How Has Maths Teaching Changed Since You Were At School?

Zoe RedmillI finished A-levels in 1997, over 20 years ago now.  When I was at school there were no computers on the teacher’s desk, let alone a phone in the students’ pockets.  There were no overhead projectors or interactive white boards – my school was still changing from chalk blackboards to whiteboards and we certainly didn’t know what a power-point presentation was!  The teachers had to hand write their examples on the board and use text books or sheets for question practice.  We certainly didn’t all carry glue sticks and scissors around with us, so I can only assume the sheets were all collected back in and carefully stored by the teacher for the next time, but I can’t actually remember!

Aside from the classroom environment and resources I think the main change I can see is how much teachers are checking student understanding.  When I was at school the teacher would have just asked for ‘hands up who understood’ or ‘hands up who doesn’t understand’ after giving some new information and we would have put our hand up or not if we could be bothered.  The teacher would have then only found out who actually didn’t understand when we were working through questions or from test marks later.  Now there is a focus on assessment for learning (afl) - the teacher doing mini checks through the lesson.  It helps the teacher identify who hasn’t grasped a concept very early on in the learning.  Students regularly use mini white boards to show their answers or answer a key question to test understanding before moving on to question practice.  The mini whiteboards are non-threatening for students because it can always be rubbed out and they are large enough for the teacher to read from around the room.  The teacher can then adjust their delivery or help individual students depending on the results.

Additionally I have noticed there is more emphasis on exam technique and how to actually revise rather than just being told to revise before a test, this starts early on in secondary school and is referred back to throughout the year.  This is helping the students build a toolkit ready for their GCSEs, rather than just arriving at their year 11 mocks with no real understanding of how and what to revise.  The topics taught at GCSE now are areas that I studied at A-level and there is a very high level of ‘off by heart’ knowledge required, such as formulas for volume and the exact values for sine and co-sine that I do not remember having to learn for my GCSEs.

Overall there have been changes to maths teaching since I was at school but most particularly in the level of checking of understanding the teachers are doing.

By Zoe Redmill