Improving attitudes to maths on residential and back in school

Key features

  • Students see teachers in a different environment
  • Sharing memories back in the classroom maintains these better relationships
  • Practical teaching makes learning on residential really stick in students' minds

I have been at Canterbury High School for three years now and have been on three residentials.  During that time there has been a huge change in the Maths deptartment.

The factors impacting the change in the department have come from a wide number of different variables, one of which has been residential learning.

To fully appreciate where we are now as a department, our starting point is important.  I would describe it as a battle. Students had no confidence in their ability in Maths and therefore didn’t like it.   The relationships between students and maths teachers were poor. As a result behaviour was bad, positive relationships were rare and the exam results reflected this (37% C or above).

So how has residential learning impacted on this?  One word: relationships. The residential experiences gave us huge scope to build and improve relationships with students who had previously been disengaged with maths.

This happened in a variety of ways. Firstly, the students just seeing us in a different environment helped. The environment was more relaxed and open – meaning we could easily ‘have a laugh’ with students. From there it was a snowball effect.  Suddenly we were ‘all right’, and because of this the idea of Maths was ‘all right’.  Students were then more open to doing Maths – it allowed them to gain confidence as they were willing to listen because they had started to like us. These relationships grew as the week went on, supported by joining in with the activities, for example playing floodlit football with boys (in their onesies) whose behaviour was a challenge in the classroom, or crawling through muddy puddles under cargo nets with under-confident students.  As I have got more experienced with residential learning, I have been able to be more explicit about doing things with the students that impact on confidence and learning and have therefore seen greater impact on each one.

So, playing devil’s advocate for a minute, two things spring to mind: 1) the relationship building is great on the residential – but what about back at school?; and 2) In any given lesson on a residential I think I can get any student to do grade C work – but can they remember it back at school…?  Here’s what I’ve noticed:

  • Immediately following residentials there is a clear shift of attitude and confidence towards Maths and the Maths department. Around school we were able to share memories with students of things that happened whilst away. This really helped when they arrived in the department for lessons.  Because of this shift in relationships students now perceived Maths as all right (or even possibly fun!).  In my experience, these relationships have lasted – even now after two years from the first residential students still talk to me about things that occurred there.
  • My experience with students’ memory of what they learned on the residential is that it really sticks in their minds, because of the more practical way that we were able to teach lessons. There is one story that really stands out for me.  About six months after the residential we were doing a Maths test.  A female student (not taught by me in the last few months) who had attended the residential and who had been very under-confident in maths shouted out, “I can do the last questions – it’s Pythagoras – Mr W taught us this at Carroty Wood”.  This was a fantastic feeling and showed that learning in a different way had really stuck with this student.

So, where are we now?  In 2013 the Maths department had the best results we have ever recorded (57% of students gained C+, with more B,A,A* grades than ever; in addition more students than ever made 3 levels of progress). Is this all down to residential work?  Clearly not – there are too many other factors that have impacted on the results. But did residential work play a significant role? Certainly yes. Residentials undoubtedly helped build relationships, and helped students with their ultimate Maths grades.