A Maths Problem Solved- With a cross-curricular approach

Karen Farmer Karen Farmer Robyn Foster Robyn Foster

Along with literacy, maths is an area of teaching that is under the spotlight, with headlines such as Making the Grade: Young workers lack literacy, numeracy and communications skills, employers say - NZ Herald and Curriculum changes must tackle the lifelong consequences of NZ’s alarming literacy and numeracy declines. These all paint a grim picture of our education system without highlighting some of the evidence-based options that we have available here in New Zealand. At times it feels a bit like the familiar school report comment “must do better”.

If we focus on maths, one area where RT3T can help teachers “do better” is by providing a proven cross-curricular structure, that students can already use fluently in other subject areas, for collaborative problem-solving.

Last term we began working with an enthusiastic group of maths teachers from one of our RT3T secondary schools. The teachers had seen what was happening with RT3T in the Science, Social Studies and English classes and were keen to use the thinking skills and teamwork strategies the students had learnt and apply them to problem-solving in maths. A large part of their motivation was to better prepare their students for the new NCEA numeracy requirements as they recognised that this new assessment is very literacy-rich and that literacy teaching is an area they have little expertise in. Working with these teachers has given us an opportunity to continue to develop our resources and processes in maths. Some of our key observations are:

  • The importance of explicit teaching including activating prior knowledge before students embark on problem-solving.
  • The choice of problem has a profound impact on the engagement and behaviour of the class. We saw the reality of this if the tasks chosen by the teacher were too easy, too hard, or didn't relate to the learning the students had been doing.
  • Allowing for differentiation by providing three versions of a problem, each dealing with the same maths thinking or skill but at different levels to allow for greater success.
  • Students don't automatically transfer the group work skills they've learned in other subjects or classes to maths. Teacher knowledge of the differences between RT3T and RT-Maths, their introduction of this to the class and their high expectations that students know how to function as a self-managing group, are vital.

Students have been positive about their RT-Maths. One student shared how the RT-Maths process had enabled him to realise that he had made a mistake in a problem and then through discussion with a peer, figure out where he had made the mistake and how to correct it.

The teachers have acknowledged that this teaching method takes time to embed and are continuing the journey this term.

If you are interested in finding out more about RT3T or RT-Maths, contact Karen to discuss PLD options.

Further resources you may find interesting:

New Zealand Mathematical Society's Response to the Draft of the Common Practice Model (Ministry of Education)

Reciprocal Teaching | Education Counts - the 2023 update on Cross-curricular Reciprocal Teaching

How Reciprocal Teaching- RT3T™ fits with the Common Practice Model - RTeach Institute