Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Shanghai-Style Maths Comes to Central London

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Shanghai-Style Maths Comes to Central London

Article excerpt

Exchange scheme takes teachers on a voyage of discovery

"Just to warn you," says Marina Coleman, headteacher of St Vincent's RC Primary School in Marylebone, London. "The children will be sitting in rows."

Two Chinese maths teachers have flown 5,500 miles to demonstrate calculation, so the 29 children in Year 2 have had their desks arranged Shanghai-style for the occasion.

Li Dong, 29, from Luwan No 2 Central Primary School in China's largest city, stands in front of the six-year-olds. He is dressed in a suit and tie and beaming at everyone. He gestures to the class to rise.

"Good morning, class," he says. The Year 2 pupils, in their dark blue jumpers, stand and chant: "Good morning, Mr Li."

Mr Li is in London as part of the Shanghai Teacher Exchange Programme, a key element of the government's £11 million maths hub scheme, in which 30 English schools have been set up as centres of excellence.

Teachers from schools within each hub travelled to Shanghai in September to observe lessons, and now Chinese teachers are making the return trip.

In his lesson today, Mr Li will look at addition. He jumps straight in with a three-picture cartoon strip, showing a picture of three children in a car, another child getting into the car and the car with a big question mark.

Arms shoot into the air - three plus one equals four. These children have had two years of schooling already; in Shanghai at this age, they'd only be weeks in.

But despite the disparity in formal schooling, the level of comprehension is about the same in both countries. The calculations in Mr Li's Shanghai maths textbook are kept simple so that children focus on the aim of the lesson - recognising which problems require addition.

Half an hour earlier, he was going through the lesson plan in St Vincent's basement meeting room with 11 visiting teachers from schools around Westminster.

Mr Li explained to the teachers that in his previous lesson at St Vincent's, he covered using addition to combine two groups of objects. Today's lesson would be looking at using addition when you start with one group of objects, adding another group later. It is a nuance, but one that helps to deepen children's understanding of the concept. The calculations, lots of them, will come later.

Mr Li finished his explanation, packed up his small white flask and headed upstairs to demonstrate.

Afterwards, he talked about the lesson. "It is not that the children are different in Shanghai," he said. "You also have children who know the answer. But in Shanghai a lot of time is spent asking children to explain their answers. They've got the answers, but what I want to know is how they got them.

"Now, in Year 2, it seems very easy. But in Year 5, a question may have a lot of different methods and it is important to know how to get to an answer."

Katrina Hassan, a Year 2 teacher and maths coordinator at St Vincent's who visited Shanghai last month, said she also noticed how the numbers zero and 10 were brought into every lesson to reinforce their importance. In this case, having no children on the bus had stumped one child - something that was noted for future work.

"In Shanghai, it's taught in such a carefully phased way," Ms Hassan said. "Here, we accelerate them quickly but there are gaps in key stage 2."

The teachers attending the masterclass were impressed with the depth of learning that Mr Li and his colleague Mr Chen expect from pupils - each lesson is pacy but learning is consolidated over the weeks, and teachers are allowed to keep children behind once a week for extra maths if they have not understood a concept. …

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