Reports from Bowland Maths users

Heartlands' transformation

Teachers in the Maths Department in Heartlands Academy are proud to talk about the transformation they went through. A decade ago, the Department was in a crisis. Housed in a school under special measures and located in a deprived area, it had great difficulties in attracting staff, and the Department was highly dependent on supply teachers. Classified as a national challenge school, the majority of students arrived at the school with insufficient English, many from poor families, adding to the challenge. With a new management and governance, Heartlands Academy re-established its reputation, winning three successive ‘outstanding’ evaluations from OFSTED in 2008/9, 2010/11 and 2014. In 2014, the school also received an Educational Outcomes Award from SSAT for its excellent performance in adding value to its students. While such success is a result of school-wide efforts, the contribution of the Maths Department is well recognized within the school. 71% of students attained Grade C-A* in EBacc Mathematics, which put it in the top 20% of similar schools. The Maths Department was particularly proud that all the maths teachers whose classrooms were observed in the last OFSTED review, were rated as ‘outstanding’ – a marked improvement from previous OFSTED evaluations.

“Most students start the academy with attainment that is well below average. However, in 2013, the proportion of students making and exceeding expected levels of progress in English and mathematics was significantly above the national averages.” (OFSTED Feb 2014)”

What was the source of such a transformation? Ferida McQuillan, the Head of Department responds simply: “Bowland Maths.”

“We (teachers) changed,” she reflects. “We now get them (our students) to think, we get them to analyse”.

The Department’s change started six years ago with an arrival of a young PGCE trainee, Elnaz Javaheri. When Elnaz tried her first Bowland Maths case, “Olympics,” as a PGCE trainee, she was surprised to see how much students enjoyed the maths lesson. Even ‘trouble makers’ were productively engaged; it was as though they found the right outlet for their active minds.

When she joined as a staff member a year later, Elnaz began to experiment further with active use of Bowland Maths materials. It was not long before Ferida noticed that Elnaz’s classes were creative and different – with the students highly engaged in maths. The Department started using Bowland Maths materials for their newly established ‘creative week’, in which a whole day can be dedicated to maths every term.

What changes do they now see in their students? They see their students developing good ownership of the problems, and becoming responsible for their own work. They grow confident in maths as they develop better connections with it. They also work and communicate with each other better.

The basic change in students’ attitude to problem solving is observable after two or three lessons, where they grow more confident and resilient with multi-step problems. With more frequent exposure, they become better thinkers and more aware of the processes through which they solve problems. Even when they are solving normal maths questions, they are more aware about what their assumptions are, how they analyse and how they conclude.

The teachers think that Bowland Maths is good for all ability groups. Those who had confidence in maths ‘matured’ through learning that maths was not just about getting the right answer, but that the process of thinking was important. Those who did not feel competent in maths developed better connections with maths.

To introduce Bowland Maths in one corner of a Maths Department is one thing, to integrate it into departmental practice is another matter. For Heartlands Academy, the Bowland Lesson Study project provided the right discipline and mechanism for the Department to learn to work together. The teachers were forced to plan lessons jointly at a level of detail unthinkable before. Because Bowland Maths was sufficiently ‘different’ from normal maths teaching, it was easy for all of them to admit their own uncertainties, and they learned to communicate better with each other and to trust each other.

“(Bowland Lesson Study) brought the Department together.”

Ferida remembers that when she first received the DVD from Bowland Maths, the materials looked complicated and hard to use. She found it much easier to use once she saw it being used by other teachers.

Today, the weekly departmental meetings serve the purpose of openly discussing teaching practices of specific topics. Recent visitors to the Department have all been impressed by the level of collaboration that goes on.

In 2013, Heartlands Academy conducted a public lesson study with a class in Year 9, helped by Prof. Akihiko Takahashi, an expert from IMPULS, the International Maths-Teacher Professionalisation using Lesson Study project, funded by the Japanese government. Earlier in the year, the class was exposed to Bowland Maths materials in preparation for the lesson study; this led to a notable positive change in their attitude to maths. At the end of the year, the maths performance for the class showed massive improvements for the entire group – progress that Ferida attributes to the use of Bowland Maths.

The Department as a whole now feels comfortable teaching Bowland Maths and it comes naturally for individual teachers to select Bowland tasks for creative week. Bowland Maths materials are not only part of their ‘creative week’, but are also written into their Scheme of Work. The next challenge they have set themselves is to conduct Lesson Study routinely as professional development – it is something they want to do as a school-wide initiative.