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Stretch and Challenge – This week’s blog from Jada Woolf, and Adam Manktelow, Heads of Maths

Supporting our young mathematicians to extend their understanding through stretching and challenging them is at the heart of everything we do in the Mathematics department.

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​The UKMT have been running individual Maths Challenges since 1961. These papers are made up of 25 questions and come in three different tiers: Junior, Intermediate and Senior. Bethany pupils have been taking part annually for years, and this year was set to be no different. Pupils who score highly are invited to sit a further paper for a chance to compete against the best mathematicians in the country! Earlier this year, Bethany pupils Seb Smith and Eric Liang both qualified for the next stage in the competition.

The Junior Maths Challenge was scheduled to happen just after lockdown commenced and, as a result, it had to be postponed. In light of this, the department decided that we would like to incorporate an element of problem solving and puzzles into our weekly practice and thus Puzzle Friday was born! Each week, pupils in Years 7-10 are given some challenges to complete which question and extend their understanding in various mathematical concepts. Previous challenges have included a series of increasingly difficult logic puzzles, a variation on the game of ‘Nim’ and an open morning favourite ‘the four fours challenge’.

This year also saw the introduction of the Further Mathematics course for Year 11 which replaced Statistics, the previous additional course for the high attaining pupils in Key Stage 4. The Further Mathematics course is a perfect bridge between the IGCSE and A Level and gives pupils the chance to experience some of the concepts before having to choose whether an A Level in Mathematics is right for them. The course has been particularly well received by EAL pupils as it focuses more on mathematical skills rather than the increased reading comprehension required from the IGCSE course.

The Mathematics department have also had a focus on encouraging pupils to see the bigger picture of where concepts fit in mathematically. There are many topics (such as sequences, simultaneous equations and working with quadratics) which tend to be taught as separate entities which must be regularly linked to enhance pupil’s understanding. We have also been looking at using the pedagogical method of ‘Variation Theory’ which involves atomising concepts so that the focus is narrowed to one skill which is explored and mastered by using intelligent practice.

Variation theory style practice involves questions which will look very similar as only one element is varied between each new question. The benefit of this is that pupils are able to pinpoint the element that has varied and are therefore able to link it to the change (or lack of) in the answer providing a stronger understanding of the ‘why’ rather than just the ‘how’.