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Why Maths Mastery?

Updated: Sep 1, 2023

Maths Mastery… where to begin? This topic is HUGE amongst educational practitioners, however mastering Maths Mastery, both as a child and as a teacher, can feel like such a huge hurdle to overcome! But don’t worry, here at Sammie Allen Tutoring, we are here to explain what Maths Mastery is, and why it actually might be the best idea for your child!

The NCETM and Maths Hubs have been running the national Primary Teaching for Mastery Programme since 2015, and more recently secondary schools have also become involved with teaching for Mastery as the Secondary Teaching for Mastery Programme expands, so it must be good, right? Well take a look below at what Maths Mastery is, and how we like to use it!

Maths Mastery in School

In a school setting, Maths Mastery takes the approach that no matter the child’s educational ability or age, maths should take a “whole class” approach… aka, forget those focus groups and ability groups, let's learn together! Now, this might seem like a far fetched idea… I can personally remember the red table, the orange table and the green table at school (and more importantly, I knew exactly what it meant), and the idea of completing the exact same worksheets as my peers seemed impossible, but Maths Mastery states that by taking their style of Maths, achieving a coherent learning level is achievable! It is theorised that mathematical ability is not something you are simply born with, the “maths gene” does not actually exist, it is in fact all about your approach to Maths that determines your ability to complete fluency, reasoning and problem solving to a high standard.

Now, we understand that so far, this seems a little idealistic, but stay with us! We are not finished yet!

Mastery at Sammie Allen Tutoring

Obviously a whole class teaching approach is not something that Sammie Allen Tutoring does, but we can still take parts of Maths Mastery into tutoring! We particularly like the idea that children should spend a significant amount of time on really getting to grips with a deep understanding of the key ideas of Maths that are needed to underpin future learning. But how is this done? When I was at school, I was taught methods that I never truly understood, I just knew that in order to get that “tick”, there were times that I used a column, times that I used a bus stop, or I racked my memory to remember that 7 x 8 = 56! But Maths Mastery isn’t about that at all.. It is about understanding the reason behind completing these weird methods, or instead of using memory for times tables, really understanding that 7 x 8 actually means 7 groups of 8!

This is taught through a couple of different methods, but our favourite is the “CPA” method. The CPA method was created and theorised by Jerome Bruner, an American psychologist, who believed that children needed to be taught maths topics in a 3 step function. Concrete, Pictorial and Abstract.

Concrete is the “building” phase of learning Maths, Pictorial is the “seeing” stage of maths, and Abstract is where you actually see the problem written on paper. It is theorised that this CPA method gives the best deep understanding of Mathematical problems! So, if we take a look at addition, concrete refers to the child actually handling objects (like blocks or counters) to truly understand that numbers have quantity, and that when you put the physical objects together, the quantity increases! Neat, right? Pictorial refers to seeing this exact same thing on paper. Using pictures, drawings, and little doodles to support your maths is not only fun, but cements what we have learned in the concrete stage of learning. Abstract is then the tricky part… hopefully, if your child has mastered concrete and pictorial, they should have enough knowledge to build on to be able to use numbers, or symbols to solve those mathematical problems.

This is simply the bare bones of Maths Mastery, and there is so much more to it! But next time your child is struggling with a Maths problem, try to figure out if your child actually has a firm concept of the basics, and be flexible enough to take a step back, and reflect on what mathematical concepts they already know.

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