Last school, last day and lasting memories.

My lasting memory of Shanghai will be the amazing people. I feel like I have mentioned it a lot but if you ever get the chance to experience it for yourself you will understand why.

We spent only three hours in a Primary school today, yet the people showered us with gifts, paid for our lunch in a fancy restaurant and then took us to an old Chinese market. It was raining so they bought us umbrellas and in every shop they helped us haggle. We had a secret signal from Julie, whenever she thought the price was too high she would wave at us. All the while they smiled, laughed and were happy.

The lesson I saw yesterday, was the best lesson I have ever seen on Mathetical translation, and the lesson on circles today was equally good. I will be taking back so much inspiration for my lessons.

But the difficulty for me will be? In Shanghai some of these lessons have taken 2 months to plan and deliver, with about 10 teachers involved, then the lesson is delivered, refined, delivered again and sometimes refined a second time. This would mean my lessons for one week will take me nearly 3 years to plan. I need to be realistic, with the constraints of time, Shanghai teachers teach 5 lessons a week, I know it needs to be a 3 year plan for my department.

But I firmly believe this is the start of something really special in the teaching of Maths, and Brookfield school will be leading the change.

And finally, if you ever consider a trip to China, I hope I have inspired you to say yes.

Strictly Chinese Dancing!

Or “Dancing with the Styles”.

Well things definitely took a different turn this week. It all started with a class showing us all of their different talents, and the young lady above decided I should dance with her. Which I was unable to refuse.

Then the next day, the Head teacher had heard about my dancing, so asked me quite seriously to dance with her in the staff room. As I was under strict instructions to not cause a diplomatic scene I obviously had to say yes.

Um, what should I do? How about some Northern Soul, so on went Gloria Jones version of tainted love and away we went.

How can I top that, well all of the Maths department wanted to join me today and dance in the staff room. So what do you do when you are Shanghai, obviously this….

There are no more words to be said. Enjoy!

Watch out for the Electric bikes!

A rainy day greeted us for our visit to our third school. Once again we were met with warmth and more respect than I have ever had as a teacher in the UK.

Our visit started with a formal presentation, gift giving and photos. All the teachers are so proud of their school, the work they do and their students.

We saw three lessons, two Y7 and one Y8, each one showed how much further these students have come Mathematically than those in Britain. The reason this is the case stems from the work done in their Primary Schools, and these lessons all build on the 5 big ideas we are starting to introduce our schools.

Representation: Using concrete materials and pictures to help students visualise the Maths.

Small Steps: Learning maths in small chunks so students really understand.

Fluency: Giving students the skills and knowledge to work with numbers.

Variation: Showing students what it is, and what is isn’t.

and Problem solving: Putting the Maths into real life contexts as well as different situations.

Our afternoon finished with the students proudly presenting their skills, dancing, music, poetry and caligraphy.

We were presented with some great art the students had produced for us.

What lovely people!

Also I realised I forgot to give the answer to the problem of making 24 with the numbers 5,5,5 and 1. It is

(5 – 1รท5) x 5.

And to finish one thing to watch out for in Shanghai are the millions of people riding silent electric bikes. They seem to ride where ever they want, through red lights, on the pavement and usually while texting. How we have not seen an accident I don’t know. And to top it all, on our way to the school we witnessed a man in a wheelchair being pushed along a dual carriageway, but the cars, electric bikes, bicycles all managed to avoid him and themselves. Lovely people and very skilled at avoiding each other!

Don’t look down!

So today our partner teachers, took us to see some sights of Shanghai and the picture above is the view from the glass walkway 263m above the ground.

Once again I need to tell you how amazingly generous and kind they have been. We were picked up by the schools driver, and driven to all the sights we could fit in that day, and their school paid for it all.

The first on our trip was the amazing Oriental Pearl tower, what a view of a incredible city. We had food in the revolving restaurant 267m up in the air and then moved on.

The next stop was the history of Shanghai museum, which just showed me how little I knew about Eastern history. Shanghai at one point had areas controlled by the British, French, Germans and the US. And the one group of people that prospered under this time was the Chinese gangsters, the stories talk about how they could be in trouble with the British but once they crossed into the French area then they were safe from prosecution.

Next stop was a temple, ah peace and tranquillity we thought. Well try and imagine if you can a church but inside the church someone has decided to put Blackpool. Then you are close to what it was like. A good place for present shopping but not thought and relaxation.

Haggling was the order of the day and some of us were more successful than others. I realised I would be rubbish at this so decided this was not the place for me to do my purchases.

Lastly one thing to remember when you come to such a different country is the food. Some of us have found it more challenging than others.

It is very different and tonight at dinner the comment which made us chuckle was “They have even made the broccoli disgusting, how can they do that.”

A great city with great people and unusual food is what sums this place up.

Bananas, more bananas and posh meals.

One thing we have noticed so far in our first week is the large amount of bananas that have been on offer for us to eat. But to be fair, it is a good fruit to offer, most people like a banana.

So after one week of being in Shanghai you maybe thinking “So what is the difference between our schools and the Chinese schools?”

An obvious difference like I mentioned previously is the attitude and behaviour of the students in school. But there is also the huge investment that the government is putting into the education infrastructure, buildings etc. The fact teachers only teach for about 6 hours a week, yes that is correct, 6 hours! The rest of the time they use to plan lessons, attend lesson planning meetings, have one-to-one interventions with students and mark work. In fact all observations of lessons focus on the Maths content, nothing else. Was the sequence of questions being asked producing the best learning.

The thing which has blown us all away has been the numerical ability of the students, when every child of 11 can work out 37x 78 in about 5 seconds. Then they can spend more time focussing on the structure and understanding of key concepts.

We spent Friday in a Primary school, seeing the way these students get to be so good at Maths. One activity was a game based on picking 4 numbers and the students had to use the numbers to make 24. For example, if you had the numbers 4, 6, 2 and 8 you could do

2 x 6 + 8 + 4 = 24.

So the students were Year 3, and were asked to do this for the numbers 5,5,5,1. A student did it in about 3 seconds. See if you can do it. I will give you the answer tomorrow.

And my posh meal. Well it was with the Director of Education for Shanghai, the President of Shanghai University and the Directors of the NCETM. Our Headteacher had invited us to join them as he was going as well. We have found out it is extremely rude to refuse such invites so the four of us from our school went ate Michelin star food and drank some expensive wine.

Phew it’s tough this teaching lark!

Legends, tales and stupid Mr Styles!

The president of Shanghai University told us, “You can sum up the Chinese people’s attitude to education with their many legends and tales”. He went on to tell us two of these tales, both were about Emperors of China, the first one goes like this.

Many years ago an Emperor of China wanted to have the most wise people in his court, so that he could make the best decisions. But how could he decide who he should choose? A close ally said, “If you want the best people, you must devise a test and then let anyone and everyone from the whole of the country take it, only then would you be sure you had the best people to advise you”. So the Emperor did this, farmers, lords, carpenters etc all took the same test. And the Emperor took the people from those who did best on the test to be in his court of advisors.

So all Chinese people believe no matter who you are, you have a chance to be successful.

The second tale talks of a man who was to become Emperor, but the problem he first had was he could not read. All day he would work hard in the fields and at night he would study. But he was so poor he could not afford any candles. But he found a house near by where in a wall was a tiny shaft of light, just enough to read one word. So he would have to spend more time to learn how to read, but every night he would work hard and eventually he would be able to read, so his determination and effort made him successful.

Hard work brings you success!

When you watch Chinese students in lessons these two philosophies are obvious. All students know hard work and effort bring success, and they all have the opportunity to be successful.

As part of the exchange one of the things we had been asked to do was teach a lesson in Shanghai. So yesterday, Vicci (My partner teacher) and myself did this. Now if you are a Maths teacher the topic we were to asked to teach will give you a further insight into how successful the Shanghai system is.

So our topic for a Year 8 class was multiplication and division of algebraic fractions. Something we would normally reserve for Y11 in England.

We planned our lesson and thought we would bring in a bit of humour. This was via a character called Stupid Mr Styles, (this isn’t my normal persona before anyone asks) who makes mistakes and the students have to spot them.

So we get a PowerPoint ready and sort out our roles.


“Oh, by the way” they said ” We are going to film the lesson, and some people want to watch it”


So in walk 10 teachers from various parts of China, 5 teachers from the school, the Headteacher and 3 of the directors of the NCETM (National centre for excellence in the teaching of mathematics).

Nervous! Me! Teaching a lesson in Shanghai to students I never met before in front of the leaders of Mathematics education in the world!

What would help now would be if our PowerPoint presentation crashed on us.

Yes that happened!

We got through it and what seemed like rubbish at the time, entertained the students as well the other teachers.

In the post lesson meeting the Chinese teachers were fascinated by this role I played, why did you deliberately get things wrong.

I hope they understood it was to help us identify students misconceptions, but I can’t be sure of this and I suspect that in 5 years time you will pick up a Chinese textbook open a page and see a new character called stupid Mr Styles who always gets things wrong!

Never mention Crazy Golf!

So here is the story of our first day in one of our partner Chinese schools.

6:45 down for breakfast.

7:15 Back up to room to put suit on, quite a few of us had agreed the last thing we wanted was food all down ourselves when we went to our schools.

8:00 Taken to our partner schools, (the original plan was we would get taxis, but they insisted on picking us up, which was really kind of them).

8:30 Arrive at school.

9:00 Meet vice principal. Taken on a tour of the school.

9:50 Watch morning exercise.

10:00 Go on stage in front of 1200 students, be passed microphone, introduce yourself and say a few words! We were not expecting that.

10: 10 Observe first lesson. Realise you should have sat nearer to translator as it is quite hard to follow a lesson in another language.

11:00 While on a tour of the school and when being shown the mini golf area, you mention in passing to the other English teachers you once played at the World Crazy Golf championships.

11:01 The other English teachers think it would be funny tell the Chinese teachers.

11:02 You get asked to teach a Golf lesson in the afternoon by the Chinese teachers.

11:03 Regret ever mentioning Crazy Golf.

11:04 The other English teachers laugh at you.

11:05 They continue to laugh at you.

11:30 Lunch with the Head Teacher

1:00 You watch your second lesson. This time you sit nearer the translator.

2:30 Tour of some school lessons.

3:00 You arrive at mini golfing area where the Chinese teachers explain to the Golf coach you played golf with Tiger Woods.

3:01 You frantically explain what Crazy Golf is.

3:02 English teachers are now crying with laughter.

3:03 You are asked to demonstrate to the students how to putt the ball.

3:04 You miss the hole!

3:05 You decide never ever to mention to anyone ever again that you once played at the World Crazy Golf championships!

Shanghai Surprise!

The picture you see above is the first thing we saw as we pulled up to our hotel. A park where people dance, play music, sing and ballroom dance just because they feel like it.

Shanghai Surprise! Well I guess it is the difference in the reality of China to the portrayal I have been given over the years.

Everyone we have met has been so happy and lovely. Only two other places I have visited have been as good, North Wales and Belgium.

Yesterday morning we attended the event below

That is the minister for education in China signing an agreement with the UK to extend the exchange programme for another 5 years. This was part of the news on Chinese TV.

And again, every single person at this event was so nice, helpful and happy.

The event was put on by the Shanghai University where one of the world leading academics on education spoke to us about the great steps forward China had made, but that there was still a long way to go.

Professor Gu discussed the importance of concrete materials to embed concepts, and how this helps students to fully understand remainders. But a man who has spent 54 years thinking and working on how we best learn Maths is still striving to improve his practice. And was openly frustrated that he hadn’t cracked it all.

And as we finished the day with a walk on the famous Nanjing Road, the moon was aptly shining down on one amazing place.

11 hours, 25 million movies and 86 teachers.

That is right, 86 teachers are involved in this exchange. 70 primary and 16 secondary from all across England. All here to learn and improve their teaching.

The first exchange was in 2015, and involved similar numbers. Just like this time, the 2015 exchange led to teacher showcase events across the country. This is where schools from a region were invited to watch the Shanghai teachers teach a lesson. One such primary school was Chetwynd Primary School in Nottingham.

I had the opportunity to visit this school in July of 2018 and see how their teaching was 3 years on from the Showcase. The easy way to say it, and how I have described it to other people is, “it blew my mind”. All of the teachers there were people who had History degrees, English degrees yet they knew more about how to teach Maths than I did after 21 years of teaching. They were a truly inspirational group of people, who had hated Maths at school but now all loved it! Because they understood it.

Their results? 97% of students making expected progress at Maths in Y6. The national figure is around 60-70%. In a school that is not in an affluent area.

This is the journey I and my brilliant Maths department are on. It won’t happen overnight, it is going to take time, 3 years we think. But it will definitely be worth all the hard work.

And to finish, out of the 25 million movies I watched. Film 2018 with Mr Styles recommends “Bobby Robson: more than a manager”, not really a story about football, but a tale of a truly wonderful human being.

The Journey Begins

Nerves, Excitement and ‘where’s my passport?’

So the months have flown by since I first got this amazing opportunity, and for those wondering why Mr Styles is going to Shanghai, firstly it is not a jolly as Mr Mason accused me of earlier!

I have been teaching Maths for 21 years and I have tried every year to find new ways to make students enjoy and understand maths. Two years ago I went to a Maths hub meeting that changed completely how I thought maths should be taught and showed me that we can give everyone in the country the opportunity to see themselves as a mathematician.

The problem for years has been no one has really thought about how we learn maths and how we can create lessons that enable the best learning to happen. Jerome Bruner, following up work by Piaget, discovered that for anyone to embed a mathematical concept they must follow a process of concrete, pictorial and abstract.

To give a simple example, when you first start learning addition someone may give you 3 counters and another 4 counters so you can physically feel and count that they make 7 altogether (concrete) then they would move you onto a picture of the 3 and 4 counters and you see this makes 7 altogether (pictorial) and finally you would be able to see the numbers 3 + 4 and understand this makes 7 (abstract).

Unfortunately maths teaching in Britain has forgotten the first two steps and always started from the abstract. This is the reason why most people say “I can’t do MATHS”.

So fast forward two years and here I am on the eve of my trip, or should I say my fact finding mission, to a country that fully embraces the above ideas, that believes everyone can do Maths, and is at the forefront of Maths teaching.

So imagine if you can a future where all maths lessons start with these principles and everyone gets it. Maths teaching over the next 5 years is going to change forever and Brookfield will be leading this change.

Oh and I didn’t forget my passport, but nearly left all my Chinese money behind. Thanks to the amazing Mrs Styles for helping me out.