A whole school, child friendly approach towards deepening knowledge & understanding

A whole school, child friendly approach towards deepening knowledge and understanding

Maths Mastery – The Long and Frightening Road

The term ‘Mastery’ is frightening. The dictionary definition states that a ‘Master’ is someone who has comprehensive knowledge or skill in a particular subject or activity. When I think of ‘Masters’ in popular culture, a few spring to mind from the world of tv, sport, music, theater, science etc. They tend to be extra-ordinary individuals who have had a huge success within their field. There aren’t many of them, that’s what makes them unique.

Many of us would agree that a ‘mastery maths curriculum’ should have the aim to help pupils, over time, acquire mastery of the subject. We all have high expectations of our children in both attainment and progress, so what’s new about this ‘mastery’ approach to maths?

The focus on developing a ‘deeper’ understanding within their year group.

The aims of this long and winding road being:

  • fluency (rapid and accurate recall and application of facts and concepts).
  • a growing confidence to reason mathematically.
  • the ability to apply maths to solve problems, to conjecture and to test hypotheses.

Swimming in Maths – The Big Idea

A whole school, child friendly approach towards deepening knowledge & understanding within age related expectations in the maths curriculum.

Faced with the challenges of this new mastery curriculum & the aims of the national curriculum for mathematics, I was keen to develop a theme that would engage colleagues and children, allowing them to applying their existing skills, knowledge and understanding across a wider range of situations within their year group in a fun and exciting way as a whole school approach.

The idea of ‘depth’ was coming up quite often during meetings and other courses and I began thinking of practical ways for colleagues to enthuse their children ready for learning in maths. My own two boys have been heavily involved in swimming and linking depth of understanding and water seemed like a good idea.

The ‘Depth of Understanding’ image below shows how application of skills becomes more complex as the children ‘dive deeper’. The image of Mr. Bean illustrates his contentment at sunbathing on the top of the water, not applying himself. He’s happy but missing out on so much beneath the surface. The diver is where we want to be. The diver has found the treasure! He’s swimming in Maths.

Maths Mastery Depth of Understanding
Maths Mastery Depth of Understanding

The Deepening Lesson

Behaviour for learning is a less-threatening phrase that requires full engagement and participation of children which maximises learning opportunities. Swimming in Maths encourages positive behaviour for learning through engagement from the moment the children arrive in class.

We begin by taking huge breaths (like you would if you were about to swim under water), this fun activity gets the children ready for a quick mental warm-up. After, we choose one child to wear a pair of goggles and swimming cap with the Jaws Theme tune playing in the back ground as an exciting way to prepare them for learning.


They are then sent back to their tables to complete collaborative, differentiated challenges (The Deep-Dive Challenge) linked to what we are currently working towards or deepening what we have done previously as a revision exercise to affirm knowledge and understanding and identify any gaps in learning. These are based on the Mastery materials published by NCTEM, Tara Loughran (@MathsMummy) and activities found elsewhere. We monitor and observe group interaction with each other, listening for how they are applying themselves and their collaboration with one another. Additional challenges are given to each group as appropriate to further deepen. After that, we then meet on the carpet to ‘come up for air’.

The outcomes are shared with the whole class and further discussion takes place to ensure knowledge is secure and next steps for learning.

The next part of the lesson is a return to differentiated independent work to see how well they can apply their knowledge and understanding on their own. Opportunities are provided for those who are ready, to deepen again through more challenging problem solving linked to the L.O. This has had an instant impact on the children’s independent learning skills and how they apply their knowledge and understanding.

A ‘Deep Diver of the Day’ is awarded with a medal (they wear it for the day) to recognize how well they applied themselves, behavior for learning etc.

Deep Diver

The Use of Social Media

Twitter has been a valuable and essential tool to get the vision to a wider audience. Within a short space of time @SwimmingInMaths has gained over 500 followers (this continues to rise quickly), a large amount are NQTs, teachers, various maths organizations and significant individuals who have been keen send feedback and ways that they are deepening their own children’s knowledge and understanding. This continued professional dialogue raises expectations and provides links to the latest resources/ methods.

Y5 maths 2

Children’s work is tweeted regularly and we spend time at the beginning of each day reading how colleagues from across the country and world have enjoyed looking at how we have been ‘deepening’ in the maths curriculum. We celebrate this and the children are aware before they engage in their ‘deep-dive challenge’ that their work may be shared around the world.


Working Walls

The underwater theme works perfectly as a background for the Maths Working Wall and reinforces further the idea of depth. The children can see themselves moving further down towards the treasure as the unit progresses.


Impact and developments so far:

  • Whatever their ability – all children are learning the same maths at the same time within their year group.
  • All children have full access to the curriculum, enabling them to achieve confidence and competence – ‘mastery’ – in mathematics, rather than many failing to develop the maths skills they need for the future.
  • Children have astonished their teachers with the depth of their understanding and their skill in explaining their thinking.
  • High expectations for every child – forming a ‘common lingo’ consistent across the school.
  • Collaborative partnership between staff and pupils has resulted in the sharing of success and what could work better next time.
  • Enthusiasm from learners and positive comments by individuals on Twitter.
  • When children see their work Tweeted with positive feedback from other people around the world, their faces are priceless 🙂

Obviously by the end of the year, we would like to see an increase in maths attainment in all year groups and the progress children have made from their starting points.

In-House Support

Colleagues have been invited to watch how the deepening elements within a maths lesson are taught. Feedback has been extremely positive from Early Years to Key Stage 2. They can see the positive impact that the swimming theme, Twitter and the mastery ‘deep-dive challenge’ has had on the children’s learning. Staff have also been given time to plan elements together to share good practise and an ‘open door’ policy is being developed around school.

Thank you,

Your feedback is welcome!


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