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Maths Mastery

Maths has the potential to be an exciting, intriguing and satisfying subject to learn. Mastery is one way BSKL teaches Maths in order to foster a love for the subject in all of our pupils. But what does it mean?

What is Maths Mastery?

At its foundation, a mastery approach to teaching Maths requires students to fully understand the structure behind mathematical ideas. Many of us will have experienced a Maths education where the emphasis was put on being able to complete calculations swiftly and correctly. Things have changed.

While we do value fluency at BSKL, we know that to have truly mastered an area of Maths the pupils must be able to do more than just follow an algorithm at pace. We want our pupils to be more than just human calculators or memorisers - we want them to be problem solvers.

At BSKL the memorisation of facts and methods is given less priority than a deep structural understanding of the mathematics. For example, rather than memorising the square numbers, the pupils might be engaged in exploring the structure and patterns contained within them:

Think of a number (e.g. 7). Square it (7 x 7 = 49). Add two more lots of your original number (49 + 7 + 7 = 63). Add 1 (63 +1 = 64). You have landed on the next square number. Why? Does this always work for any number? Why?

It is clear to see that a child that is able to think carefully about this problem, communicate their thoughts and perhaps even draw a representation to prove it, is working at a much higher level than someone who has merely memorised the square numbers. The great thing about Mastery is that often by engaging with the underlying structure, we stand a better chance of committing useful mathematical information to memory.

What does Maths Mastery look like at BSKL?

At the heart of BSKL’s Mastery approach to Maths is the idea that we should value a ‘deep’ level of understanding of mathematical concepts. Spending more time on each topic area is one key ingredient of Maths Mastery. Units can last a number of weeks; during which time the mathematical concepts are built and tested using a variety of contexts, questions, representations and problem solving.

It is important to note that Mastery does not devalue fluency as an important ingredient. Pupils are still expected to know their tables and number bonds, as well as stage-appropriate formal methods of calculation; however, the difference is that Mastery expects them to understand what they are doing, rather than just memorise a list of facts or instructions.

The importance of ‘Why?’

Many of us will have experienced Maths as a mysterious subject with a great number of rules to learn and very little in the way of explanation of why these rules work. This is a tedious way to learn Maths and one that will inevitably be forgotten.

We know that curiosity drives great education - learners that ask ‘why?’ are the ones that will develop a deep understanding. This is the reason we want our pupils to be asking ‘why?’ every day in their Maths lessons.

As a teacher we are looking for students that value the feeling they get when they can say ‘that makes sense’ rather than just getting the answer correct. The feeling of understanding is transformational - the pupils can sense when something feels right, they can adapt their methods flexibly to fit the situation and the numbers. As it begins to make sense, the interconnectedness of Maths becomes clear and it becomes unnecessary to memorise a set of instructions. And possibly most importantly, Maths becomes an enjoyable experience.