It’s the start of the year, and the typical primary maths classroom will be sporting multiple colourful display boards which will gradually be filled over the coming weeks. No doubt one of the boards will be allocated to maths given that it covers approximately 20% of our teaching time. That said, it can sometimes be challenging to find material to display on the maths wall compared to the colourful boards that can be produced for subjects such as humanities or art. However, if we move our focus away from display and change it to learning, it can become much easier.
Using the wall as a resource
The first issue to consider is how we can make the wall into a useful resource that is used frequently during maths sessions.
This can be achieved by thinking about how the wall can be used when planning a topic or unit of work. Also, you do not have to produce all the content for the wall since pupils can also make contributions.
The second issue is to work out how we can achieve this without spending hours backing every piece of content to ensure that it conforms to the school display policy. This is important because activities that take lots of time are not going to be continued. The fact is that a working wall is not a display, so content does not have to be stuck on to other paper first or made to look pretty. Anything that is likely to be useful again can be saved for the next time that topic is studied or when the wall is used during revision periods.
Pupils can contribute to the content for the wall and take part in regular reviews of how useful the wall is proving to be during maths lessons. Ask pupils what they use, what they don’t use and anything they would like to see on the wall. Make sure that they explain why they think this so that you can better understand how the wall is being used. This also ensures that the wall contents are relevant and that the wall is seen as an integral part of the maths session.
Below are the headings that I have found effective together with some ideas regarding relevant content.
There will be some targets or objectives for the unit of work or topic that you are exploring. These could be in the form of ‘I can’ statements that could be printed for the pupils to use for self-assessment if needed. They could also be added to a VLE or a space that is shared with parents so that they are aware of the current learning focus.
This heading is used for modelled examples that have been produced when working with a group or the whole class. When working on some maths with the whole class, you could use A2 sheets which could then be stuck straight on to the wall. Alternatively, you could print out modelled examples or ideas from an IWB and stick this straight on to the wall. The same applies to photographs of work from a traditional whiteboard so that ideas are not lost after that session. This can then be referred to during lessons throughout the topic which helps to avoid the problem of pupils forgetting the important content from the first few lessons. However, to provide the opportunity for pupils to have to remember the content from memory, examples could be removed as you progress further through the topic so that pupils do not become reliant on the examples from the wall.
This is where you can display resources and manipulatives that are useful for the topic that you are teaching. Given that there may be resources that are used within several topics, one option is to have a table or cupboard surface below the mathematicians’ wall where resources can be displayed.
Maths dictionaries (both printed and online) could be displayed for older pupils while younger pupils could have access to resources such as multiplication grids, fraction circles, fraction walls and base 10 materials. It is important to note here that while pupils do need to develop a level of understanding where they no longer rely on resources, access to resources should be provided if it is still needed after trying without this support. Removing resources too early can reduce a pupil’s confidence which is so important for learning maths.
Pupils are exposed to lots of mathematical language and inclusion of this on the wall can help pupils to embed it within their vocabulary. However, it does need to be referenced and used regularly. The language can be used for quick activities in the morning or just after lunch where pupils could choose a word to trace on a partner’s back and the partner has to explain that word. Pairs could produce a mime to illustrate the meaning of the word. This is particularly relevant for words connected with shape, and similar activities could be used during gymnastics or warm-ups during PE lessons. The words could also be included in a weekly spelling list.
Problems can be added to the wall which could be of varying levels or take the form of low threshold, high ceiling tasks that can be accessed by all pupils. Given that this would be something that you would be preparing when planning, this is not extra content.
Why is this a good example?
The content for this heading will generally be produced by the pupils themselves. They may have also agreed which piece or pieces of work should be included under this heading. The work can be annotated by those who chose it to explain why it is a good example or the rest of the class can discuss and add ideas as to why it has been chosen.
Hints and Tips
Pupils can add hits and tips at the end of a lesson during a plenary, at the start of a lesson as a way of recalling the previous lesson, or during the lesson as they discover something for themselves. It is worth checking for duplicates under this heading!
The content for this heading can be built up over time and kept for when you revisit the topic. Pupils can also contribute by providing examples as a homework activity.
Encourage pupils to look for links and add their ideas, explaining the link between the current topic and other topics, under this heading. Examples of links could be made between area and grid method multiplication or fractions and division.
Pupils often have questions which they may not share with us. By adding them to the wall as they occur, other pupils can answer the question. This is a useful form of informal assessment since lots of pupils may be asking the same questions or there may be no-one can who answer a particular question correctly, which may mean that you need to adapt your planning.
What’s the Same? What’s Different?
When pupils are asked to compare two entities, such as images, shapes, patterns or calculation processes, they start thinking about the characteristics of each much more closely. A simple question regarding what’s the same and what’s different between a square and a rectangle, or long division and short division can reveal much about pupils’ understanding and helps them to clarify their thoughts and develop understanding.
Is there a pattern?
We sometimes tend to think of single sequences when we see this question, and it can certainly be used when studying them but it can also be used when looking at patterns within a times table grid or the patterns of equivalent fractions. When solving a longer problem such as how many squares there are on a chessboard, the spotting of patterns helps us to avoid counting or writing out every possibility.
The best way to incorporate a maths wall is to make sure to involve pupils in both creating relevant content and reviewing the content right from the start. With regular reviews of how useful the wall is proving to be and how practical it is to maintain, the wall can be a valuable resource during maths lessons.
To save some time getting started, click here for a file containing printable headings: