GTC Scotland

The General Teaching Council for Scotland

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Maths is often considered to be a difficult subject, both for teachers and students, but it doesn’t have to be.

In 2016, the Scottish Government’s Making Maths Count group published a report identifying key areas for improvement to make Scotland a maths-positive place. One of these recommendations related to building confidence and fluency in maths, both for young people and those who teach maths. But four years on many teachers still report lacking confidence when it comes to teaching pupils STEM subjects. Below we highlight several initiatives that could help boost confidence in the profession.

1. Maths Week begins on 28 September

A year after the Making Maths Count report was published, the first Maths Week Scotland was launched. Last year, schools in every local authority took part by incorporating maths into PE lessons, completing code-breaking challenges and outdoor treasure hunts.

Schools in Argyll and Bute decided to incorporate Learning for Sustainability into their activities, tackling real world problems. Using their maths skills under pressure, pupils simulated a disaster relief response. They planned, designed and budgeted for the resources required to be loaded onto planes and help those in need.
Teachers were supported with maths activities, presented with research and encouraged to share ideas among colleagues. Edinburgh University hosted an evening with Deputy First Minister John Swinney and Darren McKinnon from Edinburgh Council, while the Glasgow TeachMeet saw colleagues getting hands on with activities. The Mathematical Association Annual CPD day also took place at the end of the week, helping teachers find inspiration and resources to take back to the classroom.

A Maths Week Scotland Small Grants Fund is available for anyone looking to run maths activities at their school. The fund is jointly provided by the Scottish Government Curriculum Unit, Edinburgh Mathematical Society and Glasgow Mathematical Journal Trust, and applications are open until 12pm on 26 August. Last year, schools used their funding to build escape rooms and maths trails.

2. Number talks

Number talks have been widely used in schools for many years. This is a simple exercise where the teacher and the pupils discuss how to solve a problem. Not only does it help the pupils to boost their own confidence, it also helps the teacher to identify those who may still be struggling with maths.

A Robert Douglas Memorial Primary School’s P7 class teacher conducted a practitioner enquiry on number talks. She wanted to encourage a mathematic mindset, encouraging her pupils to think creatively by asking children to share as many ways to solve the same problem. “[At the start] I noted which children came up with lots of ways and those who had fewer. I [then] measured how confidence levels changed by comparing the assessment at the start and end.”

Not only was there an improvement in the pupils’ abilities over the year, the teacher gained some confidence of her own: “It has been useful to show that there is not just one way to do numbers. I have gained confidence in letting the children get things wrong and explore through number talks where they went wrong in their thinking and how to do it differently next time. Getting the children to verbalise their thinking was really valuable. This makes the learning visible and not hidden. The verbalisation of the number process and how children explain their thinking and then sharing this and using other strategies from each other is really powerful.”

3. Mr Kinnear’s biology maths guides

“I don’t need maths, I want to be a gardener.” This was the response biology teacher Dougie Kinnear received when he asked a pupil why she wasn’t looking forward to her next class. “One of my best friends is a maths teacher and we were discussing frustrations we had when it came to engaging pupils in maths,” Dougie explained. “There’s this socially accepted idea that maths is hard that can influence young people greatly.”

Dougie’s own frustrations stem from the false perception many pupils have that biology is the easiest science because you don’t need maths. This led Dougie to create a biology maths resource. “We have posters in the classroom showing the most common equations and methods used in biology, but felt we needed more. The resource goes into a little more depth about the rationale and also uses past exam questions as examples.”

4. Free Open University course

The Open University offers many online maths courses including the free Teaching Mathematics course, for non-specialist mathematics teachers of pupils aged 8-14 years old. This course aims to develop teacher’s understanding of the mathematical content covered in the middle school years and effective strategies and approaches to the teaching and learning of this content. The course covers how children in this age group learn mathematics and the common misconceptions which they may experience.