What does a mathematics lesson look like at Portsmouth High Prep School?
Article by Mohammed Rahman BEd (Hons)
Key Stage 2 Teacher at Portsmouth High Prep School
Mr Rahman graduated from the University of Hertfordshire with a first class honours degree in Primary Education with a science specialism.
He was also awarded the Wall Hall prize for achievement in teaching practice. He then worked at a large state school where he became Head of Year 5. He moved to Portsmouth High Prep School as Prep Science Coordinator and Year 5 form tutor. He teaches science, mathematics and computing to girls in Years 4 to 6.
The language of nature is number…
In the 1998 thriller, Pi, the main character opens the film by stating his assumptions about life;
“1: mathematics is the language of nature. 2: everything around us can be represented and understood through numbers. 3, if you graph the numbers of any system, then patterns emerge. Therefore; there are patterns everywhere in nature.”
Both number as well as vocabulary are indeed the language of the world around us. This forms the ethos behind all of my mathematics lessons, so what exactly does a mathematics lesson at Portsmouth High Prep School look like? Something that I firmly believe in is that learning time is precious. Each pupil is prepared for learning as soon as they enter the classroom with a thinking question or a ‘keeping skills sharp’ activity which recaps a core mathematical skill.
Our girls are taken on a ‘learning journey’ which facilitates independent learning through pupil’s own choice of task and difficulty level. Learning rarely happens in isolation at Portsmouth High. Pupils regularly collaborate with one another, especially during a weekly open ended investigation known as ‘Number Explorers.’ This is their chance to freely explore numbers and discover which patterns do in fact emerge. Walk into any mathematics lesson and you will experience our girls interacting productively with one another as well as with the teacher. Furthermore, there is no such thing as flying under the radar in a mathematics lesson as every pupil will be actively involved in the learning process.
My goal is to always challenge and inspire pupils, by planning imaginative tasks for them to tackle. Pupils in Year 6 learnt about the place value of large numbers. They recently became air traffic controllers and analysed live flight information, ordering the altitude of different aircraft and ensuring that they were a safe distance apart. An air traffic controller was then invited in to talk to the girls about their real-life experience in the role. We are also incredibly fortunate with our beautiful grounds. Pupils in Year 4 explored parallel and perpendicular lines found outdoors in the environment around us.
Context is what elevates mathematics from the abstract to something tangible and relevant. When learning about proportion, pupils scaled ingredients up or down from real recipe cards depending on the number of guests invited to a dinner party. In exactly the same way that the best quality writing is produced with a clear purpose in mind, learning in mathematics must also have a purpose. Whether it is learning about written division methods by splitting a meal bill or analysing the school’s energy consumption data for a report into sustainability, purpose is key.
The power of music to stimulate learning can never be underestimated. One of the most memorable moments in the year is when the girls learn about the BODMAS song. It is always such a pleasure to hear the lyrics echoing around the school corridors after this unit of work as the girls joyfully sing about the order of operations. Finally, I like to conclude a lesson by leaving pupils with a question to consider. Think of it like planting a seed, something to take away which will hopefully grow in a multitude of directions. Mathematics is the language of nature after all.