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Renfrewshire schools maths partnership with top US university adds up to a UK first

Chamber News, Member News 15th May 2019

For many, the mere mention of fractions, calculus and algebra can cause a cold sweat to break out, but Renfrewshire pupils are being inspired to love maths through an innovative partnership with Stanford University.

Educational experts at the renowned US institution developed youcubed, an alternative approach to maths education which is followed by one-in-two American schools and has seen students achieve significant improvement in their test results.

Now in a UK first, 172 pupils from six Renfrewshire primary schools are taking part in youcubed maths camps.

The camps are being run over two weeks for P5 and P6 pupils from Heriot, St Catherine’s and Glencoats (all Paisley); Auchenlodment and St Anthony’s (Johnstone) and East Fulton (Linwood).

Renfrewshire education staff received specialist training in San Francisco to deliver the camps’ creative curriculum, which uses the latest research and applies it in the classroom.

Morning sessions focus on collaborative problem-solving projects while the afternoon is packed with activities applying mathematics to different subjects, including engineering, orienteering, film making and art.

Councillor Jim Paterson, Convener of Renfrewshire Council’s Education and Children’s Services Policy Board said: “It is critically important to us that all children and young people in Renfrewshire benefit from a high-quality education and have equality of opportunity to achieve their ambitions, regardless of their background.

“This innovative partnership with Stanford University is multiplying the opportunities for Renfrewshire pupils to fulfil their potential. Pupils will benefit from an exciting approach to learning maths and our staff will be able to develop and hone their skills to inspire pupil’s love of mathematics.”

Youcubed is co-founded by Jo Boaler, a former maths teacher in London, now Professor of Mathematics Education at Stanford and author of the award-winning Mathematical Mindsets.

Professor Boaler said: “I am thrilled to be partnering with Renfrewshire, bringing our youcubed approach to students in Scotland, to help them love maths and start a pathway of success.

“The maths approach students will learn is inspired by evidence from neuroscience about the ways the brain processes mathematics.
“The students will engage in problem solving and deep thinking and learn that maths is a creative and connected subject rather than a list of rules and methods. Students will learn a growth mindset lens to apply to all of their learning, and their lives.”

Stanford staff will be researching the impact of the 30 camps being held across the US, in Renfrewshire and Brazil, analysing pupil development data over the next three years as part of an international study comparing cultural learning differences.

The partnership comes after Renfrewshire Council was the first local authority in Scotland rated ‘excellent’ by Education Scotland for its progress in raising attainment and closing the learning gap between those in the least and most deprived communities.

Renfrewshire is one of nine Scottish Attainment Challenge authorities receiving funding from the Scottish Government and the national inspection reported significant year-on-year improvements in listening, talking, reading, writing and numeracy.

Funding has enabled tea time study sessions for families and strengthened the transition from primary to secondary school, while more than 3800 pupils have benefited from a programme to develop their self-control.

More than 1000 staff have completed a course to improve confidence in teaching numeracy and a partnership with the University of Strathclyde is delivering impressive results in reading and writing, through a professional learning programme for classroom assistants.
This has seen St Anthony’s Primary School in Johnstone named UK Literacy School of the Year and Renfrewshire schools have won the UKLA Our Class Loves this Book Award two years’ running.

“Inspiring our pupils to enjoy learning maths is really important not just for improving their maths understanding and achievement, but in improving their overall confidence in problem solving and investigation. It also improves learning in a wide range of other subjects,” explains Steven Quinn, Interim Director of Children’s Services at Renfrewshire Council and a qualified maths teacher.

“Through the ongoing work with the University of Strathclyde we have seen the significant benefits of an academic partner and we are really excited about working with the leading experts in maths education at Stanford University and look forward to further developing the partnership over the coming years.”

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