Saturday, 1 April 2017

Visual Strategies - Why are these so important?

I have written a short  resource on visual maths strategies that can be found here.

This resource discusses how I build visual tools into my maths teaching in agency.

I have been reflecting a lot lately on the way we teach maths.  It dismays me when I read about programmes touted as a one stop shop....books that children work in from five...yuck!  Resources that cost a huge amount of money and can be used in one way....eek!  Books that you follow like a transcript, that link to follow up worksheet activities ....WHY?

I apologise if this offends you and obviously this blog post is my opinion only....but I just think some have lost sight of how teaching and learning works.  They have lost sight of children and become slaves to a narrow curriculum.

Why oh why do we make the teaching of maths so hard?  Why do we overthink it?  Why do we think it is necessary to create resources to accelerate children?

There would be absolutely no need to accelerate children if we were laying strong foundations to start with.   If we took into account how children learn, if we stepped back, embraced play and playfulness and went from there.

The plain and simple reality is that maths is all around us.   It is us as educators that make maths this stand along 'subject' that very, very sadly children often detest.  Why do we do this?  Maths should not be this abstract construction that children think belongs in one place in their day.

 I think we do this because we have been indoctrinated to believe this is how it should be.  We have been led to believe that we have to plan, plan, know next steps ahead of time, to expect that all our learners will experience maths in the same way.  We have stopped trusting our gut!  Yes we should have an deep understanding of mathematics and how to best help children, but do we need to write that all down to prove we are doing it?  No we don't!  As a teaching principal I am constantly dismayed by the amount of teachers being forced into planning that has littler or no use.  We need to trust ourselves again and embrace why we took on this job in the first place...if you are anything like me, it wasn't to write copious plans and evaluations that I never use :)

Embracing the importance of visual tools is one way we can bring back our gut.  Maths is all around us, and we can help children to develop an awareness for these patterns using some basic tools that are freely available.  I have talked a little about 'maths eyes' before.  In agency we call them agent eyes.  This resource is here

I use agent eyes once a week and we talk about what we notice.  It is incredible how deeply agents begin to notice things.  Ever since I started using resources like this I have even begun to look at the world around me in different ways...if I have got my phone with me I am often found taking photos of objects I think would be awesome for agent eyes.  I will often stare out the window and see how objects can be grouped.  This is awesome when you are staring at the ceiling in a dentists office :)

I then use tools such as dice, tens frames, pattern cards, dominoes, cards, found objects to explore patterns.  As I discuss in my resource this builds foundations and awareness of what numbers actually mean.  What does it actually mean if I can count to 10, what does that mean, what does it look like?  I think to often we see children with lots of knowledge about number and class them as having abilities in maths...the reality often is that these children are great at rote learning, but have very poor number sense.  As things get harder and they are asked to problem solve and develop strategies for problems such as change unknown problems, these children struggle.

I believe that the wider approach we can take to encouraging children to really 'see' and understand number the better they will progress later on.  We want children to have a depth of understanding, not to race through the stages, only to stall later on at high school when they have a very narrow understanding of number and its link to other strands.  Surely the developing of maths understandings should not be a race?

So what am I really trying to get at with my ramblings?

I believe we need to start slowing down, to go with our gut, to allow children to really experience number, to take time discussing images like road speed signs etc, to truly help them see the link maths has in our real world.  I am very concerned by the amount of children with maths anxiety and that in all honesty comes back to us.  We have the power to prevent this anxiety.

For me that means using Number Agents as my is not a programme, I will not tell you what to do and when....yes there is knowledge to be developed, but often that comes as part and parcel of what you do daily.  Number Agents gives you freedom, like no other approach I have ever tried...It places children at the is is relevant and best of all it works insanely well in my play-based programme.  Yes I know Number Agents is not play-based learning, as I am driving it...but it fits really well.

Play-based learning only complements what I do, using loose parts and found objects in play builds visual strategies in fact I have never had five year olds that are as visually aware and competent.

You may not agree with me, and you don't have to....the great thing is we don't have to agree.  But I do ask you to reflect on how you teach maths to the children, see what they have to say, are you over planning and under delivering?  Are you being driven by a narrow curriculum?

If so, it may be time for a change :)

Be brave...our children deserve it!

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