How to make maths memorable

By Annie Facchinetti

Recent research in the area of neuroscience has revealed that the brain has a greater ability to change and adapt than was previously thought. However, brain changes are generally not instant. For lasting neurological pathways to be built, much like wearing a physical pathway between one place and another, they need to be travelled multiple times.

The idea that practice assists with the retention of knowledge is not a new one, but our understanding of the importance of practice in learning has been deepened by neuroscientific research. For example, a 2013 study by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology specifically examined the role of practice in the acquisition of maths skills. According to Professor Hermundur Sigmundsson, one of the study’s authors, ‘We found support for a task specificity hypothesis. You become good at exactly what you practice’ (EurekAlert!, 2013).

The concept of practice is therefore an integral part of Oxford Maths. Each topic in the Student Books features a Guided Practice section that includes worked examples to support students in the early stages of learning about a concept or skill. The Independent Practice pages then allow students to use their skills and apply their knowledge, while the Extended Practice section provides the opportunity to apply learning in slightly more challenging contexts.

The Oxford Maths Student Book practice sections follow a gradual release of responsibility model, designed to scaffold students’ learning and build confidence to tackle more complex work. Many students, and indeed many adults, would assert that they are not good at maths, and the approach used in Oxford Maths is designed to ensure that every student can experience success at their level. An OECD presentation about the role of the brain in learning reached the following conclusion:

‘Concerning positive emotions, one of most powerful triggers that motivates people to learn is the illumination that comes with the grasp of new concepts – the brain responds very well to this. A primary goal of early education should be to ensure that children have this experience of “enlightenment” as early as possible and become aware of just how pleasurable learning can be.’ (Understanding the Brain: the Birth of a Learning Science, 2008)

To ensure that all students have the opportunity to feel successful in maths, the Oxford Maths Teacher Dashboards offer differentiated learning pathways to support students at their point of need. This includes teacher-led activities for students who require extra support, additional hands-on and collaborative learning experiences for students who are at standard, and a range of extension opportunities to challenge more able students. Suggestions for daily practice and ideas for whole-class activities offer a range of different opportunities to practise concepts and establish lasting neurological pathways. The pre- and post-assessment components also equip teachers to monitor student learning and make appropriate teaching adjustments.

In discussing the gradual release of responsibility model, Fisher and Frey (2008) assert that, ‘Structured teaching requires that teachers know their students and content well, that they regularly assess students’ understanding of the content, and that they purposefully plan interrelated lessons that transfer responsibility from the teacher to the student’. The structure of the Oxford Maths program also supports the ‘I do it; we do it; you do it together; you do it independently’ philosophy of the gradual release of responsibility model, by working through a structured series of activities that foster collaborative learning supported by ongoing snapshot assessment.

As teachers, it is easy to overlook the importance of practice as we rush to cover all the content required while meeting the high demands of busy school life. Oxford Maths provides a clear and comprehensive mathematics program that draws on current research to ensure that content is not just ‘covered’ but taught in a way that leads to sustained learning and the development of problem solving and reasoning skills.

Oxford Maths:

  • is a balanced approach including direct instruction, hands-on activities, small group and whole class tasks, skill practice and open-ended problem-solving.
  • incorporates key elements of inquiry, including making connections with mathematics in the real world, opportunities for higher-order thinking and multiple pathways for students
  • supports students to build foundational maths skills needed for complex critical thinking and problem-solving tasks.

Further reading

EurekAlert! 2013, No math gene: Learning mathematics takes practice. [online] Available at: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2013-12/nuos-nmg121313.php [Accessed 28 June 2016].

Fisher, D & Frey, N 2008, Better learning through structured teaching, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Alexandria, Va.

Sigmundsson, H, Polman RCJ & Lorås, H 2013, ‘Exploring Individual Differences in Children’s Mathematical Skills: A Correlational and Dimensional Approach’, Psychological Reports: Volume 113, Issue 1, pp. 23-30. doi: 10.2466/04.10.PR0.113x12z2

2008, Understanding the Brain: the Birth of a Learning Science, 1st ed. [ebook] Paris: OECD. Available at: http://www.oecd.org/site/educeri21st/40554190.pdf [Accessed 28 June 2016]

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