All pupils deserve the chance to tackle open, challenging mathematics problems

Blog: Dr Helen Drury, Director

All pupils deserve the chance to tackle open, challenging mathematics problems

Posted: 22/06/16

Pupils with lower prior attainment are often fed a mathematical ‘diet’ of substantially lower quality than their higher-achieving counterparts. As teachers, this is something we’re only too aware of.

This unfortunate trend was highlighted in a new report on the OECD’s PISA data, ‘Equations and Inequalities: Making mathematics accessible to all’, released on 20 June 2016.

As Andreas Schleicher, Director of Education at the OECD says: “While disadvantaged students tend to learn simple facts and figures and are exposed to simple applied mathematics problems, their privileged counterparts experience mathematics instruction that helps them think like a mathematician, and develop deep conceptual understanding and advanced mathematical reasoning skills.”

Teachers, he says, should replace ‘routine tasks’ with ‘challenging open problems’. Absolutely. We couldn’t agree more. But putting this into action is easier said than done – especially when support and guidance is lacking.

Here at Mathematics Mastery, we’re committed to empowering and equipping teachers with the practical tools, training, and resources to make this goal a reality.

We believe all teachers, with the right support and professional development, can give every pupil – regardless of background – the opportunity to develop a deep conceptual understanding of mathematics, and advanced mathematical reasoning skills.

Our programme focuses on conceptual understanding and problem solving, and our curriculum is designed to build up knowledge, skills and understanding in the long term.

Spending more time on the big ideas – and resisting the temptation to spoon feed pupils for high stakes testing at 16 – will better enable all learners to think like mathematicians. We firmly believe this approach will mean their GCSE performance will be improved rather than compromised.

We welcome the findings of this report, and loudly sing from the same hymn sheet that “greater exposure to pure mathematics tasks and concepts has a strong relationship with higher performance in PISA, and the data suggest that exposing all students to challenging problems and conceptual knowledge in mathematics classes can have a large impact on performance.”

As a teacher, it can be extremely challenging to stick to your guns on matters like this. We get it. You’re pushed and pulled in many directions and have to justify every decision you make.

But for all the teachers and maths departments who are committed to focusing on deep conceptual understanding and problem solving, we want to encourage you to hold your nerve. The data is beginning to show that it really does pay off, and remember, we’re behind you all the way.