Maths is the most popular subject at Benenden and Head of Department Gillian Poole explains how it aims to set girls up for their chosen career in a fun way:
As we sit down to discuss Maths at Benenden, Gillian Poole has come straight from showing the Sixth Form how to use a graphical calculator, which translates data into graphs. It is an unsolicited example of how the subject is focused on teaching students the practical skills they will need in the workplace.
For Mrs Poole, this demonstrates how much Maths has evolved over the 21 years she has been teaching it. While it has always been a core subject, it is arguably more important now than ever before as the technological revolution is changing the workplace so dramatically.
“There’s demand for far more skilled workers than there used to be,” Mrs Poole says. “For a long time you could get away with being unskilled but it’s not the case anymore. A lot of jobs require a higher level of Maths than they would have done. A good example is computer graphics for gaming and any kind of animation: they require a very high level of Maths. Anything to do with computing requires the skills that you learn in Maths.
“It’s not always about using the calculations but the way Maths teaches you to select knowledge and apply methods to different situations. It’s very applicable to many walks of life.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, she says: “It’s the most popular A Level subject at Benenden, and numbers have increased over the years.”
Mrs Poole has led the Maths Department at Benenden since 2012. The team comprises nine Maths teachers, plus two specialists who offer one-to-one tuition. The overarching approach of the department is clear. When we meet, Mrs Poole is planning an exercise in which students calculate the height of the site’s buildings as well as a Maths treasure hunt and a numerical murder mystery challenge, in which students have to use Maths to eliminate suspects from an inquiry.
“We like traditional methods but do try to do it in as interactive a way as possible,” Mrs Poole says. “We try not to make it dull and ‘chalk and talk’ – we try to make it fun so we might use mini whiteboards or use games or activities to try to lighten it up: puzzles, quizzes, games, using IT like a Kahoot! type of question (an online Maths puzzle platform).
“What we don’t like is just the teacher to be standing at the front talking to the girls. The children are much more involved in their learning and talking about what they are doing, rather than just being passive recipients – or worse, they may not even be participating. If they are developing it and if they are enjoying it, the hope is that they’ll be paying more attention and thinking more about what they are doing and so they understand it better.”
Mrs Poole certainly practises what she preaches. She relishes surprising her students with lessons in which they have to solve complicated fractions puzzles or roll a die to answer different mathematical questions. It is an approach the entire department has adopted as the team develops its teaching to make Maths as applicable to the real world as possible.
“When I was at school it was quite teacher-led,” she says. “It has certainly changed. I’ve been trying to make my lessons more interactive for a long time. I’d like to make it even more fun; it would be nice to do more puzzles and quizzes and to take them out on more trips.”
Maths at a Glance
- Approximately one third of all students take the subject at A Level (this year the figure is 27)
- Increasing numbers go on to study Maths-related subjects at university, including Economics, Engineering and Science-based subjects: 26 of last year’s leavers are now studying these subjects.
- 72% of girls achieved A* or A in Maths A Level in 2016
- 81% achieved A* or A at GCSE
- There are three sets in each of the Fourths and Upper Fifths; and six in Lower Fifth, Fifth and Upper Fifth
- Students in the Lower School have three hours of Maths a week, and five hours in the Sixth Form