Initially, the project was planned to run for two terms in our P7 and P4 classes. However, due to lockdown and isolations, we had to reconfigure our plans. We had wanted to focus on children within our classes who suffered from maths anxiety. After our return to school, we changed our focus to look at those children who were not engaged during lockdown. This comprised a group of nine children, which included five children who would have been included in the original project who suffered maths anxiety. As the whole class participated in all the activities in school, it meant we could look at both groups, those that had not engaged and those who were anxious about maths and see if there had been any changes in attitude.
We began by talking to the class about growth mindset, to reinforce the idea of mistakes being important. The class did a lot of work on Number Talks. During lockdown, P7 were given number strategies to work on, as the majority only had a few basic strategies that they relied upon. Due to issues with connectivity, participation in learning over lockdown was problematic and this continued as pupils returned to class. The children who used different strategies shared their process, and after two weeks, the class were more interested in discussing mistakes in calculations and how these had arisen. Those who made mistakes were no longer embarrassed, but eager to see what others thought and the class were very supportive.
Class maths journals were also used during the project. The children were allowed to put in these whatever they wanted. The majority enjoyed using them, especially when they were looking at a new maths concept or we were discussing a new strategy. Jo Boaler encourages the use of journaling, saying “journals also give students free space - where they can be creative, share ideas, and feel ownership of their work.”
Exit cards were also introduced to help the class think about their learning. These gave an insight into mistakes in thinking to be picked up the next day, or lessons the children had enjoyed and how to incorporate more of these into classroom practice.
Throughout the term a growth mindset wall display was built up. Each new card or poster was discussed and, as a class, they decided whether it would be included. The display served as a useful reminder when children gave up or complained, referring to it for the vocabulary required to change their mindset.
Working in groups and discussing maths, especially rich tasks, is a huge aspect of growth mindset. The class already had an ethos of group discussion when given a new problem or when stuck. For one of the rich tasks, the class was given the developing mathematical mindsets through golf education pack. They had only worked through the first three activities when once again they had to go into isolation.
This timing of this project proved very difficult. We had originally planned to start the project after Christmas. Due to lockdown, it was started in the last term. For a P7 class, the final term is already tricky, especially when activities normally done in previous terms were also being squeezed in. On top of this, covid meant that many of the P7 children had to isolate or face school closure over the last three weeks. As a result, only two of the children in the focus group of non-engaged children were engaged in these last weeks.
Overall, although the project was limited in time, it did have an impact on the more anxious members of the class. They were keener to participate in group and class discussions and there were noticeably fewer children giving up when faced with a challenge. Though test data is not available, the number of children engaged and discussing the golf task during isolation, right before the holidays, speaks volumes.
The project focus was changed after Christmas when there was limited time, and attention was concentrated on the children who had not engaged during lockdown. Five out of eight of the children with maths anxiety, were in this not engaged group. All the strategies and pre and post surveys were implemented on a whole class basis, although more time would have increased effectiveness. All of the children responded very well, and each strategy will be continued next year. It is impossible, however, to tell what long term impact the project will have on this class.
The impact of the project was limited due to time. Initially the plan was to run the project from New Year to Easter and then onto Summer. Unfortunately, covid meant that this did not happen. When children returned to school everything had to be crammed into the final term, which also faced disruption.
The original focus was meant to be children who were suffering from maths anxiety, as well as changing the general feeling about maths amongst many children. Due to the various lockdowns and isolations, we decided to focus on those children who had not engaged with home learning and were now behind others. We would work with the whole class, not specific groups so any benefits could be shared. This should have improved the maths abilities of all the children, thus improving attainment. However, disruptions did limit the impact on these children.
From the group of eight non-engaged pupils, two did produce some work during the last period of home learning. This showed some impact from the project. Before Christmas, all children had access to technology to engage, but 8 of the P7 class still did not. In the last few weeks of term, they did engage, and this was even more significant given they only had a few weeks remaining of primary school.
The golf maths which was shared by Winning Scotland really engaged the children. Being able to start this in class helped and 19, out of the class of 25, undertook some or all the activities at home. An ethos of discussion had been fostered in the class and this continued during the home learning period, with pupils discussing work on Teams and asking for help when stuck. This good engagement continued upon the return to class with great discussion of square roots and powers.
Overall, this project had a positive impact. The survey showed an increase in children’s happiness and confidence with maths. They did still feel that getting right answers was important but explained that this was for assessment situations. They understood that getting wrong answers were good as you learned from them. Children overall were more confident and enjoyed discussing maths strategies.
Initially, we had intended to use the children’s maths test scores, the class survey and anecdotal evidence to show any impact of the project. Due to the loss of time, this was not possible. The fact that two of the non-engaged children produced some work during lockdown is important evidence of improvement.
The survey results did show that the children understood a growth mindset, that wrong answers were a better way to learn, that rushing and being first did not mean you knew the concept better, although they still valued right answers especially in test situations. The children enjoyed using their maths “Helpy, Thinky” jotters, using them unprompted. In future, we would like to make greater use of these journals to enable children to visualise maths and maths problems, make greater use of diagrams and colour. Despite the limitations of the project, children did enjoy maths more and were more engaged and confident than previously. Once extended throughout the school and embedded, there should be a rise in attainment and a positive maths ethos.
Anecdotally, we also saw a positive change for one child. This child had been told by their parent that like them, they were not good at maths. At the end of term, the child was awarded a prize for effort in maths because he had worked so hard and was now one of the children who frequently joined in the discussions on number strategies. After the final survey, he also said “You know maths isnae that bad. I kinda like it now!”
This anecdote highlights a particular challenge and regret, that we really needed to get parents on board and educated in growth mindset and to understand how their comments and opinions have a huge influence upon their children. We had wanted to run a couple of parents nights as part of the project, but were unable to due to covid restrictions. Hopefully when we continue the project next year and embed it into school practice, restrictions will allow us to have more contact with parents to break this negative influence.
Unfortunately, none of the project findings could be shared with other staff members before the end of term due to the circumstances. At this time, it is unclear what opportunities there might be to share the findings when schools return. We will continue to use the project activities with future classes.
The next steps are to use the project activities with new classes, surveying children pre and post these activities alongside maths tests, to compare attitudes and test improvements. We are hoping to focus more on journaling, to use more colour coding and visual diagrams especially with some pupils that will be in next year’s class. If conditions allow, we will be sharing our findings around growth mindset with our new parents and hopefully all parents, if other staff members are on board.