Sunday, 1 March 2015

Daily Mental Maths

Ever since my "lower ability" (I hate labelling children by ability) Year 5 maths class walked in in September and answered, "What is 8 divided by 2?" with: "Err... 3?", I knew I had my work set out for me.

I have no doubt that their Year 4, Year 3 and KS1 teachers taught them about division - and all the other mathematical processes and concepts that they'd now forgotten - but clearly, something hadn't clicked.

To start with, I had children ranging from level 1 to level 3 mathematicians (using the old curriculum standards, obviously). Even the level 3 mathematicians struggled with using the four operations confidently, and especially struggled when applying them.

After much frustration (and many tears, I must admit, particularly when the whole of Year 5 sat an old Level 3 - 5 paper, and obviously my children didn't do well at all), I decided to focus on the problem - they needed repetition. Of everything. All the time.

Now, I'd always done mental maths before, but only sporadically, and using fairly random questions. I spoke to @LMisselle1 (a Year 6 teacher of 35 years, a deputy head and a FOUNTAIN of wisdom) and she introduced me to the way she approaches mental maths with her Year 6 class (who are in a one-form entry school, so have a slightly wider range of abilities in one class than mine).

The premise is to do 10 (I range from 5 to 10, depending on how much time I have each week) questions every day, but each set of questions is exactly the same - only the numbers change. You'd obviously expect the majority of children to get a slightly lower score on Monday, but the idea is that each day they improve on their previous score as they learn how to approach each question (this concept of aiming for improvement, not just a high final score, fits nicely with the growth mind-set initiative we've just implemented in our school!)

The first time you tackle a new set of questions (on a Monday usually, in my case) it takes a lot longer, as you might have to teach the children how to do a particular question (or use a child to come up to the front and teach the class how they did it - this is revealing in itself, because even though some children get the answers right, they often struggle with reasoning it, therefore highlighting areas you, as a teacher, need to work on.)

This is how the first few days of my week might go. I pick areas of the curriculum we've recently covered to see if the children have remembered, but also areas we haven't yet covered to see what they already know and what I need to teach. I also usually always try to fit in a question using each of the four operations (using column addition and subtraction, column (NOT grid) multiplication and bus-stop division), as they constantly need to recap those. I display the questions on my interactive whiteboard and uncover them one at a time - that way, children can go back and answer earlier ones if they've spent too long on one question.

1. What is 3,507 divided by 7?
2. Write 0.03 as a fraction.
3. A square has sides of 5cm. What is its a) perimeter? b) area?
4. What is 50% of 30?
5. Multiply 2,345 by 3.
6. What is 2/3 of 24?
7. How many centimetres are in 3.2 metres?
8. What is 3,245 - 1,482?

1. What is 2,462 divided by 3?
2. Write 0.046 as a fraction.
3. A square has sides of 8cm. What is its a) perimeter? b) area?
4. What is 50% of 48?
5. Multiply 5,023 by 4.
6. What is 2/3 of 30?
7. How many centimetres are in 420 metres?
8. What is 5,232 - 535?

... and so on. As an example, my class didn't know what 50% meant when we first did this - so I taught them on the Monday, and the majority had remembered on the Tuesday. If I hadn't have covered this then, they wouldn't have learnt it until I'd taught a lesson on percentages. This is why I love this method - it gives you an opportunity to teach them little bits of maths without having to spend whole lessons on it.

The following week, I will make sure I cover other areas of maths - such as sequences, time etc. Luckily I have a TA who can take my low Level 2 child out during this time to practise times tables and other more basic mental maths whilst I do this with the rest of my class.

If anyone has any other ways to help their children retain things, please let me know! It is my greatest struggle at the moment, but I honestly believe this is helping them. They see it as a challenge - they love seeing that they've improved their score each day, and those that only scored one mark on the first day often score nearly full marks on the last day of the week. It's seeing those little successes that make it worth it :)

Find me on Twitter @_MissieBee (previously @Miss_RQT)


  1. I love this idea of repetition and assessment all in one. I will be using this as regular practice with my class.

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