Harder, Faster, Higher? – Supporting More Able Mathematical Learners
The new curriculum, we are told, is a mastery curriculum. This means there is an expectation that instead of pushing our more able learners on to ever higher level curriculum content, the focus is much more on making sure all our children are secure with the core content for each year group. This leaves us with a challenge for our more able learners, but also with a great opportunity. With less pressure (we assume – the assessment procedures are not yet clear) to push these children through the levels, we have to think of different ways to challenge them – not so much higher and faster as broader and richer content. These are a few ideas about how we can support these children.
Open ended questions
Challenging more able children should not be primarily about moving them on to ‘harder’ questions with higher numbers. We want to extend their thinking by asking more open ended questions which challenge them to apply their knowledge in new ways. We also want to develop their reasoning skills by asking them to explain their reasoning. Using Bloom’s question stems can be helpful in planning this. Ask children to explain how to find the answer to a problem and decide which approaches would be best to use. Ask them to explain the rule for a growing pattern or to explain what would happen if … Get them to think of other ways of doing things and compare approaches to decide which is best. Challenge them to explain their reasoning so that a younger child could understand it.
Mathematically rich activities
Children need to learn to think mathematically and to apply their skills. The Nrich website provides lots of games, challenges and activities to encourage this. They aim for activities to be ‘low threshold, high ceiling’ ie. accessible to as many children as possible but with enough to challenge more able children. Their curriculum mapping documents are very useful in identifying activities which link to different curriculum areas.
Investigations can help children to extend their mathematical thinking in a more open-ended way. Typically in an investigation, children are given a starting-point and some ideas of how to get started, but they won’t know what the answer will look like. They need to look for patterns and identify what is happening. The Maths Warriors site has a number of interesting investigations suitable for primary aged children.
More able children often respond well to challenges. The ‘Mathematical Challenges for more able pupils’ have a number of challenges divided by age group. Another good source of challenges for KS2 are the Challenge cards on the Maths Warriors site.
Whenever a new skills is taught and learned, make sure the children have the opportunity to practise their skills in a real context by applying them to solving problems. It can be particularly meaningful to give the problems a context from another curricular area. As well as regular opportunities to solve problems as part of their maths lessons, children often also respond well to the challenge of a ‘Problem of the Week’ which can be displayed in class for a set time. The Nrich site is a good source of suitable problems, some of which are available as posters. The Numeracy Strategy Logic Problems also have problems at a range of levels.
Missing Number questions
For calculation in particular, once a calculation process is learned (eg. column addition), presenting questions with missing digits can extend children’s thinking about the process they have been using.
Other useful websites
Mathpickle has some interesting videos and other activities.
Mathsticks has lots of useful resources. There are lots of great activities which are free to download, and some premium resources if you can stretch to a membership.
7puzzle posts a new puzzle every day. The site also categorises the archived puzzles into Easy, Medium and Hard etc.
My Pinterest board has lots of other ideas for investigations, puzzles and challenges.