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Stretching the most able in maths (year 9). Best practice?

(25 Posts)
toadtallydevoted Fri 10-Nov-17 10:03:30

Son is in Year 9 and very able at maths. He's feeling frustrated in lessons at having to do more and more examples of the same thing, rather than being stretched. He's got full marks (barring the odd silly mistake) in every assessment so far at secondary.

Spoke to his teacher (NQT) at parents evening and she said there was no more she could do - she can't teach him more as she has to teach the whole class (although I suspect he's not alone as it's a top set, and there are others just as able as my son). She also said the most recent topic (stats) didn't allow for any stretch at this key stage. hmm

From what my son said, there's a bit of restlessness in the class generally which suggests a more general lack of engagement, though I respect the fact that an NQT might take time to get a handle on that.

I did email the head of maths, who is relatively young and inexperienced herself, and she replied to say she would talk to the teacher, but she was also naturally defensive of her as an NQT.

To complicate matters I'm a governor, which makes it awkward for me to progress anything without treading very carefully. There's a maths teacher shortage and I've seen the school's perspective on this, so I know there's no magic wand.

I'm doing what I can to give my son extra challenge opportunities outside of school, which he enjoys, and there are occasional challenge opportunities in school too, but it doesn't compensate him for frustration in the maths lessons themselves.

For context, he is also very able in other subjects too (English, Science, MFL), but in those it seems the teachers are enjoying the opportunity to provide additional challenge and, as a result, he is still feeling stretched. It is only maths where there is an issue.

I know lots of Mumsnetters will tell me this experience is par for the course in a non-selective school. I do know that, but I'm wondering what "best practice" is? If you're a maths teacher or parent of an able child and you think your (non-selective) school does well in this area, please tell me about it.

To be absolutely clear, I don't regret choosing a non-selective school for a second. Apart from this one issue in maths he is otherwise extremely happy, busy, stretched and fulfilled. I've also no doubt he will ace his maths GCSE - I just want him to enjoy the journey more.

Witchend Fri 10-Nov-17 10:33:11

There's a few things. I've got able maths dc, and it has varied as to how well they've been stretched.

Firstly, one thing I've noticed is that even very able mathematicians if they haven't consolidated the work by doing a fair number of examples they can find themselves floundering a bit when they go back to it. So unfortunately being bored by doing lots of gradually getting harder questions can save effort in the long run.

Next, I worked ahead of my form most of the time in maths, often teaching myself the next steps. However sometimes the teacher said to me there was a new concept that she wanted to start the whole form on together, so could I stop when I got to a certain point. Sometimes I would get on with other homework in the spare time I had, sometimes I'd help teach ones who were finding it harder (which is good because it makes you think much more about why) and sometimes she would set me a project, or I would think of something that interested me in maths and investigate it myself.

I don't think you can take a report from a 13yo and conclude there's a restlessness in the class. Nor why there is. If there is, it could just as much be the lower end struggling because they feel she's going too fast. "Everyone says..." can just as easily be "I vented to my friend who said he agrees with me, but he always does."

The best stretching I've found has been when there's a group of similar level and they're given a harder task to work out between them. If there's a good group that work together well, then it stretches them and they help each other.

But the most fun for me was when I was left alone with an idea, and a calculator and time to spend on it. I remember working out what x! was before we'd done it and things like that.

toadtallydevoted Fri 10-Nov-17 10:50:30

Thanks Witchend, I like the idea of him helping some of the others - I'll suggest that to him.

TeenTimesTwo Fri 10-Nov-17 13:54:52

Does the school enter the Maths Olympiads, Kangaroo stuff etc?

I'm sure @noblegiraffe will be along at some point with some good suggestions.

GHGN Fri 10-Nov-17 15:05:26

Maths is one subject where there is huge range of ability and the most able can move through the curriculum very quickly leaving everyone behind. The UKMT has a wide range of resources available and that where students like your DS needs to start from. Once they become really good then contesting in serious competitions would be the next step.

As an NQT I was totally incapable of dealing with extremely able students. My only concerns at the time were if I had a decent lesson or if I was keeping up with my marking. It is only when I was 3 years into my job that I have the time to extend able students.
Dealing with able students should be a departmental priority rather than just individual teacher's. If the Maths department does not have the support in place then it will be impossible for the teacher to provide sustained challenge.

noblegiraffe Fri 10-Nov-17 15:10:27

To be fair to the NQT, she's right, there's very little available for stretching kids in stats without teaching new stuff (it's not really maths, I would prefer it to be taught by Geography teachers or something so I never have to teach it again).

My school starts teaching maths GCSE in Y9, which means from Y9 they are only taught each topic once so it has to be done to 'exam standard'. This means it's quite easy to push the top set in Y9 as the new GCSE does actually get quite difficult - there are more grade 9 resources out there now, and textbooks have hard questions in which the better students can be directed towards. I've got top set Y10 and we are also doing Further Maths GCSE with them so I've got more resources to draw upon and extra stuff to teach. Even my best kids aren't finding it easy this year.
I think part of it is that I've got lots of experience so if a kid runs out of work, I know where I can lay my hands on something extra quite quickly. My group are also pretty good at getting the answer then immediately turning to the people around them and helping/discussing it with them instead of sitting there waiting for something else to do.

If the teacher doesn't have that experience, then perhaps instead of expecting them to plan extension work all the time which might not be used (mindful of workload for an NQT!) then perhaps a UKMT book that he could grab and crack on with? Is he being entered for the maths challenge?

The other issue might be that the NQT is pitching it wrong, teaching top set teenagers can be difficult and they can be quite unforgiving (I've heard of kids deliberately 'testing' the teachers) - maybe the HOD could observe and support her with this.

toadtallydevoted Fri 10-Nov-17 16:05:15

Thanks noble. Do the students who are taking further maths do their "ordinary" maths a year early, or do they do both exams at the same time? I don't yet know whether further maths will be an option for him, but will find out very soon I guess.

Yes, he does some UKMT-style questions at home and also takes part in the challenge at school, plus occasional other things. The maths department is stretched resource-wise though, and actually so is he as he plays a lot of sport, so while extra-curricular stuff is great it's not really a substitute for time well spent in class.

lljkk Fri 10-Nov-17 20:54:25

Is UKMT the inter-school challenge they can do? So he goes to those contests each year? I thought the competition had multiple levels, so those who win at county go to inter-county events.

Does he actually ace all the tests, and always gets the best scores in year?

longtallwalker Fri 10-Nov-17 21:04:51

I would think a little more broadly -
Is there for instance a chess club to join? Expand on the whole
Solving aspect of maths. There’s also something to be said for taking a breath and thinking ‘this is great,
I’ll ace GCSE maths’ without any effort. DD cheerfully admits she did naff all revision for her GCSE maths,
Allowing her to devote more time
To other subjects. She then aced A level maths and further maths (dropping just one mark across
Two years in the former), and ended up studying maths somewhere rather good.
Maybe I’m just excusing my own slack attitude!

noblegiraffe Fri 10-Nov-17 21:34:31

Some schools do normal maths in Y10 and further in Y11 (or at least used to before the big fat GCSE) but my school enters for both at the end of Y11 to maximise possible GCSE score. Further Maths doesn't count for any Progress 8 buckets so is being ditched by quite a few schools to concentrate on maths (double weighted!) which is really sad as it's a great course.
Actually, the FM textbook is really good, so if you're looking for extension work and some new topics, it might be worth considering.

When you say the maths department is poorly resourced, do you mean they haven't got any textbooks for the new GCSE?

woollychimp Fri 10-Nov-17 22:10:55

My DD is at a non-selective school and in yr 9 she was offered extra maths out of school . Can't remember what it was called - maths academy or something like that. It was at a different setting and on Saturday - she didn't take up the opportunity, but could the school offer something like that?

GHGN Sat 11-Nov-17 08:10:36

If you are in London or the SE, the Royal Institute of Maths and Sciences have some Maths Mater classes for year 9 on Saturday for a few months a year. It is particular interesting Maths and many students I sent there in the past have gone on to study double Maths at A Level and Maths at degree level. For one of them, it was the spark that turn her into an exceptional mathematician.
This is the time of the year where they send invitation out. His teacher only needs to subscribe to the mailing list of the RI, fill in a form with the name and address of 3 students, don't ask for more and they will all be accepted.
The UKMT books are interesting but he needs to start with the book that is a collection of Intermediate Maths Challenge questions and start from there.

Another book is the Junior Olympiad problems collection
He needs to start from this or might find the other level difficult to access.
Most of the other books on theory are aimed at 16+ students or students with significant experience in Maths Olympiad.

I don't know if your son's teacher would be welcoming the idea or not but he can work on these during lessons to prevent boredom.

toadtallydevoted Sat 11-Nov-17 09:04:49

Thanks all, some good suggestions there.

The FM textbook is really good, so if you're looking for extension work and some new topics, it might be worth considering.

Sounds good. Is it this one?

When you say the maths department is poorly resourced, do you mean they haven't got any textbooks for the new GCSE?

No, sorry, poor choice of language. I meant that difficulty in recruiting maths staff, and austere funding (small school in area with relatively low LACSEG) means the maths department is relatively young and inexperienced (though dedicated, well qualified, hard working and supported by very experienced cross-trust specialists). As I have a governor-eye view on this I certainly don't want to push for additional extra-curricular. I just want the classroom time to be as good as it can be.

noblegiraffe Sat 11-Nov-17 10:08:52

Something weird is happening on this thread, I've been trying to post a link to the FM textbook since last night (I tried to put one in my original post about it, and it won't let me! Various different links too!)
It's the book that looks like this, it's on Amazon under AQA further maths GCSE textbook, but I'm not allowed to link directly, even if I don't put the link in brackets.

toadtallydevoted Sat 11-Nov-17 10:52:26

Does this link work?

If you search for something in Amazon it adds a load of tags to the URL with your search terms in it, because they want to track how you've got there. I usually edit it down to the item's basic address before I post it to Mumsnet. (I may have started doing that because I had similar problems to you, but can't remember).

toadtallydevoted Sat 11-Nov-17 10:54:21

See, if you click on that link now they'll append "mumsnetforum" to it. However when I posted it it just ended with the product identifier "1444181122".

noblegiraffe Sat 11-Nov-17 11:02:51


That's really odd, it wouldn't let me post the full link, but as soon as I added the word test (so it's not posting the link in the post) it would confused
I always post full links so that people can see what they're clicking on, so that's a bit annoying.

Anyway, that's the right book. It is good, clear worked examples and decent exercises which is unusual in maths textbooks at the moment. There's a lot of crossover with maths GCSE so he could use it for extension work even if he doesn't learn any of the new stuff in there.

AtiaoftheJulii Sat 11-Nov-17 11:39:53

In y9 my son (at a selective school, but that doesn't seem particularly relevant to their solution) was able to be out of the classroom for about half his maths lessons, and spent the time with a sixth former doing ukmt/nrich problems or anything the sixth former had come across and thought was interesting. So he kept up with the class topics but didn't have to spend ages going over them.

Of course the main stumbling block with this solution is whether there's a suitable sixth former free at the right time! In y8 he used to stay after school once a week to do this sort of thing, but being able to do it in class time was much better for him.

if they haven't consolidated the work by doing a fair number of examples they can find themselves floundering a bit when they go back to it - he's in y12 now and hasn't hit this wall yet. But his peers are of a narrower ability range now and have caught up to a reasonable extent, because we didn't just push him further ahead, so he doesn't stand out these days like he used to, which I have to say he really likes!

toadtallydevoted Sat 11-Nov-17 12:06:15

noblegiraffe there's an explanation about the Amazon link issue if you scroll down to the MNHQ post in this thread:

Basically, Mumsnet are earning commission, so it is them that add the mumsnetforum tag and presumably they don't want you to post raw links as then they won't be able to do that.

It's frustrating if you don't get a suitable message explaining why you can't post though!

noblegiraffe Sat 11-Nov-17 12:07:51

Students who can't be catered for in a top set classroom do exist, but I think they are quite rare. That's not to say that very able students will be thrillingly stretched all the time in top set, but that they shouldn't be totally bored all the time either. I aim for the brightest having to stop and think about something at least once a lesson, probably don't achieve that because it's hard to know what anyone will find difficult, but I get there hopefully more often than not. In really mundane topics (stats, I'm looking at you), I might have a starter that's a totally unconnected maths puzzle. I've also got a habit of going off on tangents so recently when doing volume we ended up discussing tesseracts and Pythagoras led to a history of Fermat. As an NQT though, as GHGN said, my main aim was to get through my lesson plan and cover the curriculum.
I've only once in 12 years taught a student for whom my lessons were just a total waste of time.

noblegiraffe Sat 11-Nov-17 12:14:02

Thanks for that toad, how totally odd. Preventing people from posting raw links with no explanation isn't going to earn them any more money than if I'd just posted the original link!

dootball Sat 11-Nov-17 12:19:12

There are always ways of extending students in any Mathematical topic (pretty much), without too much work once you know the right questions to ask, it just takes ages to build up a bank of these in your brain so you can draw on them at any time.
I personally find the most enjoyable part of teaching is trying to cater for these students.
You wouldn't think about going into a bottom set lesson without making the materials suitably differentiated, so you should do the same for a top set. The trouble is nothing normally too bad happens if you don't stretch the top students , but if you don't make work accessible to the weakest students, then there will most probably be drastically increased behavior problems, so it's easy to give that a priority.
I would agree that Further Maths is a really good course , and it's a great shame that many schools are no longer offering this anymore.
If you cover materials in the textbook which he hasn't yet learned, but are in GCSE, then this could just make the current situation worse in the future though.

AtiaoftheJulii Sat 11-Nov-17 12:30:58

I've been grinning at your stats comments in this thread noble - my son's FM teacher had given them homework this weekend to research sampling "so she doesn't have to teach it" (according to ds!) grin

toadtallydevoted Sat 11-Nov-17 12:46:58

Yes, I don't think my son is too able for a top set at all, and I know there are several in the class who are similarly able (and probably similarly frustrated).

This is very much a case of dedicated but inexperienced teachers (plural, including the HOM) fulfilling their primary function of making sure all students do as well as possible in the standard assessments, but not yet being confident enough to also make sure they're all getting the "maths is totally fascinating and fun" buzz. To me this is what distinguishes an exceptional maths teacher - the sort who inspires students to love maths and want to study it to a higher level.

Having seen one of the cross-trust maths advisors talking at a parents evening, I know the buzz exists at that level, and the "advice" really needs to come from there rather than from me. However if this thread at least gives me some ideas of what can be reasonably expected, then I can perhaps find a way to pass some suggestions on.

handmademitlove Sat 11-Nov-17 17:57:37

My yr9 DD is in the same situation. She is currently attending the RI masterclasses and is enjoying the range of subjects. They have a maths club at school for the more able students where they do ukmt stuff but are also doing cipher challenge. Her yr2 maths tutor told me the problem they had with her was not that she was amazing at maths but that she learnt very quickly and therefore had finished the work while she was still explaining it to everyone else. I think this is still true now. Not sure what the answer is though. I have a meeting with the head of maths next week.

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