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Research School Network: BLOG: The Building Blocks for Maths: A diary of a Year 6 Teacher Embracing the Steps for Early Maths A diary of a Year 6 Teacher Embracing the Steps for Early Maths

BLOG: The Building Blocks for Maths: A diary of a Year 6 Teacher Embracing the Steps for Early Maths

A diary of a Year 6 Teacher Embracing the Steps for Early Maths

Nicol Winfield (FS2 Teacher and Maths Lead at Wyndham Primary Academy and Mastery Specialist for the East Midlands West Maths Hub)

I always felt reasonably confident in my own mathematical subject knowledge, standing in the shoes of Primary Lead for the East Midlands West Maths Hub. It was only when I was faced with questions such as, But how does this look in the early years?” and What does this mean for our practice?” that I experienced what some term imposter syndrome’. As someone who had only taught in key stage 1 and 2, the early years was always a grey area for me. It feels uncomfortable to admit because as a maths lead, I should have sought to develop a secure understanding of the firm mathematical foundations children need if they are to go on to master more complex concepts and ideas.

Year 1 is as low as I will go”, I joked with others, but I knew that to truly understand how to support the learning of children, I needed to immerse myself within the early years foundation stage (EYFS). And so, with some encouragement and belief from my Principal, I threw myself in at the deep end: at the beginning of this academic year, I became a teacher of a reception class.

Leading up to this point, I did my research, of course…

‘Development in the early years provides the building blocks for educational achievement, economic productivity, responsible citizenship, lifelong health, strong communities and successful parenting of the next generation’ (Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child).‘Research shows that early mathematical knowledge predicts later reading ability and general education and social progress’ (Duncan et al, 2007). Conversely, ‘children who start behind in mathematics tend to stay behind throughout their whole educational journey’ (Aubrey, Godfrey, Dahl, 2006).

Colleagues from other schools had teased that it was just play’ and yet following my initial readings, I had never felt so much pressure in my career to get it right’. After all, in the words of the Department for Education, no job is more important than working with children in the early years’.

I remember the first day with my class. The nerves were familiar – I likened this feeling to how I felt on my first day as a newly qualified teacher. As we all entered our new Wonderland’ environment together, I reassured myself that I could do this. After registration, we all sat together in a circle and began to recite a number rhyme. Halfway through, I completely forgot the words and so had to insist my learning ambassadors took over.

But it wasn’t all that turbulent. In fact, it wasn’t long before I began to settle. With the support of my team and Principal, the weeks became easier and as I observed the children in action, my nerves subsided, allowing space for me to become more and more curious about their learning and development. I began digging deeper into my readings, pulling out key ideas that could help shape my practice.

The Six Key Areas of Early Mathematics Learning

One tool that proved very powerful in developing my mathematical subject knowledge came from the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM). They identify six key areas of early mathematics learning, which collectively provide a platform for everything children will encounter as they progress through their maths learning at primary school, and beyond’:

Cardinality and Counting
– Understanding that the cardinal value of a number refers to the quantity, or howmanyness’, of things it represents.

– Understanding that comparing numbers involves knowing which numbers are worth more or less than each other.

– Understanding that one number can be made up from (composed from) two or more smaller numbers.

- Looking for and finding patterns helps children notice and understand mathematical relationships.

Shape and space
- Understanding what happens when shapes move, or combine with other shapes, helps develop wider mathematical thinking.

– Comparing different aspects such as length, weight and volume, as a preliminary to using units to compare later.

Within each area, the NCETM outline the typical progression of key ideas. Similarly, the Learning Trajectories site details the steps children typically take to learning mathematics and offers support in approaching each step. (Links to both are detailed at the end of this blog.) 


Following this exploration, I quickly realised that these areas formed the fundamental mathematical basis for the popular Numberblocks’ series. And why wouldn’t they – Dr Debbie Morgan, Director for Primary at the NCETM, was the mathematical consultant on the CBeebies series.

To support practitioners in drawing out and building on the key mathematical concepts and ideas within each episode, the NCETM devised some animated Powerpoints. Myself and my team began to utilise these resources before Christmas and recently reflected that in doing so, our adult inputs have strengthened – and so has the level of children’s mathematical thinking. The only thing I have had to consider when designing inputs is that as a school who uses Power Maths, we must ensure the children hear consistent language through stem sentences and are presented with familiar representations of key concepts and ideas so that when transitioning to a new year group, they do not experience the feeling that this is all brand new’.

Improving Mathematics in the Early Years and KS1 – A self-assessment guide

My thinking has evolved tremendously in such a short space of time and as my Principal often reminds us, it’s important to pause and reflect. After delivering on programmes for the Derby Research School, I am very familiar with using the Improving Mathematics in Key Stages 2 and 3 self-assessment guide as a reflective tool, and so felt incredibly excited when a self-assessment guide was released in line with the Improving Mathematics in the Early Years and Key Stage 1 Guidance Report. At the end of the Autumn term, our team protected time during a PPA session to engage with this, to allow us to accurately identify our current position, specify a tight area of focus and design some appropriate implementation activities. The beauty of tools like the self-assessment guide is that they can be continually revisited to help reflect upon practice. I have no doubt that we will revisit this guide when pausing to reflect at the end of the Spring term.

Useful Links

The NCETM’s Early Years page The materials in this section of the site are designed to support Reception teachers with the teaching of mathematics.

Learning and Teaching with Learning Trajectories
This site helps teachers learning about the steps children typically take to learning mathematics.

Improving Mathematics in the Early Years and Key Stage 1 Guidance Report -
This Guidance Report offers five practical recommendations to support the learning of children aged 3 to 7.

Early Maths Childhood Group
This site provides support for teachers wishing to develop expertise in teaching and learning early mathematics.

Nicol winfield

Nicol Winfield

FS2 Teacher and Maths Lead at Wyndham Primary Academy and Mastery Specialist for the East Midlands West Maths Hub; ELE for the Derby Research School

Nicol Winfield is Maths Lead at Wyndham Primary Academy and the Derby Research School, an SLE for the George Spencer Teaching School Alliance and an NCETM-accredited Teaching for Mastery Specialist. The main focus of her role is developing the mathematical subject knowledge of teachers across Derby City and Derbyshire. She has designed and delivered programmes on behalf of the East Midlands West Maths Hub and has experience working closely with a number of schools on their approaches in teaching for mastery. Nicol also wrote a programme for parents that explored the progression of number from FS through to Year 6, for which she won a Let Teachers SHINE’ award from the organisation SHINE’ who have funded her to roll the programme out in several regions across the country.

Read more aboutNicol Winfield

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