Imagine a scruffy cardboard box, full of odds and ends and plastic bits. You may disregard the box, but for me, that’s where my magic as a maths teacher lay. The power of giving students a series of plastic coins to calculate with decimals. The sprinkle of magic of a plastic jug and some water to explore measurement. The wonder and awe at the use of a tens frame to develop number bonds. All this magic lived in my scruffy box.
I could never predict when I needed my box of resources, it could happen in any lesson and at anytime. I’ve been in lessons where we are looking at a tricky worded question concerning forming and solving algebraic equations but a number line was required to help students identify the value of x. What you may think of as basics may be missing for some students. I don’t view these as basics but numeracy principles that often require reinforcing. You may have gathered that I wasn’t in a primary phase classroom. These maths manipulatives can be viewed as age-related but I have seen the magic that these manipulatives hold for all ages. My scruffy box came with me through secondary schools, alternative provisions, and even adult learning in FE. Sometimes a physical resource is needed to help students make sense of maths. When we moved online that became more challenging. Whilst we are no longer online, I can fully appreciate now that my box wasn’t the right tool for the job of supporting students with maths manipulatives.
What I needed was to let go of the box. The box lived with me in my classroom and I wasn’t helping my students access the support independently, they were relying on me. When we offer additional support to students we want to give them the opportunity to access it on their terms. By replicating much of my box’s contents with Equatio by Texthelp, I was able to support students inside and outside the classroom. A bank of shapes, coins, tens frames, number lines and so much more assigned to students, pinned to the top of their assignments, so that no matter when they needed an infinite supply of 10 pence pieces to calculate with decimals, Equatio and I were ready to help.
You may read this and think ‘ah but coins, counters and cubes are for primary’. I think they are for everyone. With one in ten 19 year olds not holding maths and English at level 2, we have work to do, collectively, to change this narrative. (Learning & Work, 2021) Whilst this is a complex puzzle of factors required to change outcomes for students we need to open our minds to all the possibilities that are available. Colleagues in all phases can learn from each other and best practices can be adapted and applied in new ways. That’s the magic of teaching, the power to connect and learn from each other. Let’s not take anything off the table when we are looking at supporting students with maths, except maybe take the scruffy box away.
After leaving the classroom in April 2022 Sammy now works at Texthelp as a Teaching and Learning Specialist.