Ensemble Maths is a curriculum and professional development project, which explores the impacts of using drama in the teaching of primary mathematics.
‘Ensemble’ is an idea from the theatre world that underpins the project’s approach to creating learning communities through embodied activities. The ensemble is a group of people who work together, all of whom are equally important to achieving a task. This idea is useful in the maths classroom where many learners feel exposed, isolated or left behind. Using the ensemble as a starting point for a new approach to mathematical learning, Ensemble Maths centres on activities in which everyone in the class is involved and everyone succeeds.
The new mathematics Primary Curriculum encourages a mastery approach in which pupils are expected to move through the curriculum together. Ensemble Maths supports this in a number of ways:
Ensemble Maths also aims to reframe mathematics as a creative group endeavour, and activities are fun and physical, supporting enjoyment and delight in mathematics, as well as reducing learner anxiety. Greater engagement can, in turn, impact on pupil learning and there is strong evidence that by learning mathematics collaboratively pupils can progress further and faster.
Ensemble Maths is led by Complicité theatre company and supported by the John Lyon’s Charity and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. It was initially developed in collaboration with the Mathematics Education Research Group at Sheffield Hallam University.
Ensemble Maths challenges kids to think about numbers in a different way — to change their way of thinking about maths. Teacher feedback from the project’s first year.
Ensemble Maths activities are informed by movement and drama principles and offer pupils and teachers different and enriched ways of learning mathematics.
The project brings together activities developed in Complicité’s successful school based maths/drama workshops and a number of body-based activities and approaches developed by mathematics educators. All activities align with the Primary Mathematics National Curriculum.
There are several strands of activity:
It’s a safer place to be for children who find maths difficult. Teacher feedback from the project’s first year.
I’ve seen the children’s attitudes changing towards maths during this project. We have definitely seen across both classes, that if they think we’re doing something practical or physical the kids get excited about it...
They come in and say ‘yay, maths’ because they think we’re going to do something physical or drama based — which is unusual in maths, because it’s often writing on paper and maybe using resources, but it’s rarely getting up and getting involved. They know it’s fun so some of the fear of maths has been taken away. Teacher feedback from the project’s first year.
Ensemble Maths is led by Complicité Associates Victoria Gould and Shane Shambhu. All activities and materials have been created and trialled by a team of curriculum developers, researchers, teachers and students.
Complicité is collaborating with the University of York to lead a large scale trial of the project.
Victoria studied at Manchester and Cranfield universities, where she graduated with a BSc (Hons) in Physics and an MSc in Mathematics. She is also an actor and her work for Complicité includes Lionboy, Endgame, and as Artistic Collaborator on The Encounter, A Disappearing Number, Shun-kin and The Elephant Vanishes.
Shane appeared as the lead role of mathematician Dr. Ramanujan in Complicité’s production of A Disappearing Number. His creative work strives for the integration of different artistic disciplines, through collaboration stemming from the Indian performing art of Bharatanatyam.
Sometimes we have classes in school that struggle to be a unit, or that haven’t learned to work together, or we have classes that deteriorate in their relationships with one another as they go through the school, and I see this as being a really powerful way of understanding what working together means. Because it’s not often that we do anything in school where the whole class is working together to achieve something, and this project has taught me that there is something really powerful about that. Participating teacher