NRICH CPD Webinar: A Review
In the first few weeks of my course, one of the books I’ve been reading is called “The Elephant in the Classroom”, by Jo Boaler. Writing in 2009, Boaler actually paints quite a bleak picture of maths teaching. Once the envy of the world, a culture of over-testing and rote learning had gripped the UK’s school maths departments, stifling them and hampering student learning. (One can only imagine how she’d describe the situation now, after a decade of austerity.) In her own words: “something needs to change”.
Having read that a few weeks ago, I felt quite helpless. Something needs to change! Yes! But what could I, a lowly not-yet-even-a-teacher, do about the situation? I know I’ll have some freedom in how I teach my classes, and obviously I’ll join my school’s trade union branch to raise the collective voice of me and my colleagues, but what can I teach my students that would get them not only to understand the how of mathematics, but also the why? How can I get them to look under the surface to see the beauty and interconnectedness behind all of the topics I’d be teaching them?
Then came a hero from an unexpected place (unless you looked at the title of this blog): Dr Ems Lord, the director of the NRICH mathematics project at the Cambridge Faculty of Education. NRICH was exactly what Boaler said what more maths teachers needed: a bank of resources to bridge the gap between “what we know works for children and what happens in most classrooms”. It is a website every maths teacher should know about.
In the seminar, Ems took us on a whirlwind tour of everything NRICH could offer us as teachers. The first question we discussed presented us with a collection of ten unlabelled graphs of Olympic records, and challenged us to find out what they were; various bits of non-mathematical sporting knowledge could be brought into this activity by students to solve these questions (all the while learning about graphs!).
There was too much else to get into properly in this short blog: there were short problems (based on questions lent to NRICH by UK Maths Challenge), and problems with student solutions which other students can go through and check. There was also an area for Live Maths Problems, where the answers weren’t on the website yet and students were encouraged to write in with their solutions. The ones on there currently focus on networks, which obviously is a very topical field in maths currently given its applications to epidemiology and fighting COVID-19.
NRICH is a treasure hoard for maths teachers, and it’s completely free. I’m glad to have learned about it.
By Tom Barringer
You can find NRICH on Twitter as @Nrichmaths and Dr Ems Lord as @DrEmsLord.