Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Boy Maths - any ideas?

Since July this year, we've split our classes (from Grade 5 up) into separate boy and girl classes. In our tiny school, that translates to one class for each gender per grade, about 30 kids per class.

So, the girls have been taking off like a bunch of rockets, or maybe racing cars that have been revving their engines and are finally given green for go. They help each other, compete with each other, pay attention in class (most days), do their best and are seeing improved results.

For the boys, things have not been going that well. There have been a few lessons where early finishers on a task have moved around helping others, everyone liked that. But they have hardly any tolerance for me standing  up in front explaining a concept, even interactively - and I'm not yet sure how to teach maths without a bit of explanation at the start of the lesson, before they dive in to the set activities.

Their restlessness tends to draw out the amount of time it takes me to do the introduction/explanation - a vicious circle. Yesterday I felt some real despair at the way their marks are going down. There is little of the group-wide sense of competition and pride that exists among the girls (although a handful of boys are keeping their inner motivation alive).

Unfortunately this is also a group with a long history of poor behaviour, so class disturbance and poor performance are in a way behaviours that feel 'familiar', even 'safe' to them.

So, here is a major mind-body-maths challenge. Teaching boys in a way that works for them, that engages them. I know nothing will come right until I crack this.

One of the hardest parts is trying to get this right at the same time as being under huge pressure to finish most of the curriculum over the next few weeks AND prepare them for the kind of questions that come up in our Annual National Assessment. The results of which, I've only recently found out, determines the reputation of our school.... (this is my first year in the government school system).

What I HAVE been doing...
- starting each concept on a back-to-basics, very simple level, working on the basic concepts before getting into solving more complex problems
- using manipulatives where possible
- occasional games/challenges - these work if VERY simple, otherwise tend to break down into chaos with the boys
- using worksheets rather than having them copy work from the board - though this brings another horror as they have to glue the sheets into their classwork books - gluing in one sheet can take 5 minutes of disorder
- Currently my learners are sitting two to a desk, facing the front. Group seating earlier in the year led to too much inappropriate interactions, and I like to work with individual and pair activities most of the time.

Anybody else teaching maths to boy classes? What has worked for you?


  1. OK here I am commenting on my own post. Had a better lesson the day after writing this, thanks to our gorgeous government-supplied workbook. This is choc-a-block with colourful exercises, many with graphics that provide a visual basis for abstract ideas (fractions, grouping etc.). The section we were due to start on was user-friendly enough for me just to give the page numbers and say 'get started'... lots of happily working boys, occasionally putting up their hands for individual help. This won't work for all lessons but was a happy relief for all of us.

  2. I have had a similar situation except it was not with a class of all boys. I have however, struggled with getting them intrinsically motivated. One strategy that does work and I use occasionally is starting class with a question or diagram or picture, depending on the lesson. I find that when students discover for themselves the objective for the day then they are more apt to be engaged.

  3. Thank you - that makes sense. I have done this once or twice but not enough. Will definitely try to do it more often - I'm sure it will give them more of a sense of ownership as well, being set off by their own curiosity rather than whatever I might have to say...