It’s an interesting time to be involved in primary mathematics. In September 2014, at the same time as teachers in England were getting their heads around the changes to the curriculum, our colleagues in America were being asked to embrace a new, much-debated approach to teaching math – the Common Core State Standards.
The common core represented an idealogical shift in approach to math teaching in response to the criticism that American math curricula was ‘a mile wide and an inch deep’. Fundamentally, it was about making math a more conceptual, interconnected and deep subject, rather than a procedural one. The standards mandate that the following eight principles are taught:
The changes to the maths curriculum in England were also built on an ideological shift to a ‘mastery’ curriculum, with calculation concepts being developed through conceptual understanding, children able to reason mathematically and solve a range of problems. The parallels between the changes made in England and America were clear.
Will these curricula changes result in improved learning outcomes? Curriculum change is nothing new, as this article from the New Tork Times points out:
If the reforms are to have a lasting and significant impact, I believe the following two points are crucial:
HOW > WHAT
Changing curriculum content rarely has a significant impact on attainment; improving teaching pedagogy, though, has much greater power. The launch of the new maths curriculum is therefore only the start of the change process – more significant are the processes that are put in place now to allow teachers to develop their teaching. The maths community needs to provide a clear and exciting vision for the new maths curriculum; there need to be better maths resources available, especially in relation to non-standard problems; and a culture of challenge and trust needs to be instilled between school leaders and staff to allow teachers to develop their practice. The process of implementing the new maths curriculum is very much in its infancy, and patience is needed. It needs to be brought to life for teachers in vivid colour.
The alterations to the curriculum, both in America and in the UK, are designed to fundamentally change the perception of what mathematics is. We are selling a change in mindset, and as such a strong and convincing narrative must be provided if people are to understand and buy into this new philosophy. Children need to understand (and be able to articulate) what it means to think mathematically. Included in this is the fundamental belief that we all have the capacity to succeed in maths given the right experiences. All too often, children who have had fewer, or less effective, early maths experiences develop negative perceptions of mathematics and become labelled ‘lower ability’. The challenge for us all, therefore, is about how we ‘sell’ mathematics as well as how we teach it.
I hope that, as a profession, we can enable children to experience the true joy of mathematics, rather than the watered-down version that so many adults experienced in their own school days.