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Creative Education Functional Skills Collaborative Projects – Bury College and Trafford College Case Study

Background and Intent

In readiness for the reformed Level 1 Mathematics Functional Skills non- calculator test, we realised that there would be an even greater emphasis on problem solving skills. Therefore, at Bury and Trafford College we decided to test whether the use of puzzles or games (compared to our more traditional teaching approaches) could help learners develop the necessary skills to access, attempt and solve the Maths Level 1 questions.

The DfE subject content states that learners underpinning skills, as well as their mathematical ability, will be tested. This implied that learners would be provided with little or no scaffolding in questions and that information provided would not necessarily use mathematical language. Knowing our learners, we realised that they would be put off by questions that seemed too complicated or required multiple steps in order to complete, especially without the aid of a calculator.

Encouraged by one of our maths tutors, we believed that puzzles and games could help learners develop resilience with problem solving, improve logical thinking, memory and time taken to work out a solution. We therefore agreed on 3 digital and 3 paper-based puzzles or games to be piloted by our staff.

This was a theory I wanted to test based on my personal interest in completing maths puzzles and my resilience to stick with it, even when it seemed impossible.

Team Leader – Functional Skills Maths, Bury College

Our Approach

Bury College and Trafford College have a history of working together, therefore it was relatively easy to get together and schedule joint working procedures. Bury focussed on paper- based puzzles that were handed in after each lesson such as Sudoku, Hanjie and Suguru. Trafford College used a mixture of card-based games such as Timetable Snap and Fraction Action and electronic games such as Hit the Button. To minimise costs, we ensured that all puzzles and games were free to use and download.

All students underwent a non- calculator initial and summative assessment in order to evaluate the success of the project. Alongside this, both colleges tracked student progress using Individual Learning Plans. Tutors were also observed in class to assess delivery. This information on learner and staff experience will be interpreted and will inform and support future delivery.

Successes and Incremental Gains

The initial feedback from students and teachers was mixed. Students seemed to enjoy being in competition and the distraction from ordinary lessons, but were also very sensitive to the age appropriateness of the activities, as they did not want to be seen to be engaging in a childish game. Some found the games too confusing with one teacher commenting that what she thought would take 10 minutes actually took up the whole session.

Ultimately, our successes were identified through classroom observation. Once students were familiar with the games, our tutors saw learners grow in confidence and finish work in a timely manner, as they could request the games once the set tasks were completed.

Our tutors were also keen to engage with the games and adapted their lesson plans to allow for the activities at the start of each session. They would also research further fun ways of motivating their learners, which improved overall department discussions and the sharing of good practice and success stories.

Watching the learners play the games also allowed the tutors to identify and correct common mathematical misconceptions as they occurred.

Classroom interactions between learners improved as games were completed in small groups or paired activities. Mathematical discussions were taking place as learners spotted errors and were keen to try again which showed a growing resilience and an improvement in attitude towards difficulties. Over the five week span of the project, one tutor noticed an improvement in mathematical ability and the time taken to respond across the entirety of their class.

During the initial assessments learners showed a distinct reluctance to attempt the questions, following delivery of our initiative when re- tested all learners attempted all of the questions. It is unclear whether we can directly attribute these findings to our introduction of puzzles and games, as there were other variables and contributory factors in play.

However, we have shown that the introduction of puzzles and games has created a more engaging learning environment and if we have influenced the resilience and resolve of our learners, providing them the confidence to tackle difficult questions, then without a doubt this is our biggest success.

Students initially refused to do an activity which said age 7+ on the box. The same game, taken out of the box, was successfully introduced the following week.

Head of Maths, Trafford College

Conclusion and Next Steps

As a result of the positive feedback from both students and teachers, every maths Functional Skills scheme of work will include puzzles and/or games moving forward. Interactive challenges have been selected to help improve students’ understanding of number patterns and bonds, build mental maths skills and develop confidence and resilience.

The incorporation of fun activities and choice, as to which games or puzzles, should lead to improved engagement and independent learning. By allowing students to learn through trial and error, we aim to build their resilience and develop a ‘have a go attitude’, something that is crucial when it comes to tackling those more demanding maths questions.

Further Information

For further information on anything you have read here or if you would be interested in hearing about taking part in future project opportunities please contact [email protected].

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Matt Dean

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