EEF Blog: Addressing the challenge of delivering new maths content remotely

EEF maths specialist and secondary school teacher Simon Cox reflects on two schools' approaches to teaching new concepts remotely during partial school closures. 

From a teacher's perspective, remote teaching is a great leveller. All teachers of mathematics, regardless of prior experience, have found themselves working in unfamiliar circumstances and unable to rely on the usual resources and familiar classroom tools when supporting their pupils. Parents and children confined to working at home have faced similar challenges.

In the face of such uncertainty, the EEF’s 2020 report, Best evidence on supporting students to learn remotely, assessed the wide array of approaches that teachers might choose to use during partial school closures. Its key finding was that ensuring the elements of high-quality teaching which we would expect to see in the mathematics classroom – including scaffolding, feedback, and clear explanations – were more important than whether the lessons are delivered synchronously (‘live lessons’) or asynchronously (eg, pre-recorded videos).

As we approach the end of partial school closures, it’s worth pausing to celebrate the exceptional efforts made by schools, teachers, parents and pupils up and down the country in putting this evidence into practice.

A Primary Perspective - Unity Schools Partnership

Unity Schools Partnership is a family of secondary, primary and special schools located mainly in Suffolk. The Trust’s primary mathematics lead, Anna Tapper, shares her experiences of remote mathematics teaching.

Unity schools have found that ‘less is more’ has been a beneficial approach to live online delivery. Teacher input has been reduced to a maximum of 20 minutes - as initial attempts to deliver for an hour proved to be unproductive -using a combination of teacher explanation and Oak National Academy video clips. Using these clips in combination with a live teacher who can pause, remind, prompt, and link to prior learning, appears to be a particularly useful approach.

Varying the purpose of live sessions has also been productive, and a combination of explanation sessions, drop-in sessions for those pupils needing support, and review sessions where problems are modelled, answers checked, and misconceptions discussed are all used regularly.

Concerns around extensive screen time and potential loss of written maths skills have resulted in a significant portion of work being completed by pupils on paper and away from laptops. This has also enabled the work set to be less ‘algorithm’ driven and richer in mathematical content.

Retrieval practice is a regular focus of classroom teaching, and this has been continued remotely, with questions from last year, month, week, and lesson used, together with teacher prompts linking prior learning to today’s session.

Those pupils needing additional targeted support have had access to small-group live sessions led by teaching assistants either before or after the main teaching session, and pupils have also had access to a regular maths enrichment club which uses nRich problems to stretch and extend their thinking.

Some restructuring of the curriculum has been necessary. For example, fractions are usually taught in the Spring term which has been impacted by partial closures for two years now, so this has been temporarily moved to the Summer term for this year in order to minimise misconceptions.

A Secondary Perspective – Meols Cop High School

Meols Cop High School is located in Southport on the north-west coast and is a member of the Research Schools Network. Head of mathematics, Beth Kearns, shares her department’s experiences.

A Secondary Perspective – Meols Cop High School