About four years ago, I was asked if I could run a course for year 6 students from inner city London primary schools, who had been identified as ‘gifted and talented‘ in maths. Now, I’m troubled by this idea in general. What measures schools might use to identify gifted and talented is very hard to tell. My idea of a good mathematician is almost never the person who correctly answers all the arithmetic questions. However, the truth of the matter was that they were ordinary kids in ordinary schools.
So, we wrote a series of twelve ‘gifted and talented’ lessons. From the outset the design was that anyone could take them on, because in fact I was only able to teach two of the lessons myself. My partner taught the rest. She is a specialist primary teacher, but not specialist in maths, so between the two of us, I think we got the balance right.
The lesson I did had the students generating algebraic expressions on a calculator and guessing the value of the expression from values of the variables, given by one half of each pair. The students (remember … Year 6) made up their own expressions. I was impressed that they had no problem working in this way.
The whole course made up ten gifted and talented sessions; each one with a warm up activity, a main exploration activity and a take away puzzle. There was lots of variety of activity type, lots of different materials and resources. It was very well received.
We packaged this up in a box, with all of the print materials ready to hand out and a whole box full of nice puzzles, materials and the calculators, so the teacher could just take it out of the box and get started. The course is in use in many schools up and down the country. We call it Wondermaths.
Last year, we finished the parallel course for key stage three gifted and talented mathematicians. You come away from this course having engaged with group theory, knowing that some groups of transformations are Klein groups and others a cyclic and this is true of groups under module arithmetic too. The great thing about this is that twelve year olds are fascinated by the language and the ideas. I’ve done sessions for teachers to work through the ideas with them too and they have gone down very well indeed. We call this course illuminate. Some secondary schools have used the primary course as transition material to work with their feeders primary schools. This works really well to induct younger learners into a serious maths department.
So, I don’t have to worry about who gets selected, because in the end, anyone who wants to should be allowed to hard maths, because hard means exciting, intriguing, wonderful, illuminating!