Reflections on a Mathletics competition

Mathletics has the potential to deliver measurable improvements in numeracy skills. But only if it is actively utilised by teachers and students across the school as a part of their learning culture. Challenging both teachers and students to embrace Mathletics as a part of their school-wide learning culture is not easy, but I am pleased to report that I have found a way- a school-wide competition. A campus wide competition can raise the awareness and perception of Mathletics across the school. If teachers and students have had little exposure to Mathletics, is it any wonder that there may be some scepticism or doubt as to what it can achieve. This term, Marsden State School agreed to trial such a competition.

Mathletics Competition
This was the motivation behind my ‘Marsden Mathletics Mastery Competition’. For one term, we ran a school-wide competition with a focus on ‘mastery’. To make a competition possible, you need access to real, on-time, accurate data. Mathletics provides cross-school data via their administrator log-ins. Individual teachers can see a wide range of data for their own class, but administrators can see the whole school’s data (I wonder how many schools actually use the administrator’s data?). I used the data provided on mastery to be the focus of this competition.

‘Mastery’, according to Mathletics is a score of 85% or higher. By making topics mastered by individual classes the focus of this competition, we were confident that we would not only engage students, but increase their maths skills. If a topic is not mastered- no points for your class! We were going to coach students to go back and try it again and again until they mastered that topic. We would also encourage them to ask more questions of peers, teachers and parents; and to refer to the help screens provided.

School wide buy-in
Commitment to this project was critical and needed to come from the leadership team. The idea was initially raised with the ICT committee, approved and then a detailed plan created. This plan including a multi-faceted marketing campaign that involved: A3 coloured posters around the school; write-ups in the school newsletter; articles on the school Facebook page; weekly emails to teachers with progress updates; creation of how to videos for teachers (see below); creation of a video ad for students (see above); weekly awarding of certificates and updating of competition progress to whole school assemblies; and teacher promotion and coaching within own classes. Management supported the competition by encouraging teachers at meetings and via school notice board; and by asking the Numeracy coaches to guide teachers. Finally, a day was allocated for the prize. A full day for the winning classes doing organised fun activities and no lessons. What a great way to finish the term!

Yesterday, we announced the winners. It is all over and it begs the question ‘was it all worth it?’

Short term
For the duration of the competition, there was a significant increase in class activity with Mathletics. Not all classes engaged, but nearly all of them did. Many other achievements were made as a result of this competition. For instance, 8 classes made it to the Mathletics Hall of Fame (which we hadn’t done before); at least 5 students completed mastery for the year level they were working on; and the number of certificates awarded increased by 33%.

Many classes engaged fiercely in the competition and there was much friendly, but competitive banter between classes and teachers. The spirit of competition was truly alive and contributed to a positive vibe within the school grounds. The data tells us that during Semester 1 (20 weeks), our students mastered 7137 topics. During Term 3, we mastered 12,440!

That is a 74.3% increase (in half the amount of time!).

Long term
It would not be reasonable to expect us to maintain the same ferocious levels of achievement that the competition fostered. However, one would hope that more teachers and students continue with a Mathletics focus moving forward. One thing we can say for sure, is that our staff and students are now very aware of the potential of Mathletics and the benefits of a ‘mastery’ focus.

Hope is not enough
It is not enough to hope that our school continues to engage with Mathletics. If a school wants data driven results with numeracy, Mathletics needs to become a key part of the school culture. Not only should it be something that students engage with on school grounds, but it should be something that students choose to do at home by choice, because they want to become better at maths. This way of thinking needs to be coached by teachers as a part of their home learning strategy.

Another competition?
Would I run another Mathletics competition again? Absolutely, no question. However, I would not do more than one like this per year as
It would lose its impact. The next one should be on Live Mathletics- let’s build up our kids number facts!