Nottingham aims to boost maths teaching via new research

The University of Nottingham has received £1.2m for two research projects examining ways that teachers can boost maths confidence

Both studies, involving 150 schools, and conducted with Durham University, will provide evidence to help narrow the achievement gap in maths, and pinpoint what hinders some students to learn.

“The percentage of 14-year-olds who struggle with very basic ideas in maths has roughly doubled since the 1970s, and is now around a sixth of Year 9 students. Around 40% don’t achieve a C at GCSE. Yet, surprisingly, little recent research has focused on this serious problem,” said project director, Jeremy Hodgen, Professor of Mathematics Education at The University of Nottingham.

The Low Attainment in Mathematics study will tackle this issue. With a £245,000 grant from the Nuffield Foundation, Professor Hodgen’s team aims to identify what are the key ideas that pupils need to grasp to make progress in maths, investigate the underlying causes of the attainment gap, and review the evidence on the effectiveness of different teaching approaches.

Finding out if addressing pupils’ struggles with algebra and fractions will have a positive effect on their overall maths results will be the focus of the second project, which recently secured £970,000 from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF).

The approach has already been shown to raise student achievement in individual classes and this three-year study will see if its success can be replicated on a larger scale. The three-year approach will be tested and evaluated in a randomised controlled trial involving 110 schools organised by Durham University and EEF.

Participating teachers will assess their Year 7 and 8 pupils to identify concepts they find most difficult. They will then teach 40 research-informed lessons specifically designed to build students’ confidence and competence in maths problem-solving.

“Using evidence of how different students learn, we will develop more engaging teaching strategies, for example, using graphs and other visual representations to increase understanding among students,” said Professor Hodgen.

The study, developed as part of a wider Increasing Competence and Confidence in Algebra and Multiplicative Structures (ICCAMS) project, aims to show whether improved results are down to the tailored lesson or the individuals involved in delivering it.

“We know that good feedback improves learning and teaching, which could be a crucial element in raising attainment in maths. These studies, which are part of a wider initiative to improve outcomes for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, will provide practical guidance to teachers on effective ways of giving feedback to their students,’ said Robert Coe, Professor of Education at Durham University, who will work with Professor Hodgen on the projects.

Professor Jeremy Hodgen’s team will refine and develop existing ICCAMS materials and create a two-year Continuous Professional Development package for teachers, including nine days training for two maths teachers from each school. These teachers will work with other maths teachers in Key Stage 3 to embed the approach in their schools for at least two years.

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