent is just the name I give to it.  Strand can be taught just in the same way that number is.  The professor is equally proficient with Strand and while we have not yet got a strand based villain, there is one on the way.  A lot of my strand is explored during student led play, but more specific Strand teaching can be delivered through this approach.  Number Agents is also a company I use in my Mantles.  They beautiful thing is that children can exist in many different worlds at once.  This means Number Agents is not just about teaching maths.  There are different divisions of our company :)

Want to know more?
You can find me on facebook by searching Number Agents.  You can find me on twitter @nellaeels you can find me on instagram under Number Agents.  Or you can email me

I am happy to help anyone who has purchased the book and wants further advice along the way.

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