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Creative Education Functional Skills Collaborative Projects – Greater Brighton Metropolitan College and St John’s College Case Study

Maths Activation Project

Background and Intent

At St. John’s College, an Independent Specialist Provider for young adults 19-25 with learning disabilities, we identified that our learners were underachieving in Functional Skills maths compared to English at Entry 3 – Level 2. Similarly, at our project partner organisation (Greater Brighton Metropolitan College), maths Functional Skills achievement rates were falling year on year compounded by an increasingly high proportion of students (approximately 40%) being identified as having a learning difficulty.

We believed our lack of success could be attributed to a couple of factors. Firstly, the increased focus on advanced problem solving skills within longer, multi-step questions. Secondly, the fact that many of our learners, particularly those on the autistic spectrum, have difficulty imagining the Functional Skills scenarios in class and further difficulty applying the concepts learned in one scenario to another. We also realised that with the new Functional Skills Reforms and the continued emphasis on problem solving and the mastery and transferability of mathematical concepts, that we needed to address these issues sooner rather than later.

We therefore decided to try and bring the wordier, mathematical problem solving questions, typically found in the Functional Skills end assessments, to life in the workplace.

…many of our learners, particularly those on the autistic spectrum have difficulty imagining the functional scenarios in class and further difficulty applying the concepts learned in one scenario to anothe

Head of Learning, St John’s College

Our Approach

We designed our intervention strategy around David Kolb’s Experiential Learning Model, where our learners used concrete experience in the workplace followed by supported reflective observation to encourage them to apply and transfer abstract conceptualisation to other problem solving scenarios and therefore encourage independent active experimentation.

This meant that we would enable learners to learn maths in a relevant, practical and fun way and hopefully enable them to transfer their practical knowledge to a paper-based scenario. Through our employability team we received buy-in from three employers. Our maths teachers then worked alongside these employers, shadowing an employee to observe and extract the maths skills and processes habitually used.

These observations were used to design four, one and a half hour teaching sessions. Twenty of our learners from both organisations, then took part in the maths sessions and were given problems to solve inspired by the live action puzzles similar to those found in ‘Escape Rooms’.

Escape rooms are locked rooms containing clues within locked boxes, where players work together to solve puzzles, to obtain the codes to unlock the boxes and progress to the next set of clues in order to accomplish a particular goal, usually to escape from the room within a limited amount of time.  It is important to remember  that in order to heighten learner engagement the workplace scenarios we selected were both aspirational and relevant to our learners. The clues we used were all maths based, the answers to which were used to crack combination locks to reveal either further clues or a prize. We placed the clues within the workplace setting, with of course the employers permission, or used vocational settings, again working with the vocational tutors. This helped create the correct atmosphere and urgency with which learners were expected to solve the clues.

Successes and Incremental Gains

All of our learners and tutors had fun.

By engaging with and completing the ‘Escape Room’ workplace related maths activities 60% of our learners reported an increase in confidence

when it came to tackling paper-based problem solving questions. They thoroughly enjoyed the challenge, excitement and tension, within a safe environment, of having to solve the problem to open the box and receive a prize.

Teaching staff also noticed that focus and concentration were higher within the workplace settings than within the classroom. Learners were also more able to recall processes and applications when reflecting back in the classroom, compared to when they had previously completed paper based activities.

Using real life workplace or vocational settings allowed learners to realise the importance of the maths they were learning and applying, and how these skills would be important in order to gain employment. The vocational tutors involved in the scenarios also said they better understood the importance of promoting the maths skills used and needed within their specialisms and referencing them to Functional Skills.

In developing the sessions and the clues, our tutors used the new reformed Functional Skills sample assessment materials and specification and so familiarised themselves with the new content. This proved to be a very effective way to get them to engage and analyse the changes, which in turn led to the planning and editing of schemes

of work ready for September 2019. Our tutors also felt that by observing the learners it was easy to identify knowledge gaps and these activities would be good to use as part of our initial assessment procedures.

Learners having solved the clues and released the reward were  better  able to recall the maths they used. They Remembered what they  had  done from one week to the next.

Head of Learning, St John’s College

Conclusion and Next Steps

Creating maths based problem solving games with clues to be encrypted and prizes to be unlocked has proven to be such a success at both organisations that we have a combination locked box on reception where learners have access to the clues and can try out their answers at any time.

The ‘Escape Room’ type activity buys into the psyche of our learners and changes what would be a boring, not worth the effort, perplexing chore into a rewarding challenge. As a result we have re-written the entire Entry 2 and 3 Functional Skills maths curriculum embedding further employability maths related puzzle activities.

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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