Ah-ha moments!, Buzzing classes, and more. We are so lucky to have six guests join us in this very special episode. Wellington Prep Schools’ Roger Hitchin and Vics Lyon-Taylor have brought four amazing mathematicians along to reminisce of their primary maths experiences. Which elements of the approach resonated most with each of our special guests? What was the culture like in their class? Plus, which way of teaching do our star guests prefer?
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Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hi, I'm Robin Potter.
Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.
This is The School of School podcast.
Welcome to The School of School podcast.
Welcome back to a limited edition, very special episode of The School of School podcast. We've got the regular gang. Robin and Andy, how are you both?
Yes, hello. We're good.
We're good, we're good.
But joining us en masse from Wellington School in the UK, we've got Roger and Vic and the team. Now, we've met you guys in person before at a Maths — No Problem! conference. But before I say anything else, Roger, can I hand over the mic to you? If you wouldn't mind just doing the introductions, letting us know a little bit about yourself and the team, and then we're going to... well, get to the crux of it really and hear what they've been up to.
Thanks, Adam. Yeah, it's good to be here. Good to be back on the podcast again, yeah. So we're at Wellington School here in Somerset. And from Maths — No Problem! point of view, yeah, we were there very early on, so early adopters I call us. We were there from 2015, so we're going eight years and we're very much living it from the first year all the way through till now. We've grasped it with both hands from the moment we've got it and we've run with it. I've got a team of keen mathematicians with me. Firstly, I've got Vics Lyon-Taylor with me who is a colleague of mine, and she works with me, teaching year six. She's one of my year six teaching assistants, but she also has overall responsibility for the Send Children in year five and six. So she wears both of those hats, but a great help to me in the classroom.
And then our main guest, if you like, with due respect to myself and Vics, is our four year nine pupils that we've got that were at the conference. You mentioned Adam, they were my COVID class actually. They were with me for most of year six. From left to right we've got Robin, say hello Robin.
We've got Will.
We've got Ollie.
And we've got Sophia.
All right, and we've got the four here. We are going to share their memories, their thoughts, and their reflections on what was at the time, Adam, a huge shift in the way we taught maths and how we did it. It's three years ago since they left our prep school, but we'll see if they've got some good memories and reflections.
Let's go back right to the early days. What was it like when you first started using Maths — No Problem!; do you remember?
Maybe Robin, do you want to start first, because you did Maths — No Problem! from quite early on, I would've thought?
Year three, I think it was.
Year three. Okay.
I think I started Maths — No Problem! in year three. And honestly, it changed the way I enjoyed maths so much. I started enjoying it.
Can you remember what it was like before?
Boring worksheets and times tables and-
Will and Ollie, do you want to come in, because you joined in year four?
Yeah. So I joined the last term of year five, coming for a school that, again, didn't do Maths — No Problem!, where we'd have worksheets, we'd fill them out and then just keep going through them, and you'd never finish. And that's the same case in Maths — No Problem!, you never finish. There's always more to keep doing. And I wasn't a keen mathematician before I joined Wellington Prep School. And once I came in year five, I started to enjoy maths with the style of teaching, the style of the work and how the lessons are run, and it became one of those subjects that I looked forward to.
Ollie, do you want to add anything to that, or was Will taking everything you wanted to say there?
I think for me, it was very weird when I first joined a new different style of maths from my previous school, which was like Will said, very worksheet, not much input from the teacher. And then we were very reliant on the teacher. In Maths — No Problem!, you're more reliant on each other, instead of just the teacher. I think that's-
It's a good point about teacher reliance. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Definitely a different point from Maths — No Problem!.
I joined the school at the same time as Robin, so I started doing it from year three as well. And I think it was definitely really different for both of us from what we were doing before. I remember in year two and year one, we used to get given times table sheets and we had to fill them out every math lesson morning until we got them completely right, and then we could move on to the next set. And I think that was pretty common in the math that we did, repetition until you got it perfect. And that was really different from how it was when we started Maths — No Problem!.
Vics, you want to say anything? I mean you were here, you came in as a teacher.
Yeah, I came in late as well. It wasn't an approach that I'd done before, and quickly learned to see how beneficial it was for the children and not just doing different types of maths, but changing their mindset towards maths as well. Going for the real problem solving angle of it, and not giving up until you'd had a good go at it, and approach it from different methods and find the best fit for you. So it took a while to adjust, but now I'm very pro at, and it works for all of the children that I work with too.
I would say, and to answer to your question, Andy, those early days, they were the best of times, they were the worst of times in some ways, because you were in the unknown. Because I take Ollie's point, teachers generally, I think, like a bit of control, don't they? They like to know what they're doing in the lessons, where they're going in the lessons, and the end point. I remember at the start thinking, what do I do when they've solved this anchor task, the explore task, where do I go with that? And the idea of handing over the lesson a lot more to the pupils, like Ollie was saying, they weren't so teacher run, that is very powerful, but not necessarily an easy thing to do in those early days to actually trust the children to manage it a little bit that they will do more than you. That was hard to do early on. I don't know. I haven't forgotten. I haven't forgotten that fear, because people would ask me, I was meant to be the expert, and I think at that point I was probably only a page ahead of them.
Well, it sounds like you've had a very positive experience with Maths — No Problem!. And I'm just curious now that you have moved on from Roger's class. No offence, Roger, I'm sure you'd love to keep them in some ways, but are happy to see them go. How has that shaped your experience? Where has that left you? Has it left you in a good place? Do you long for the days of Maths — No Problem!, or are you feeling prepared to take the maths forward into high school?
I think I do miss it a lot. It's very different from how the maths is taught now. Maths is taught now how it was before, and I know that I definitely would prefer to go back to Maths — No Problem!. And I think that the way that it set us up for the senior school maths is that it's given us a foundation for the understanding of higher maths, because I think especially with the bar models, you can now link that to algebra, and just without you realising, gives you that foundation that helps you better understand maths now.
I miss Maths — No Problem! a lot. I think it was definitely so much more fun than what it is now. A lot more chatty, more friendly almost, because math now has got a very angry approach almost. So I think math then, it was definitely more fun. I enjoyed it more definitely. But like Sophia was saying, it set up for the future, so it makes us passive links between topics. The bar model algebra, I think it's definitely helped us in that respect.
Yeah, the interaction was quite, I mean that was key, wasn't it? The interaction. There was a lot of that that went on, that's what I remember about you guys. Will, do you remember that, do you want to come in on that?
Yeah, so everyone did interact. No one just sat there and didn't do anything, or no one sat there and got off task just speaking about what they did at the weekend or what they're going to do that evening. It would always be focused on the work, even though there was so much noise that you think it might not be, but that noise is always talking about a question, helping each other out.
It was good noise.
Yeah, good noise. But now that's completely missed in the senior school, because noise is a bad thing in maths at the moment in the senior school.
But ultimately that comes to GCSE, I suppose, isn't it? That you've got to be quiet and work towards that, because you're closing in. Yeah, yeah.
I just really like the dynamic when you come into a classroom and there's a buzz about it, and really positive attitude towards wanting to complete the work and understand it. And I think by talking about it, particularly with my SCN students, by talking about it, they're reinforcing it all the time. They're discussing what you might have helped them with in the input at the beginning, and that reinforces it so much more than having to struggle through in silence and just learn a rope method.
Yeah, I mean, we had a Maths — No Problem! open day two weeks ago. A couple of weeks ago we opened the doors and we had 22 teachers come in. And when we talked to them at the end of the day, the big takeaway, or the big feedback, I suppose for us, because they did observe year five and six Maths — No Problem! lessons, but the common element that all the teachers talked about afterwards was how articulate the kids were. That was what was impressive. And obviously behind that, obviously you've got their attitudes and things, but the fact they talked about their maths in a good way, because I think in the maths lessons, ultimately they're not done to them.
What Maths — No Problem! always given, I think, is from the moment we did it, is it blurred, because before we were set, but it blurred perceptions, I think, before we had those that were good at maths, and therefore they did maths, and there were those that had to do it. And I think it blurred that. And the result of that these years on is, you've got children that are very keen to talk through what they do and how they do it. And the fact that we had, I don't know, seven or eight adults in each class, did not phase them or bother them at all. In fact it was a good excuse probably for them to show off and talk through.
Just something, and it might be a difficult question to answer, I'm not sure. We've talked about general things that you really like and some of those things that, I guess, you realise that you miss now you're in a different setting. But I just wonder if there was any specific elements that might be unique to you. You might all have a different take on this. Something in the lesson that was really important to you, or something in the approach that was really important to you, or you look forward to, or just something that you felt resonated with you that you thought, this makes it work for me. It might even change your attitude. Is there anything in particular that when you look back at it that there's something for you that made a big difference?
I didn't really find math very relevant before coming to Maths — No Problem!, because it seemed to be, what's the point of doing this maths? I can't see how it can relate to the outside world and what we're going to go into when we're older. But Maths — No Problem! linked it to daily problems and what you might encounter in life. And so, it made it feel like it will be useful when you get older.
I think the thing that drove me to complete the work, was just get there before superior and get them more right.
Bit of healthy competition.
Yeah, which was fun, but I also knew that if I did mess up, Sophia would've got it right and I would've been able to go to her to help her.
So the fact that there was a support network there as well within that competition.
So that's our class dynamic. That was good. Sophia, your name's been mentioned, we will come to you. Sophia had a little bit of rep. She was a little bit like, yeah, if we can't solve it, we'll give it to Sophia back then.
What was the challenge there then, Sophia, what's your takeaway on that?
Well, I think the real challenge for me was when people were to come and ask me, and I'd have to explain it to them in a way that they could understand, because we all got the solution from the answer book. But because there was so much focus on the process rather than the answer, people wanted to know how they got there, and sometimes the solution in the answer book didn't always do it for everyone. So I think, especially when I was asked after doing the question myself, it was about making that explanation understandable for everyone. That was the challenging bit.
Yeah, because there were a couple times we had you up by the board there, writing it through. And actually we wrote one up as a blog, I think, a really advanced year six word problem I remember you doing. No, but you're right, the process rather than just the answer being important in itself, I think was good.
I think it's important for us to hear. I mean, everyone listening to it that has anything to do with education, but also parents or carers or those sorts of people, I think it's really important to hear these things, because when you speak about it, it's really positive. And so, we want to scale that up, and so if we can manage that. And it's real, it's not us saying, oh, this is what we assume that these approaches work for you, but it's really important that we hear that. So yeah, no, I appreciate that.
Was the level right, guys, difficulty? That's something I... How did you find the level of the work? Because the idea is that, yeah, everyone could do some parts of it, but was there enough? What do you think?
There was always a huge range of challenge. So there was a challenge for everyone, even if you were not the smartest, to being the smartest in the class, there was always that level of challenge just right for you.
So was there enough challenge for you?
Yeah, I think so. I think, like I said, the challenge was on the explanations, but also some of the questions are really hard. And we looked at the textbook over there, and I would have no idea how to approach them even now.
Yeah, we had a look on the train. We went up to Manchester, tried to revisit some of the harder ones. And then suddenly we were in Birmingham. So yeah, it used up a lot of our train trip. Yeah, Vics on.
Yeah, I'm always in impressed in class when they might have got to the end of the workbook, and they get on to adjourning task. And then they add another dimension into the word problem or they say there's a ratio of three items against each other, they might add another one. And our children get very good at challenging themselves beyond and thinking, okay, what if we change this part, how would that change the problem? Or could we multiply the number by 10 and see what happens when we do it at a much larger scale? So there's always something that they add to challenge themselves beyond.
I think each year that we've taught it, we've got slightly better. So I think it's quite interesting when you guys say about what we did then. And I think, oh yeah, we did do that, but we've now tried to tweak that and we've moved on a little bit further. We often hear in the class now, don't we? The answer's in the room, or how can we challenge ourselves, how can we move this question on? The lesson's always ever shifting and ever moving, whereas I don't think we reached that stage maybe when these guys were in year six. We were on the way to that maybe.
As a classroom. What were some of the big aha moments that you came to as you were going through this journey? Maybe start with the teaching side.
I think, yeah, I hadn't done this approach before. It took a little while to adapt. I then understood how to operate the lesson and what they were trying to achieve. And those big, okay, this method, this format really works for me is by seeing, well, the dynamic change in the classroom from anything I'd known before, but with those particular children, seeing their interest in maths change. Suddenly someone who said, "Oh, I'm hopeless at maths, I can't do maths," and had written it off in terms of their subject interest, suddenly would be saying, "Actually I do get that today. Okay, yeah, I got the first part of the lesson." And then you think, okay, we can work on this. This is changing their attitude towards the subject, therefore it must be working. And they're getting enjoyment out of it.
Yeah, it's drip feed. I think big aha moment for me is actually when you can stand back actually, and the lesson is almost happening around you. I think you have to set up your classroom to allow it to happen. Well, Rose would be out as a no-no for me, that when I think back to the classroom I had with these guys, we had quite a small room, didn't we? Do you remember? But we'd set it up so actually you could get up, move around, go to other groups. There was a little carpeted area of a few cushions on that we could sit there. And actually, that was a big aha moment for me that actually it wasn't chalk and talk really. You are guiding from the side. Andy, did you want us to go around the rest of the group on that?
Yeah, I'd love to hear what the others have to say.
I suppose the moment I realised that it was working for me was when I started enjoying it, to be perfectly honest, because it can't work for you if you're not enjoying it. Because in my opinion, you can only learn when you're actually interested, and that's something you can't do if you are bored doing worksheet after worksheet after worksheet.
You can't create it in a lesson artificially, can you?
You will enjoy this. It'd be nice to think, I'd love to think that, see if I could do that, bottle that, I'd be very happy. Yeah.
Will, when did you know?
I think it was a couple of lessons after I'd started doing Maths — No Problem!, because you just get into it and you get to realise the way it works and how... Because the whole class was adjusted to it by the time that I came, so I just slot it in and realised that everyone else was enjoying it a lot.
How easy was it to start? Because I often get that as a parent. I talk about the maths and children joining midway and they go, are they going to be able to do this? So is there a disadvantage, but not the case?
Yeah, it is very different to other types of maths, but it's very easy as well, because the whole of your class is there, helping you. So you don't have to sit there and work it out for yourself.
Not that you get someone else to do it for you.
No, no, no, but to help you adjust to it.
I think it's as Will was saying, I don't really know how to explain it almost. You just get to-
You did know it was working though, because I remember something you said in maths when you said you're about when you were ill; do you remember?
I do remember that.
Do that one, because you said you're ill, so you're off for a couple of days. And of course when you're ill, you always think, oh no, I'm going to come back, I missed out, I won't know what to do.
Yeah, I think... Yeah.
Mention that, because I thought that was quite good.
Well, I was ill, of course, and I missed a couple lessons. It was a new topic as well. It was difficult... In my old school, if I miss something, it was difficult to adapt to what it was we were learning. And I came back in, and we had this bit at the start of the lesson where we were all on the carpet, going through, recapping. I thought, maybe I get the hang of this, maybe I don't. We would go back, go through the problems, and I think, if I struggled I could always go to someone for help. Say I wasn't just stuck there on my own, panicking, I can't do this. It was always, yes, I can go over there, they'll tell me, and I can easily catch up. There was no worry about getting left behind.
Yeah, the lessons are a little bit cyclical as well. Each one builds on the one before, so you can find your way back through. Sophia, how did you know when it worked for you?
Well, I think it was when people who found maths really difficult, like Kitty who used to sit next to me, and she hated maths, absolutely hated it. And it was when she started to complain less, and she started to enjoy it and we used to work together.
She fought it though, didn't she?
She did. It took a while, but yeah.
Yeah, it did.
She did. And now I know that she... I think it really changed her approach with maths, because she quite enjoys it now, I think.
Yeah. How is she now? I mean, that's a good example to actually not talk about yourself, but the person next to you. But the person next to you, with due you respect to you, always compared herself to you. And that was part of the problem a little bit for her. So do you think Maths — No Problem! changed that for her? Is that the year that it clicked for her?
Yeah, I think it did, because she's changed. She's definitely changed the way that she thinks about her maths now, and most of her subjects, because it gave her that belief in herself, because she could do it, because it was so, just well done for her. She could understand it. And yeah, I think she definitely feels more positively about academics than she did before Maths — No Problem!.
Yeah, you're right. She's a good example. She isn't with us today, but she was one of the pupils that was in that class. So yeah, it did have a real big effect on her. Yeah, how was that, Andy?
That was great. But unfortunately we're out of time. I want to thank you so much for sharing your experiences and taking the time to talk to us today. It's a nice break from our regular format of the podcast. So thanks once again.
It's our pleasure. Thanks very much.
Thank you for joining us on The School of School podcast.