We brought together maths education experts from around the world for a series of online expert panels and webinars to consider how we can equip maths learners for the future – whatever that future looks like. This series of blog posts aims to highlight the key takeaways to help you empower today’s learners to embark on a lifelong adventure with maths through resilience, connection, curiosity, and creativity.
In this blog we summarise the opening panel, where our experts considered the impact of independent learning and home teaching on students’ confidence in maths. They focused on how you can use these findings to promote a positive attitude towards maths learning, and help students unleash their power as learners.
Our expert panel was made up of Professor Sugata Mitra, Dr Jennifer Chang Wathall, David Lyttle, Professor Anne Watson, and Dr Helen J Williams. Find out more about each expert here.
What were our experts’ silver linings from 2020 in terms of maths learning?
For many schools, less dependence on direct teaching and more on learners’ own perceptions and thinking has opened up the possibility of children leading their own learning. Setting children up to learn remotely offered an opportunity to use the kind of exploratory questioning that invokes learners’ curiosity, and helps them to develop the habits of inquiry and self-questioning they need to explore mathematical concepts in a personal way.
Learning has escaped the classroom. It has been taking place in many locations – at home, outdoors – supported by an influx of informal environmental materials, from building blocks to dried pasta. Children have been able to recognise and interact with mathematical patterns in real-life authentic contexts that may not otherwise have been possible.
Engaged parents and carers
Spending more time with their parents or carers, many children have received individualised support and tailored attention to support their development. This has helped to foster positive dispositions towards learning, allowing many families to find enjoyment in mathematics, and to make and learn from mistakes, with a playful approach that reduces anxiety about the subject.
Developing lifelong skills
Through the whole experience of adapting their approach to learning, children have developed skills that will be valuable for their confidence and ability to be flexible learners in the future: resilience, empathy, perseverance, independence, as well as building different relationships.
Teachers have learnt about what can be digitised, what can be achieved without a teacher present, and what can be supported by responsive software. Rather than focussing on teaching correct procedures in online videos, successful remote learning experiences are those that use digital media to develop a climate of curiosity, familiarity with number and ways of talking about mathematics.
Embracing new learning environments
With time spent out of the classroom, learning and exploring maths has become less bound to the school environment. Our panel reflected on how schools might build on this to positive effect.
Maths has come to the fore in the media recently in many different contexts. Families and children are likely to have seen doctors, scientists, journalists and other experts, talking about and using maths on TV. Data trends and curves have become a part of everyone’s vocabulary, making maths more ‘real’ for many children. Schools should try to hold on to these real-world connections.
Opening a dialogue
Many teachers have expressed the benefits of using open questions to provoke thinking when teaching remotely, and this is something that needs to continue in maths lessons. A dialogue that begins with open questions like ‘How can we find out’ and ‘What do we notice’, encourages students to investigate, and schools can continue to encourage parents to understand that these expansive questions support mathematical thinking.
Online learning needs to be multi-dimensional
Online on-demand learning can allow for a more personalised and focussed learning experience, helping children to self-differentiate, as well as offering flexibility in the school day. However, it’s not simply about adding onscreen to the mix, or limiting the mix so that it fits with this mode of delivery. The best online learning experiences allow for a rich range of learner interactions – including collaboration between peers, feedback from teachers, access to varied apparatus and space for working creatively.
Easy access to apparatus and visual representations
As schools re-establish the community of classroom and learners, teachers should hold on to some of the practical benefits that may have been made possible through learning at home. Many of you have seen how activities utilising a range of familiar objects can be used to underpin mathematical understanding, and not just in the Early Years. Classrooms can continue to be enabling environments in this regard, provoking and facilitating interaction with a variety of materials and visual representations to help children explore mathematical concepts.
An emotional space
Schools need to think about learning settings as emotional spaces as well as cognitive spaces. As we know, cognition and emotions affect learning, and practitioners need to take into consideration how children, their parents, and teachers, feel about maths, and work with families to encourage positive attitudes. Back in the classroom, it is important to focus on nurturing children’s capacity and enthusiasm for learning rather than small steps missed out.
Getting ready for tomorrow’s learners: Skills to prioritise
Our panel also shared the skills and qualities that they think are most important for teachers to develop to be ready to teach the learners of the future. Here are their priorities:
- Adaptability – a willingness to change route to adapt to individual children’s needs
- Knowledge – solid knowledge of how the conceptual structure of mathematics fits together
- Communication – the ability to transfer this mathematical knowledge to someone else
- A positive relationship with technology – adapting to increasingly hybrid teaching and learning
- Self-questioning – engaged with your own exploration and continued learning, with an understanding of the power and centrality of inquiry
- Openness – learning throughout your career, from colleagues, as well as from children, with a willingness to share failures as well as successes
- Empathy – being able to spend more time in a care role and manage divergent social and emotional needs.
You can watch the full webinar ‘The silver lining: what changes did 2020 bring to the future of maths teaching?’ here. (Note: you will be taken to a sign-up page and asked to enter your details in order to access the recording).