Maths teachers Sietse Rooks and Alex Philipse of the Drachtster Lyceum have broken down the school’s maths curriculum into approximately 80 skills, for which students can earn points. This places the initiative firmly on the students, providing them with more insight and motivation.
Sietse Rooks noted that students often had much more to offer than they showed in tests. He also noticed that they had little insight into their own abilities, or where there was room for improvement. “They were methodically working their way through every chapter of the maths textbook, only to seemingly forget what they had learned as quickly as possible,” adds Alex Philipse. “The point is, it’s important to keep that knowledge at the ready because it serves as the foundation for the rest of the material.”
So these two teachers decided to do things differently. They collectively set up a list with approximately 80 maths skills that fourth-year havo (secondary school) students, the pilot group, must master if they are to meet the requirements of the curriculum. “That’s when we turned it around,” says Sietse. “From this school year onwards these students now have to show us, at a time of their own choosing, that they have mastered these separate skills.”
The students can use these skills during lessons or demonstrate them in their homework. Every student starts with minus two points for each skill. If a student demonstrates mastery of a skill, he or she is awarded two points. And if he or she shows an understanding of the skill but makes a calculation error, only one point is awarded. If the student has worked on a skill but still hasn’t (yet) understood it, he or she receives zero points. It’s the latest number that counts. “The minus two weighs very heavily,” insists Sietse. “It forces students to work on mastering the skill in question so they can cross it off their list. This encourages them to keep practicing, the knowledge they acquire becomes more embedded and they have more fun in the process too.”
Students practice the skills in different ways. “Some of them need a traditional explanation moment, while others go to the back of the class to work independently or do a digital test,” explains Sietse. “And sometimes students who understand a particular skill will explain it to other students.”
“In addition to receiving three regular maths lessons a week, students also get one support lesson,” says Alex. “They can come and ask us questions and we help them overcome any individual problems they might have by referring them to certain websites or videos. However, I make sure I’m not too quick in giving them an answer; the initiative really must be with the students. Where girls are concerned it often goes quite well, but with some boys it can be difficult. This is why, in the meantime, we’ve established some more deadlines for the various skills.”
Insight into skills
According to Sietse the students who are resitting the year are well-placed to compare the new system with the traditional method that was still in use last year. “They really appreciate the insight it has given them into their own skills. And while it might be tempting fate to reach any premature conclusions, the results of the first test of this year were much better than they were last year. Personally, I like being able to give concrete answers to the problems that students face.”