Bristol Early Years Research and Development

Bristol Early Years Research
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Practitioner led Mathematical Research 2016

The Bristol Early Years Consortium Maths SLEs have received funding from the Boolean Maths Hub to:

  • Develop specialist subject knowledge of mathematics teaching.
  • Develop pedagogical knowledge of mathematics teaching.
  • Improve the quality of mathematics teaching.
  • Develop confidence and resilience in learning mathematics.

The SLEs as research mentors are using research as a form of CPD to achieve the above aims. 

The research participants have sculpted their own questions for their research and the SLEs will meet with the research participants 6 times a year and have whole research group meetings three times a year. There are 15 teacher/practitioner researchers who work with children from two years old to seven years old.

Bristol Early Years Teachers/ Practitioners Announce their research projects.


Laura Webb Bristol Early Years ResearchLaura Webb, an Early Years Practitioner from Stationhouse Nursery in Portishead.


Research Question:   What impact does providing a mathematically rich learning environment have on the children’s development? Read Laura's research here.

 Sarah Whiting Bristol Early Years Maths ResearchSara Whitting, Early Years Practitioner at Redcliffe Nursery School and Children’s Centre.


Research Question: In what ways can nursery children use data handling and their own representations to solve real problems/questions…how can a key person support and encourage this? Read Sarah's research here.


Stationhouse has noticed that within their EYFS data, funded two year children often have a lower number of mathematical observations than their peers and they are keen to redress this imbalance. Laura is keen to find out whether this is due to a lack of emphasis on Maths from the practitioners or the lack of mathematical exploration and learning opportunities that the children are engaging in.


As active members of the ‘World of Stuff’ in Weston Super Mare, we are planning on developing the indoor and outdoor learning environments, whilst providing the children will real and interesting materials to enhance their mathematical play. Laura has noticed that there is a strong link between the child, the teacher and learning environment and therefore all three ‘links’ must be considered.


Sara attended the maths course and was particularly interested in the part about using data handling with children to solve problems and support their questions. She had already noticed from her experimental pedagogy that some children are really empowered by this and some children find representing quantities difficult.


Sara has already collected interesting examples and she is integrating data handling in contextual key group times and has found this invites children to calculate in many ways.


Sara has been surprised by how much children can do mentally and through representations.

Method: Laura will collect data for this by analysing observations of 6 specific children.  Method:   Sarah is collecting examples from her group and keeping examples of her own modelling, as well as keeping a reflective journal to jot her thoughts.


Hannah Culverhouse Bristol Early Years researchHannah Culverhouse, teacher at Archfield House Nursery School.

Research Question: What is the difference with children’s mathematics inside and outside or is there a difference? What implications does this have for the adult in children’s play in these places?

Joanna Smith is a Pre-school practitioner at The Southville Centre.


Research Question: How to support adults (parents and practitioners) in thinking about more open ways to play mathematically? Read Joanna's research here.

Background:  Hannah has become interested in the difference between inside and outside provision, mathematical enquiry and the role of the adult within these environments.


Hannah has noticed that certain resources offer rich opportunities for mathematics but may not commonly be recognised as mathematical, leading to potential limits on a more diverse range of mathematical learning taking place in educational settings.

Background: Joanna was inspired by the maths course at Redcliffe and felt challenged by the idea of not testing children with questions such as ‘how many’? Joanna would really like to move away from this culture and develop this with her team. 


Joanna is going to collect examples of children’s play and from children exploring open maths opportunities that the adults have set up. Joanna is also crafting a questionnaire for parents and practitioners in the centre about what they think early maths is and fill this in before and after a workshop she leads with them.

Hannah will be collecting examples of children’s play, including videos, that feature mathematics both inside and outside, then unpicking the maths within these examples and the factors around them - including anything the adults were doing. Hannah is devising a questionnaire for her colleagues about maths that may uncover the views of where maths is more dominantly expected to be seen.  


Jayne Coller,  Practitioner at Christchurch Pre-School in Clifton.

Research Question:  How can we observe and develop what the children already do mathematically and use this to inform our data?

Naimah MahmoodNaimah Mahmood, Practitioner at Andalusia Academy
Research Question:  How to develop independence in problem solving?
Christchurch has noticed that 'number' appears lower in their data, and during an Ofsted visit Jayne made a recommendation to further develop number in the nursery. As a result of this, Jayne’s question is around observing and seizing upon opportunities in children’s play to develop children’s mathematics.   This involves observing play and using these observations when making assessment judgements. Jayne reflects on the influence forest experience has had on her practice and the practice of the pre-school to open up what they do with children. During an afternoon visit, we observed the children pretending to ski down a slope in the nursery, discussing speed, angles and problem solving. They then pretended to be in a café talking about orders; quantities and making representations of these on paper some of the children used standard numerals while others used their own symbols.  

Currently in Year 2 the children are very dependent on teacher led activities. They constantly look for reassurance on different mathematical strategies when given a problem to solve.  From this the above question was formulated. The aim is to closely observe selected children and begin to unpick the way they approach independent Maths solving. I hope that my teaching will develop and the children will become better at independently solving problems.

Kayleigh Mayes and Lucy Trutch,  Reception class teachers at Air Balloon Primary School.

Research Question: How do we encourage independent maths problem solving?

Hollie Wedmore, Gemma Plimmer, Sally Jones

School:  Millpond Primary School



Research Question:   How do different approaches to problem solving develop children’s mathematical language and reasoning?

 Why we decided to look at this question:  We feel that the children in Reception are not developing their problem solving skills as much as they could be and we want to promote their greater independence. We think the adult led activities tend to be rather closed and there doesn’t seem to be enough time to observe, scaffold and discuss with the children their learning. By looking at this question we hope to address some of these issues.

At Millpond Primary School there are three teachers working together on the Maths research project. This has meant that they can develop their understanding of Maths teaching and learning from Reception to Year 2. This is a fantastic opportunity to explore how children learn and develop their mathematical understanding.  The purpose of this research project is to look at how we can develop language and reasoning across the EYFS and KS1. Millponds are a culturally diverse school and have a high percentage of children who speak English as an additional language.  Therefore we hope to find ways to develop children’s language as this often becomes a barrier in mathematics as the children become older. 

Phillippa Read

School:  Filton Avenue Infant school




Research Question:  What difference in assessment outcome do you get when using different assessment criteria in a Reception class to ensure


The purpose of the research project is to find out the most ethnical way to assess children in maths. It is currently felt that the children are potentially put through unnecessary assessment procedures. This does not always reflect the child’s true mathematical knowledge. It was discussed that there can be a discrepancy in what children show when working 1:1 and when in play. By this I mean that in play sometimes children can show a very good mathematical understanding that they do not show when working 1:1 with an adult or in a small group. Alternatively it can be difficult to know a child’s mathematical understanding when observing in play but when they are asked to complete a focus activity they demonstrate a good level of maths ability.


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