CfEM Blog: Lessons from lockdown – mathematics curriculum planning

Lockdown led to a lot of devastation to curriculum planning for colleges. While the lights were off in colleges, except for the few classrooms which were being used, for example for the children of keyworkers, the majority of students were left with the majority of their time in digital spaces.

These 16-19-year-old students moved to a life online with PlayStation, Xbox, TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, etc., plus Teams or Zoom for education. For the most part, students sunk into a solitary existence with headphones. But has lockdown put a nail in the coffin of face-to-face teaching for Cross College maths? Come September, will college leaders prioritise face-to-face maths in the same way as they might for the vocations, where the need is perhaps more visible and better understood, or will the human connection be traded with a more permanent online solution for maths delivery?

Unlike schools, colleges have the freedom to decide, and with no exams for two years, there is little evidence to prove how guided learning hours through online delivery will affect maths student attainment for those 16-19-year-olds in a Further Education setting who failed to achieve a Grade 4 pass in their GCSE mathematics. 

Classrooms provide students with the opportunity to socialise and converse in safe places, as well as giving teachers the ability to support students in class using non-verbal cues to change their delivery, and to intervene where necessary so no student is left behind. Whilst it is clear that maths curriculum planning needs to adapt, the outputs should not be measured only in terms of economics (improved grades), but also in the physical and mental health and well-being of students.

Two Centre Leads from the Centres for the Excellence in Maths talk openly about going back into the classroom after lockdown and how the extraordinary experiences over the last year have influenced their ideas for maths curriculum planning for the next academic year and beyond.

Xen Cottam – Weston College

“We were all a little nervous and unsure as we entered the classroom. Thankfully, it was the same room and same layout and students returned to their ‘usual’ places. Some looked uneasy and hesitant about how to proceed – had we reached cognitive overload before we’d even started the maths? We started by discussing how everyone was, how they had coped, and how they felt being back in college. Safe ground it seemed, which helped to relax the mood and share concerns. Discussion about maths and CAGs soon started and the nuance of communication that had been missing online was soon clear, the subtle signs which are lost communicating digitally (which I love) were more easily picked up. For some, asking questions openly was too much and without the aid of a digital interface, it made communication difficult – social distancing increased this issue. Seeing students discuss maths face to face was a joy and much missed but it was clear to me that, like a balanced diet, there is room for both and there are advantages of both face-to-face and digital delivery. As much as I loved seeing students again, I for one will be pushing to use both in my delivery in the future.”

Tumay Gunduz – Christ the King Sixth Form College

“It is fair to say that for the vast majority of leaders, teachers, and students it has been a sigh of relief to be back in college, in the classroom, and into a common routine. Our community is back together, and the ‘ghost town’ corridors are now filled with love, life, and laughter.

For a resit GCSE Maths student, it has been a particularly challenging year. Newly enrolled students to a college in 2020 would have last experienced a formal assessment in Key Stage 2 for their SATs. The awarding of CAG Summer 2020 brought its difficulties for students and teachers alike – diagnostic assessments and initial gap analysis for a resit GCSE Maths learners was so much more important than ever before. With the short time from enrolment to November 2020 resit exams, students and teachers worked tirelessly to build confidence, fill the gaps, and prepare for what may have been a learner’s first formal exam for years.

The noticeable difference for remote teaching between the first National Lockdown and the second was the urge and strive by teachers to not just ‘survive’ online learning but to think carefully about the pedagogical approaches that worked for a resit learner. Physical manipulatives were replaced by virtual ones, mini whiteboards were replaced by interactive ones, exercise book by OneNote/Onedrive/Dropbox, and the textbook replaced by VLEs such a Hegarty or Mathswatch.

Importantly, however, for both lockdowns, teachers already had the time to build good and trusting relationships with students. Without this, transitioning to complete online, remote delivery would have been impossible.

We, as a department, have invested a lot of time and thought into our maths curriculum and the impact of lockdown has emphasised what we have learned and what we can take away and implement in our future planning for the next academic year.”

Share this article: