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Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Trialling Problem Based Maths in Room 9

This year, Tamaki Primary has ventured into problem based learning in Maths.  This is to address the needs of our learners, which is to be able to unpack, understand and solve written number problems.  Our students have good number knowledge (but definitely have number knowledge goals to continue with!), but when faced with written maths problems and the language of maths, are unequipped with strategies to solve them.  This is our job as educators, to enable students to have the skills to attack these problems.

We are currently working with Sue Pine and Lucie Cheeseman of Cognition, to develop problem based learning in our maths programme.  It is similar to Bobby Maths, I found out, when talking to a colleague at another school.

Initially, this process was daunting for me.  Bigger groups?  No explicit success criteria?  Fluid groups?  No page numbers and instructions?  How would I stay accountable?  What would that look like on a data analysis document?  Isn't that sad, that that is where my mind went to first?  Something to consider in itself...

I spent an hour with Sue in a planning session, where I identified a group I wanted to work with and then used her planning template to plan for this group.  Here is my plan that I developed from this session:

This was the problem I posed was the one in the photo below.  Based on this problem solving Level 2 task.  We adjusted it in our planning meeting, to meet the needs of the group as they were not really Level 1 students, but still required extra scaffolding, meaning we only wanted to focus on distance rather than calculating rests and times.

The question that was launched today
During the monitoring and sequencing, I was worried we would having nothing to guide our conversation, as students were tending to use similar strategies.  One student who I thought could go in a more challenging group, but who we decided should stay to help this group level up, had an interesting strategy and explained it in a way (in his own words) that helped the other students to realise that this was the more efficient strategy.  This highlighted the power of mixed ability grouping.

An example of student thinking
An example of student thinking
At the end of the lesson, students were able to identify that making a table instead of jumping up a number line was the most efficient strategy.  They also concluded that knowing your times-tables means you can quickly notice number patterns.  It was very exciting to see.  This lead into the second lesson, which was a lesson that was being observed by Sue and our SLT and other teachers!

Today I gathered in the same group and gave them a similar question.  We started with recapping our reflections from the day before.  Again, students were asked to work independently first, and then share their learning with a partner and then with the whole group.  The group sharing, carefully guided by my own observations of student strategies and the observations of Sue Pine.

This student identified the pattern at 3cm and was able to make connections to multiplication knowledge to calculate the rest.

This student noticed the pattern was increasing by 5cm at a time and was able to multiply 12 minutes by 5cm.

This student was still using a number line but could make connections to a written maths equation.

This student went from using a number line to skip counting in 5s and displaying this thinking using a table.

In the last part of the lesson - 'Connecting' Sue stepped in and lead the questioning.  This made me realise how closed many of my questions were.  I thought they were quite open, but when observing the way Sue lead the conversations, I realised that I still give answers to students too often, rather than leading them to realise their own answers.  In future, I am going to try and use the 'Talk Card' much more often.  The talk card is simply a book mark sized laminated card with teacher prompts on it such as "Can you tell me more...  Can someone tell me what so-and-so said... Can you rephrase what so-and-so said..."  Etc.  I will have this with me in lessons to help remind me to keep my teacher talk to a minimum and encourage more dialogic flow between the students.

A definite highlight was to see how far students had come in mathematical thinking in two lessons (two hours worth).  From jumping along a number line in twos, to making the connection to skip counting, to many coming up with an equation was really cool to see.  Some students still used a number line, but it was a fewer number than the day before, which was a positive thing to notice.  Many were trying to use a table which was identified as the most efficient strategy the lesson before, and a few were trying to notice the pattern earlier and use their times tables to calculate their final answer.  It made clear for me, the power of this approach to maths teaching, in particular, the connecting part at the end in which you bring everything together and then extend the mathematical thinking.

On a side note, it was nice as a 'syndicate leader' to be observed as often, we are the ones doing the observing.  I loved having the critical feedback and feedforward given and it was a great experience.


  1. Kyla you are so reflective on your own practice... where do you find the time???!!! I'm struggling with my own math inquiry and need to come up with new strategies to trial. I tried the mixed group approach but I have kids complaining 'This is too easy' :(

    1. Hi Emma, thanks for taking the time to read my post! I know exactly what you mean when you say you have students that complain about it being too easy. This might not answer your question, but might be ideas to think about (if you haven't already!)
      -I have three groups in my class, one group achieving below level 2 (around stage 3), one group achieving at beginning level 4 (stage 6-7) and the rest of the class is at level 2/beginning level 3. The lower and upper groups are quite small, but I still wouldn't mix them in with that majority group because the difference in mathematical understandings are too big. That middle group is mixed, but are still close enough not to have anyone really struggle or find it too boring.

      -My maths facilitator asked me to put 'extender questions' in my plan for the fast finishers. This keeps them engaged and extends their learning, but also allows them to stay within the group to help enrich our discussions. So if the group was working out how far a snail would go in 5 minutes at a rate of 2 cm per minute, I might ask an extender question of "What if the snail had a 45 second rest every 3cm?" etc.

      I hope this helps!

      :) Kyla

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