Owairaka District Primary School: ALiM report

Number of
Year Initial stage
Final stage
Time in programme Predominant
12 5/6 stage 3/4 stage 5/6 4x60mins weekly +
3x30mins (TA time)
8 weeks
Basic facts,
Place value,
add/sub knowledge

Background information

Owairaka District Primary School is a medium sized primary school located in the suburb of Mount Albert, Auckland. Owairaka is a decile 2 school with a roll of 370 and provides diverse and effective curriculum for its year 1-6 students from a multi-cultural community. (ERO 2008)

Owairaka was chosen to take part in the exploratory study due to the strong link we have with our maths facilitator who has been working closely with the staff to improve student achievement in maths. The principal, Board of Trustees, staff and parents of the students involved in the study were very supportive, flexible and understanding about the changes to the normal school programme the students experienced through being involved in this study.

Programme overview

Owairaka was able to cover the release time for the study internally and allocated an hour, four times a week for the intervention sessions. The programme was planned to take eight weeks. Also three, half an hour sessions per week of teacher aide time was allocated to supplement the intervention. Each hour was divided into two sessions of 30 minutes each.

Each session followed a similar format.

  • 5 minutes to look at homework and reflect on what we have been learning.
  • 5 minutes to play a memory game/warm up activity – basic facts focus.
  • 10 minutes place value or addition subtraction knowledge – applying this to strategies.
  • 5 minutes to introduce a new game to play at home and recap on an existing one.
  • 5 minutes homework and self-reflection on progress. 

Selecting the students

The students chosen to take part in the study came from the senior school syndicate, which is made up of four classes of year 5 and year 6 students. For Number, this syndicate had selected to ‘cross group’ or stream the students, as this has a proven history of gaining the best results for our students. Students in the lowest ability class had GloSS and IKAN scores of stage 3 and stage 4. This also happened to be the class taught by the teacher carrying out the exploratory study.

All students in the ‘cross grouping’ class were tested on NumPA and the results were then analysed. From this a group of ‘at risk’ year 5 students were selected. Twelve students were selected to work in two groups of six.

Initial student results and attitudes

Informal group interviews were carried out to gauge the students’ attitudes towards maths and their learning. Many of the responses were of a similar theme. ‘I am not very good at maths’ (K) ‘Its hard and I don’t know what to do.’ (V) and ‘I don’t like maths. It’s boring.’ (M)

These students were working well below the national standards for their age and were particularly weak in place value, ratios and proportions and basic fact knowledge.


To help consolidate learning between school and home, Owairaka provided each student with a maths pack. Inside a colourful zip lock bag was a pack of cards, new maths book for recording learning and for students to reflect in, 2 dice and a squeeze box to practice basic facts with. During the study laminated games and activities were added. This maths pack created an excitement by the students and an enthusiasm to start the sessions.

Learning focuses

The first learning focus was on basic facts, place value to 100 and improving memory. Ideas to move students from Advanced Counting to Early Additive came from the resources of K.Wright and P. Hughes.

The first two weeks focused on improving the students’ attitudes and their enjoyment of maths. Card games were taught as were achievable ‘hands-on’ activities to learn addition and subtraction facts, first to 10 and then to 20. Consolidation of place value knowledge to 100, using ideas from P. Hughes, also took place during the first few weeks.

Straight away, a noticeable shift to a more positive attitude was seen as students learnt and remembered basic facts. The games created a little positive competition in the groups as students wanted to win the games both at school and at home.

Ideas to keep making practising these fresh and interesting came from the resources of our facilitators.

Once students knew their basic facts quickly, strategies for adding and subtracting two digit numbers were introduced. These included tidy numbers, place value and using doubles to partition and recombine numbers. Peter Hughes’ ideas for understanding place value were continually used to reinforce understanding of three and four digit numbers.

Teacher aide groups

To supplement the learning of these students, they were split into three groups and worked with a teacher aide for 30 minutes, three times a week. The teacher aides were asked to focus on the recognition of numbers over 1000. They were given a selection of activities and resources to use. The teacher aides also had an opportunity to ask questions and talk through the programme with the teacher implementing the study and with the school's maths facilitator. This work was also recorded in the same maths book as a way of monitoring and reinforcing the learning between both sessions.

The students who have stayed at stage 5 for add-sub. had trouble understanding the word problems asked and then processing what was needed to be done. They do now however have a range of strategies to partition and recombine numbers, and with more work on understanding word problems, should be able to move on quickly. The students who stayed at stage 4 and 5 need to work on speed as they do know 2, 5, 10 tables when given time.

When interviewed at the end of the study, a big shift in attitude to maths was seen.

Below are some quotes taken from the student interviews with our school facilitator and myself.

“I feel a lot better about maths now. I used to not know my times tables and now I know more than half of them. It makes me feel good. We played a lot of games that helped make us remember our tables. I taught my brothers and my mum some of the games and we played them at home.” (S)
“I did the squeezie box at home and card games. Mum was busy, so I did the activities at home by myself.” (R)
“Now I find addition and subtraction a lot easier, cause I use tidy numbers! It’s so much easier!” (J)
“Before I did this special maths, maths was hard for me. Now I feel excited when it is maths time. I feel really good that I can do a lot now.” (S)
“I feel proud of myself” (M2)
“I tell my dad I’m doing great. I take my book home to show my dad.” (M1)
T added, “We learned a lot of strategies. I can even do 3 x 16. I can do 3 x 10 is 30 and then 3 x 6 is 18 and then I just add them together and get 48.”
It was unanimous that they wanted to continue in the special maths . “It starts hard, then, because we can do it, it gets easier.” (N)
“We get to learn a lot of strategies and we don’t count on with our hands any more.” (V)

‘There was great delight on their faces when they were stating all they had learned. Their eyes were bright and their faces were glowing with pride. This is what a little success has done for these students. Now they are aiming to ‘over learn’ basic facts, so they don’t even have to think about them. Instead, they are right there. One student was itching to tell me that when she had her last syndicate times table test, which consists of 100 questions in 5 minutes, she scored 100%, and in the addition/subtraction test, she scored 95%. When asked what scores she got before this ‘special maths’ the answer was below 7%. She was not the only one. Another boy scored 97% in the addition/subtraction test. Others got 100% too. They were so proud of themselves.’ (Teacher)

Next steps

To maintain the good progress made by the students is the next step in the study. At Owairaka we have a few ideas in place. First, the students will continue to go out for sessions with the teacher aides and work on basic facts and timetables recall and speed. They will also work on number recognition up to a million. These students will also be seen by the teacher who carried out the study three times a week for number maths lessons and will be monitored regularly in these sessions. During these lessons leading up to Christmas the students will develop number strategies for adding and subtracting mentally and will work on fractions, ratio and proportions.