Maths + fun = learning
Getting home learning right
Liezl van der Merwe argues that if home learning is planned in the right way, for the right reasons and in the right style there will be positive outcomes.
The fun of learning
The foundation of Widmer End Community Combined School’s philosophy is to ‘develop a child’s love of learning through fun and laughter, ensuring they maintain the curiosity and inquisitive mind they were born with.’ Developing this love of learning also forms the basis of our home learning strategy. At our school maths home learning is proving to be particularly effective because of how what we set, how we set it and why we set it.
Firstly, let’s look at the why?
The primary homework debate
Most primary/elementary schools require their students to do some form of homework from half an hour to an hour per night. A BBC Newsround report (Is Homework a Good Idea or Not?) showed that since 1999 the vast majority of primary schools do set homework (approximately 90 per cent). However, the primary school homework debate is rarely out of the news: do schools just do it to keep parents happy? Do parents want it? Does it actually help a child’s learning?
A survey carried out by TheSchoolRun revealed the fact that for many primary schools, homework is used to help ‘consolidate the skills that are being taught at school’. Another justification for homework includes the fact that it keeps parents up to date and involved with their child’s learning.
All fair points.
What we set
At Widmer End, the work we set consists of enjoyable activities, designed to develop children’s love of learning. They are provided through an online resource, Matific, that consolidates the learning we have focused on that day. It tracks their developments step by step giving them fun activities that slowly increase in complexity as they progress. A child can do this alone or with their parents, with no need for parents to ‘teach’ their child anything. Understanding the day-to-day demands already on parents, this ensured that they could be involved as much or as little as they wanted. This leads us to ‘what’ homework we should set.
Engaging home learning
When we took part in Matific’s national maths competition we realised this was the kind of resource we needed to enable us to assign numerous activities to each child based on their individual level of understanding, and so develop a love of learning. The system naturally tracks their progress and continues to increase the complexity of each problem, step-by-step. After each maths lesson in the class, I can easily set maths activities as home learning for each child, to consolidate and stretch their learning individually.
During the competition, one boy in my class was ill at home. He spent most of his time in bed completing the maths ‘games’ (as he saw them) and came 5th in the UK in his year group! The children can’t wait to get home to ‘play’. The beauty of the system we use is that it develops each child’s resilience, understanding and perseverance; the children never get a question ‘wrong’ per se; they are simply asked to consider another way of reaching the final goal and given ideas of how to get there.
Access to computers
For most children and parents, these activities are proving to be highly effective and popular, but of course we can never be sure that every child will have free access to a computer. We have therefore set up times in the school day, at the end of their computing lesson, when they are given ‘down time’. During this time, they are encouraged to use the computers for their home learning or any other learning activities.
Individualised home learning
Let’s take the example of a maths lesson when we were focusing on time: some children will have grasped it immediately, others may need more learning support. So, for homework, I set some problem-solving activities from our online learning resource for each child depending on their level of development.
Cracking the code
Another one of my students just couldn’t get her head around subtraction. I’d used concrete resources, number lines and explored numerous avenues to represent the concept. I then gave her a few related problem-solving activities from the Matific resource and she got it! I was lucky enough to be sitting next to her and witnessed how she did it and the joy on her face; it was the sort of experience that all teachers cherish.
Because of the way we manage home learning, the children are consolidating their understanding and loving their maths, while I can see exactly who has been doing what activities, their results, and their progress.
I think we agree with all sides of the primary homework debate; for us it is only when the right style of home learning is delivered in the right way for the right reasons, that positive results can be achieved.
Liezl van der Merwe,
Year 2 and KS1 leader at Widmer End Community Combined School in High Wycombe, UK