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Fifty Shades of Grey Addition

Charlie Harber is Deputy Lead Adviser for Primary Mathematics at Herts for Learning.  This blog aims to take the seemingly simple operation of addition and demonstrate how we can vary presentation in order that pupils see connections and do not fall into shallow procedural thinking. 


Would you agree that these are all shades of grey? (Who hasn’t spent time deliberating between shades on a paint chart?)  They are all different. So how can they be all grey?

We are generalising what is meant by GREY. Oxford online dictionary define grey as ‘Of a colour intermediate between black and white’ – so under this definition all these colours, despite being different, are grey because they share this similar property. For children to understand what grey is, what would you do? Would you just present them with a single shade? More likely, one activity you would do is present them with a range of objects in lots of different colours including shades of grey and ask them to sort the objects based on their colours. In mathematics we could refer to this as part of generalisation – the ability to see what is common amongst a range of different situations. Continue reading “Fifty Shades of Grey Addition”

Bar Modelling is a Leap of Faith

Charlie Harber is the Deputy Lead Adviser for Primary Mathematics at Herts for Learning.  A passionate advocate of bar modelling, her last blog on the subject RUCSAC pack your bags, dealt with a KS2 SATs question.  Here Charlie turns her attention to KS1 bar modelling.

In my last blog on bar modelling I used an example from the 2016 KS2 test. Subsequently, I had had a number of requests asking for a similarly worked example of a KS1 test question.

leap2 Continue reading “Bar Modelling is a Leap of Faith”

RUCSAC pack your bags, let’s hit the bar instead

Charlie Harber is the Deputy Lead Adviser for Primary Mathematics at Herts for Learning.  She has  researched the positive impact bar modelling has on pupils’ access to worded problems.

Recent analysis in many schools and discussion with subject leaders confirmed what many teachers have long suspected, that many children have the procedural skills but they  seemed to abandon all reasoning  when they need to apply them once they are embedded in a word/story problem. Many schools in the UK use RUCSAC to help the children, but have you considered why that doesn’t work? Is there a better way, one which just doesn’t prepare them to answer questions in tests, but also deepens operational understanding, exposes misunderstandings and develops reasoning – empowering the children to discuss the mathematics?

Simply put, yes I think there is a better way – bar modelling. Continue reading “RUCSAC pack your bags, let’s hit the bar instead”

Is mastery just a passing fad?


Nicola Randall, Mathematics Teaching and Learning Adviser at Herts for Learning

Before I even start to tackle this question, I think it is helpful to clarify what we mean by ‘fad’ and the best way I could think of doing this was to consider some examples.

  • Leg warmers worn anywhere other than inside a dance studio: fad
  • No make-up selfies: fad
  • Replacing actual laughing with the word “LOL”: fad
  • Dressing as clowns and scaring people: fad

Continue reading “Is mastery just a passing fad?”

Why dodecahedrons hate CPA.

Rachel Rayner is a Primary Mathematics Adviser for Herts for Learning

For a blog about the CPA approach click here.

Yes, teachers do label their fixed ability groups by shapes…still. Yes, pupils do end up in the circles group from the age of five and in some cases in the teacher’s head, younger.  And yes, it damages.  We are all by now familiar with the work of Carol Dweck and the idea of fixed and growth mindsets.  But in maths at least this fixed ability grouping or setting persists in Primary, despite the evidence that it can be detrimental to those pupils designated ‘circles’ or ‘triangles’.   Continue reading “Why dodecahedrons hate CPA.”

Are you and your children playful with number?

Rachel Rayner is a Primary Mathematics Adviser for Herts for Learning

Yesterday was a bit of a surreal day. Charlie Harber and I were filmed talking about mental mathematics.  A day of feeling hugely embarrassed by presenting our thoughts to a camera;   I’m sorry to say, I don’t think I did too well. To fit in all we wanted to say in 5 minutes was somewhat of a challenge to say the least.  So this blog is an attempt to put that right …I’ll let you be the judge of how I get on!

Why the focus on mental mathematics?

Our work in research projects around this area has led us to see the gaps between those children entering school having had rich experiences of maths at home and those who have had very little. Continue reading “Are you and your children playful with number?”

CPA: using Cuisenaire to support pupils to develop fractional understanding

Louisa Ingram is a primary mathematics adviser for HfL

Identifying Fractions

To begin with, pupils need to become familiar with assigning a value to a rod and finding the fractional value of the other rods. A good starting point is to find the value of the white rod as this then allows you to find the value of all other rods. When the brown rod equals 1; the white rod is one eighth. Compared to dark green, the white rod’s value is one sixth. Against blue, it is one ninth and against orange one tenths etc. You can then start to apply this such as assigning the brown rod a value of 2. Through this you can also draw attention to fractions such as which rod is one half, one quarter, one third the length of etc. Continue reading “CPA: using Cuisenaire to support pupils to develop fractional understanding”

Making Every Question Count

Charlie Harber is the Deputy Lead Adviser for the HfL Primary Mathematics Team.

Do pages and pages of repetitive questions deepen our children’s understanding?

Teaching to mastery requires a mind shift on many different levels and presents many challenges (differentiation, whole class teaching, culture and ethos to name but a few). It is underpinned by a range of theories… You can’t explore mastery for long without encountering ‘Variation’ theories. There are two distinct variation theories (conceptual and procedural) which develop symbiotically to grow deep conceptual understanding in learners. These theories are used widely in the high performing East and South East Asian countries. They are exploited skilfully by teachers to expose the underlying structures of mathematics and allow children to ‘self-discover’. Continue reading “Making Every Question Count”

Mathematical Voices

Rachel Rayner is a primary mathematics adviser for Herts for Learning.

How many times have you heard the following?

‘I only really understood maths once I started teaching it.’

We all recognise the importance of subject knowledge in teaching any subject. Many of our schools in Hertfordshire have been engaging with our advisory team to discover what that really means for mathematics. Together, we have wrestled with the fact that the subject knowledge we were taught ourselves may not have translated into the deep conceptual knowledge and understanding we are committed to exploring alongside our charges. That leaves us with personal knowledge gaps that we need to fill. Continue reading “Mathematical Voices”

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