The aim of this project was to create a series of lessons using manipulatives so that staff as well as pupils felt more confident using them. We wanted to improve basic numeracy and problem-solving skills among a targeted group of S2 pupils, who had lacked engagement during online learning in S1, hindering their progress. The use of manipulatives should allow pupils to build a deeper understanding of the reasoning behind maths, helping them understand why certain mathematical strategies are used. We hoped that this would have a positive impact on engagement in class and pupil mindset.
Overall, this project was effective to an extent, but there were several areas that could be improved. The pupils targeted for this project were two S2 classes, who had low engagement during online learning and lower levels of ability. The project was beneficial for lots of pupils in these classes, but not all pupils. We focused on the four operations and integers during the project, as these were key skills that were identified as weak areas. However, some pupils in the class who were already confident with these skills, didn’t see the need for the manipulatives and wanted to stick with the methods that they already knew. Other pupils were also falsely convinced of their capabilities and were not willing to try them.
For some pupils, the use of manipulatives made a huge difference to their levels of engagement in class and their attitude to trying a question they were unsure about. Some pupils also fed back that they felt the manipulatives had helped them understand a certain skill in more depth (e.g., negative numbers). In the future, we would spend more time working on the skills without the manipulatives. Once pupils had a deeper understanding of the reasoning behind the maths, they would benefit from more practice completing questions without using the manipulatives, as they would not have access to these during class tests or exams.
We were able to complete the project within the six-week period originally planned. However, absence due to Covid meant that we missed a week and had to do a larger number of numeracy lessons in one week than planned, to compensate. We were still able to use the first week and the last week of the intended timeline to complete the numeracy quiz and the survey. We have yet to share the resources and experiences with colleagues for several reasons, but this will happen as soon as possible.
There were not too many changes made to the project plan after the project start date. We had intended to only do two numeracy periods a week, but absence meant that missed lessons had to be factored into another week. To keep the S2 classes at the same point, this had an impact on both classes. Other than that, there were no changes made to the project.
At the start of the project, pupils were given a numeracy quiz that consisted of 12 questions to test their initial level of understanding. Before completing this quiz, they did no revision of the four operations or integers, which gave a clear idea of our baseline. The results were very surprising. The average score for our class was 4 out of 12, with only four pupils scoring higher than this. We did not expect the average to be so low. The survey also told us that 52% of the class had used some form of manipulatives previously, 22% thought that they would enjoy using manipulatives and 26% thought that the use of manipulatives would help them learn. These statistics were also very similar for the other S2 class that completed both the quiz and the assessment.
After participating in the lessons, pupil feedback was that the manipulatives had helped them, and this was very refreshing to hear. This was confirmed by the results of the second numeracy quiz and survey. The average score of the class had improved from 4 out of 12, to 8 out of 12, evidencing improved understanding of the four operations and integers. The survey results also showed that 61% of the class enjoyed using the manipulatives, and 57% said that they thought the manipulatives helped them learn. This confirmed class observations of increased pupil enjoyment, engagement, and mindset. Again, this was similar to the information provided from the other S2 class.
The project also supported the teachers to become more confident and make better use of manipulatives. This is something that we would like to continue with future classes and in other topics of the curriculum.
For now, because the project was only undertaken with two S2 classes within the department, we wouldn’t say that it had a massive impact within the whole school. Although it has proven to be effective on a smaller scale, it would need to be undertaken on a larger scale to make a bigger impact. We hope that in time by liaising with Pupil Support and other members of staff within the department, we can have an impact across the whole school down the line.
The feedback from colleagues who also completed these lessons with S2 classes was positive. A lot of the pupils were happy to try something new and enjoyed using the manipulatives during their lessons. Some pupils were much more engaged when using these than they normally would be. Colleagues also felt that the use of manipulatives was transferable to other aspects of the curriculum (e.g., algebra), and even with other year groups. However, there were also a small number of pupils who felt they did not need to use the manipulative and preferred sticking to familiar methods.
We would like to continue using manipulatives with classes and try using them with different topics, different abilities, and different year groups. We hope to share the project findings and experiences within the department, to improve colleague confidence using manipulatives within the classroom. Going forward, we would like to work closely with the Pupil Support team to set up a small number of intervention groups targeted at pupils who have low levels of numeracy, sitting outwith regular timetabled classes so as not to impact course delivery timelines.