Primary Mathematics at the University of Reading

How would you feel learning to teach young learners of mathematics?

A trainee teacher's enthusiasm

Nasreen Majid is an enthusiastic director of the BAEd(QTS) at the University of Reading. She teaches mathematics to all students in the programme.

Speaking to her it is obvious she is passionate about the teaching of mathematics. But perhaps, equally important is her passion for communication and the training of teachers who can enthuse and inspire students. The Mathematics Specialism on the programme has now been running since 2013 this is the first year a cohort will be graduating.

The structure of BA Ed (QTS) progamme at Reading University is as follows:

It’s a three year programme comprised of four specialisms including:

* Maths
* English 
* Arts
* Music

Instil the drive to improve primary mathematics

Nasreen working with trainee teachers

Nasreen says: ‘We focus in on traditional academic and the art centred side of developing expertise. It’s a unique course because students have specialisms at the point of entry. This is very rare on a Primary Teacher Training Course In fact two modules are dedicated to these specialisms alongside developing an expertise in teaching.

I was a primary maths teacher initially, with extensive knowledge of mathematics, including being a Primary Mathematics Advanced Skills teacher (AST) and started at Reading University five years ago. I have now been director for two of those years and have played a large part in developing the mathematics specialism. This was largely I response to the government driving maths forward in primary schools. We wanted to develop primary school teachers and instill this drive in them. 

Do maths to understand it


Measure for Measure

The thing is, maths is a subject where you need to actually do maths to understand the processes while also fine tuning ideas. We wanted to challenge the notion that people say with defeatism: ‘I can’t do maths’. It’s almost a knee jerk reaction. We ask, ‘well, have you tried? 

We understand there’s a need for our mathematics specialists to work on their love for mathematics but also actually ‘do’ problems whilst on the course. Sometimes their opinions are based on their own experience of A-level and post-A- level maths. We want them to combine their love of maths with exploration of just how kids learn maths. If you like, we wish to fine-tune their own learning.

We use the work of Vygotsky, Bruner and Skemp as just three examples and look very closely at both procedural and conceptual understanding. We do this by embedding such understanding in key examples from the curriculum.

It’s exciting to watch students’ progress

Take multiplication for example. Procedural understanding is about getting towards employing shorthand ways to manipulate number without really understanding why this is being done. But what we are also after is looking to link the use of manipulative, use of models and imagery and use them to develop the concepts around multiplication value and key mathematical ideas and concepts. This is built on throughout the three years of the course and it’s very exciting to watch and participate in these processes.

What impact does government policy have on maths teaching?

We also explore curriculum input with specialists and study a range of work that explores theoretical underpinning and international perspectives. We also study the government policies around the teaching of mathematics.

On curricular input with specialists because we are educating the  future leaders in mathematics teaching. 

It’s been fascinating to compare different countries’ approaches. Take Singapore and Finland for example. What is the actual difference between these two? After all, much of their policies have been discussed at length and held up as examples of good practice. So we undertake assignments and compare the similarities and differences and how the UK is moving forward. By doing this, we enable our students to be critical consumers of government policy and engage in cutting edge research.

When we have taken bits from international perspectives we actually ask opinion from our students:

* Do you agree with Singapore model?
* Are we just teaching aspects because we have been asked to do it?

We have looked in depth at the work of Nunes and Bryant. They have discovered that
kids do calculations in their heads or and then draw the bar model. It’s not used as a tool for understanding. It is just one example of research that is used to build our students’’ critical approaches to learning about policy and curriculum development.

Combine theory with mathematics training ideas

play dough animals image

In the final year module embedded within it is the development of Maths specialism and leadership. Colleagues come into the university from school and talk about their work and how to work with colleagues to promote the very best results.

This is part of the assignment linked to becoming a future leader. It encompasses the theoretical aspects of mathematics as well as developing a portfolio of training ideas.

One assignment looks at the notion of the ‘Gifted, Able and Talented’ label. We attempt to define the misconceptions and explore just what research says about this group of students. 

That’s pretty much an outline of the specialist side in a nutshell. We are so proud of our first cohort. They are all brilliant individuals. They are flexible, creative and agile. They have taken on the newness of this course and set about the process of moulding it with aplomb.

Personally, I’m doing some research into graduates this year. I shall be tracking the primary maths specialists who are working in schools. My plan is to interview them before they leave university regarding their notion of professional identity. I will then go into schools annually to see how they’ve progressed and how their career has developed.

This links to my thesis about the M level maths specialist programme (MaST) that is decommissioned now the government has stopped funding it.

I shall be using the life history methodological approach to see the progress pre and post being a maths specialist. I want to map the role and outline the framework and connections. What happens that assists in the development of specialisms, what are the drivers and what are the hindrances?

This is essential, especially when we examine the subject of Maths and British society and the whole seemingly accepted notion of maths being a deficit subject. How do we deal with the basis premise people hold on to of not being any good at maths?
This is one of key questions; how do you negotiate that?

Look at the old staple: Mathematician’s Delight by W.W. Sawyer, published way back in 1943. Even back then, on the first page he talks about maths being seen as a subject of fear. We want to dispel this through structures and frameworks. We do this by making connection. In the curriculum side of the BA Ed (QTS) we use art, music and poetry to show the connections. For example, in one of my first lectures in looking at the Fibonacci sequence and its abundance in nature, we then use the sequence numbers 1,2,3,5,,8,13 to create poems with appropriate syllables within the Fibonacci sequence. It is a fun way of getting our students to think about the beauty and applicability of mathematics. I also want to underline the fact that it’s not ok to say ‘we are no good at maths.’ We need to develop a positive attitude and the MaST level programme did help to promote this. It helped Mathematics Leads to work with colleagues to address anxieties around maths and to develop expertise. 

Unpicking anxieties and subject knowledge alongside developing pedagogical ideas is empowering. It’s been a critical element in experienced teachers’ development for both their subject knowledge, pedagogical knowledge and their career. 

Coaching and mentoring are a unique part of the MaST programme. Every MaST has to have the skills to pass on ideas not just know them mentally.

Some primary maths teachers have not studied maths beyond GCSE and they shy away from teaching mathematical concepts. We help them unpick the pedagogy and the subject knowledge and find ways of doing that. It’s about contextual intelligence.

Nasreen Majid is:

  • Director of the BA Ed Programme.
  • BA Ed Curriculum Mathematics Teaching to Year 1, 2 and 3.
  • IoE Writing group convenor.
  • Master Supervision.
  • BA Ed Advanced Teaching Project (ATP) convenor and supervision.
  • School supervision on the BA Ed programme.
  • Guest lecturer on the PGCE Primary and Secondary.
  • Mentor on the Academic Practice Programme (APP).
  • Member of the Equity, Improvement and Leadership research group.
  • Member of the Enterprise and Internationalisation Committee.
  • Representative for the IoE on the South East Asia Advisory Group.
  • Member of the IoE Ethics Committee.

Expertise and Research Interest:

  • Teaching and Learning of Primary Mathematics.
  • Assessment for Learning.
  • Impact of Mathematics Specialism Teachers in Primary Schools.
  • Leadership and Management of mathematics in Primary schools, including professional development.
  • Professional identities of Mathematics Specialist Teachers (MaSTs).

Masters Level Supervision offered in these areas:

  • Primary mathematics.
  • Issues around assessment in Primary schools.
  • Models of professional development in mathematics.

If you wish to teach secondary maths then you could also apply for a Maths Scholars scholarship award.