Teaching for Mastery - A Heuristic Approach to Problem Solving

Delivered by Simon Mazumder

My attraction to this workshop in particular and wanting to write my thoughts about it was based on my little background knowledge about this Mathematics Mastery approach. Yes, I knew of its origins form Singapore and other Far Eastern countries and research data seems to clearly show that our students in the UK are lagging way behind these countries and their students’ Mathematics level. Why is this so and what is special about their approach and teaching?

As I was hoping and expecting, Simon’s excellent use of visuals and mathematical images was a big attraction and he used his ‘Annulus area’ example and follow-up with the rectangle inside the circle to get us engaged and discussing the Maths behind it all. This immediately showed me, as a potential Mathematics teacher, how students’ focus can be gained easily in this way.

From the outset, it was amazing but also humbling and (personally a bit embarrassing!) to realise that the examples Simon was presenting were from KS1 and KS2 students (in Singapore) and our table in particular were dumb-founded that students so young could produce such Maths. Of particular intrigue was Simon’s introduction of and focus on ‘Bar Modelling’ and his initial example involving ‘Sally’ eating a sixth of a cake and then her sister having one-fifth. The answer to the question ‘How much was left?’ was fascinating and highlighted how students’ different understanding of the task in hand and their mathematical approach, especially when using the bars / blocks (as stressed in the Mastery technique) can lead to a different answer from the same question being approached with a more ‘traditional’ mindset.

Simon kept us engaged throughout with further such problem-solving examples from Singaporean textbooks and highlighted how making use of the bar method can aid one’s understanding and problem-solving. It was also very beneficial when Simon got our colleagues involved and engaged by asking them to come up and present (some of) their answers: we saw some excellent explanations given and teaching styles on display!

This session definitely opened my eyes, and hopefully that of others, to this approach which is already being implemented in schools up and down the country. Having just started my teacher training, Mathematics Mastery is something I will aim to read up on and research further: Simon’s session has given me more incentive to do so. In fact, my first University written assignment, whereby we are being asked to examine the position of Mathematics in a secondary curriculum, will be an excellent opening and hopefully this research can feed into my teaching as well as myself thinking more deeply about schools’ approaches to the subject.

By Kashif Hayat