“Students often ask if they can do Sparx work in the Reset Room as they like the independence that comes with it” – Laura Jacobs, Head of Department
|Laura Jacobs is Head of the Maths Department at West Exe School – a mixed secondary school in Exeter. Laura has been a teacher for over 14 years and has been sharing her expertise by working closely with us at Sparx, helping develop Sparx Maths.
“If you need help you can just watch the video and don’t have to wait for the teacher” – Student from West Exe
Why did you become a teacher?
I wanted students to have a more positive experience than I had at school. I was the classic middle attainer who was overlooked at school and received no support. Also, I get to deal with the best people in the world – children.
What led you to teach maths?
Maths brings about a range of emotions you don’t get with other subjects – frustration can quickly change to a feeling of success for a student – and you are a part of that journey.
The horrible thing is that people think it is ok to say they can’t do maths. This frustrates me no end as no one would ever broadcast that they cannot read. I hear it a lot from parents, however, most want to improve and therefore appreciate that with Sparx they can sit down, help their child and learn something themselves using the videos.
How does Sparx support your teaching principles?
Sparx is really good at helping students believe that everyone can succeed in maths. As a teacher, I have high expectations of my students and that is mirrored in Sparx. All students have to get 100% answers correct (allowing for re-attempts at a question) and homework is designed so that they can achieve that. They can get frustrated with it as it pushes them, but I want them to be challenged all the time.
How have you found working with Sparx?
Everyone in the Sparx Team has such a positive attitude and true belief in the personalised approach to learning that you’ve developed. When you use Sparx Maths, you genuinely feel the love, attention to detail and collaboration with schools that sits behind it.
How did you find implementing Sparx Maths?
The support given by Sparx when introducing this new way of learning into the school was more helpful than I could ever have realised and has helped me massively with my leadership journey. Our implementation was such a success – evidenced through our homework hand-in rates – and I know that our Sparx Liaison is always only a phone call away or will happily pop in if we need.
|How does Sparx support poor behaviour?
In class, students are so focused on what they are doing, they don’t misbehave. I still firmly believe that misbehaviour comes from frustration, lack of understanding and lack of challenge. We have a Reset room which is for students who cannot be in lessons and they often ask if they can do Sparx work whilst there. They like the independence that comes with it – they don’t need a specialist to help them.
There is a clear correlation between some of our more vulnerable students and the amount of optional and target homework on Sparx that they complete. This is purely down to the fact that they can sit in the Reset or Refocus Room, get on with Sparx and not have to worry about anything else in their life. If they get stuck, they can watch a video tutorial and carry on working independently. That is massively powerful and parents see the benefits as well.
If challenge is too low, the student will get bored however if you pitch too high, they cannot access it. In a maths class, a lot of low level disruption can be down to students losing interest, but you don’t get that with Sparx. Students have the videos and teachers can instantly see which students are struggling and go straight to them.
What about other types of students?
Sparx not only helps to prevent off-task behaviour but also the silent behaviour, which no one is aware of. I’ve had a student diligently working for 40 minutes while I am helping the rest of the class but when I go to check their work, I see they’ve got every single answer wrong. By that time, not only is the misconception ingrained in their mind which I need to unpick, I have to tell them that the past 40 minutes work is wrong, which they will see as failure (which it is not) and it’s so demoralising.
With Sparx, they get instant feedback so they have to consider why they are getting it wrong. Also, I can look at their previous attempts at a question and we can work together to see where they struggled. Having those insights at your fingertips as a teacher is massive.
Also, having video tutorials attached to every question is immensely powerful for students with lower attainment and special educational needs. Similarly, as Sparx is so clear, EAL (English as an additional language) students can thrive in maths, often completing most of their optional and target homework.
How do students find using Sparx Maths?
Students enjoy engaging in technology – if we push technology to the side, we are not helping them to develop in the modern world. Some of our pupil premium students won’t have access to technology at home so by using Sparx at school, they are given the same opportunities as fellow students, which they hugely appreciate.
How have your teachers found using Sparx Maths?
We all love the flexibility of it. Some of my teachers were cynical and one fear of using the classroom element was that teacher autonomy would be taken away, but these fears were quickly alleviated once we’d started using the platform. Sparx has also made me realise how crucial consistency across all lessons is for students; if one class is receiving a high-quality lesson, why should others miss out?
There are also several unintended consequences with Sparx. Sparx has changed the way my teachers plan and is changing the way I run the department. We intend to have fully resourced lessons for all staff so their planning goes on things like tackling misconceptions, questioning, and individual students. I wouldn’t have realised the importance of that without Sparx Maths. It’s truly changed my pedagogy, which I didn’t expect.
Also, the video tutorials make a non-specialist a specialist. Teaching assistants often say they can’t do maths and are scared to support the maths department but having an understandable video that they can watch with the student and then talk it through it with them makes them experts.
What is the best thing about Sparx Maths?
The fact that every student gets personalised homework which is achievable for them but pushes them, is second to none. Also, being able to easily see what the whole class is getting wrong hugely helps with my planning. From Head of Department point of view, the sheer volume of data to help monitor progress of students is amazing.
What advice would you give to schools thinking of joining the Sparx Community?
It is totally worth it. Approach it with an open mind, get your leadership team on board and plan – planning doesn’t have to be massive but has to be carefully thought through. How are you going to get your teachers to deliver it and how are you going to get your learners to receive it? They are very different things. Also, go to another school and see the impact it has!
We’ve had our best ever maths challenge results this year and the mental arithmetic of our young students has significantly improved – is it the Sparx effect?