Helping a Struggling Maths Student: Learning Without a Curriculum and Using a Maths Informationary

I’m not entirely sure I have what it takes to do this.  This being teaching Maths without a curriculum.  It seems a bit daunting.   Bearing that in mind, it was important for me to be working within a frame work of sorts (the national curriculum).  I’ll not be teaching from it, but will use it from time to time to direct the girls learning.

I have decided to use geometry to help the girls discover many of the objectives on the framework  The reason I chose geometry is that (for me) shapes are mathematic from their very core; visual, colourful and very versatile, in addition to being fairly simple to understand.  We will be starting with quadrilaterals.  Quadrilaterals, in particular squares and rectangles, lend themselves well to illustrating the principles of multiplication.  Learning their multiplication tables for instant recall is my main goal this year, although I must say the girls know them fairly well already having spent the last few years drilling them like mad.  However, what is missing is their full understanding.  So I intend to allow them time to discover the patterns of the tables, one by one.  Denise Gaskins has a fabulous series on her blog all about teaching the times tables and I will be drawing many ideas from here.

However, I have so much more planned than mere multiplication.  The girls will be discovering fractions, percentages, graphing, tessellations, square numbers, angles and much, much more from working for the next two terms on quadrilaterals.  We will then move on to triangles for two terms and finish off the year with circles for the last two terms.  I will not be teaching anything (phew!) but I will be facilitating loads.  Facilitation is my strength, not teaching.  I facilitate learning very successfully in all our other subjects yet feel very unsure of myself here.  But it makes sense to work to my strengths rather than my weakness and much of my own reading around the subject of maths confirms that a child who discovers maths by himself is a more effective mathematician than a student who is spoon fed it through a curriculum.  I am going to repeat that daily for reassurance and pray all we have planned is successful for the girls.

The girls will also be playing lots of mathematical games, using Life of Fred elementary series (as a time filler when necessary) and doing their five a day questions to work on things they might need practice in.

Finally, I am intending to set the three older children a question or mathematical proof each week, that they can work through in their own time.  I know they will all enjoy the challenge of this and I anticipate much dinner time discussion around the puzzle!

One of the decisions I’ve needed to make just recently is whether to have the girls do some maths journaling.  Not particularly wanting a folder full of notes the children would be unlikely to choose to look over I decided instead to make a maths informationary.  Remember my writing one?

Essentially, this is a homemade file full of information that is accessible at a glance.  I thought a mathematical informationary  would meet the girls’ needs far more efficiently than a maths journal.  Firstly, they would probably use it a lot more and secondly it would take seconds to complete each week.

I used two folders, but more can be added on at a later date.  I opened them up flat, trimming off any excess edging and stuck one flap to another.  This created lots of lovely space to be sticking simple mini books.  I intend to have the girls fill them in each week with anything new they have discovered.  This will ensure they understand what they have learnt and also give them a point of reference if they forget any details at a later date:


I will be making one for T11, just because I think it will be useful for him to have (it is his I have photographed, the girls have not made theirs yet).  He has a very heavy work load this year so will not have the time to do it himself.  So far, I have added the multiplication table to the front.  This is primarily for the girl’s sake because we will be drilling these in this year:


A flap book of the decimal system:


And I  made up another one outlining all the quadrilaterals.  Next week the girls will start investigating quadrilaterals and will be required to fill in a flap book with all they have learnt.  T11 has already learnt about these shapes.  Here is the quadrilateral flap book:


And here is what it all looks like so far:


Obviously, it looks empty at the moment, but I am certain it will fill up very quickly with all the mathematical activities I have planned for the girls this term!


  1. I love this idea! Your writing informationary worked great with my little reluctant writer. He has improved so much over the last year. He is doing well in math, but I think that having the informationary as a review of what we have covered over the year and using it to build on math concepts will be wonderful. Thanks again!

  2. Your maths plan looks great! Although it may seem daunting at first to abandon a maths curriculum, I think your “experiment” over the summer shows that you’re going to be learning loads together, and very successfully too. I’m looking forward to reading more about it.

  3. It looks as though you have another “winner” with the math informationary. Love it. I will probably steal some of the ideas since R has a lot of difficulty with math.

    Myra, from Winnipeg, where everyone in the house is still sound asleep – thankfully.

  4. I am looking forward to your math journey. Teaching without a curriculum sounds fun – for the children. I am sure it requires much dedication on your part, but I can tell you are not short on dedication. We use Family Math when we need a break or when I see they need a little more hands-on learning. I love the idea of your math informationary. We do something similar, but keep it in a binder. I have never used Life of Fred, but it looks so interesting.
    Have a wonderful day.

    1. We use family maths as well, it’s a great book. Life of fred is a very unusual maths reading book/curriculum. It is great fun and the elementary stuff the girls can do by themselves, which makes it a useful time killer if I am busy with another child.
      Thank you Donna for all your encouragement recently!!

  5. I wanted to recommend a book I saw in the library last month…Blockhead: The Life of Fibonacci. It’s a living math book that reveals mathematical patterns in nature. I really enjoyed it, and it may give you some ideas for planning. Can’t wait to see how your math year turns out…I have no doubt your girls will thrive!

  6. As you get further into geometry, here is an interesting project: Choose a shape that seems special to you, name it, and identify the characteristics that make it special. What else is true about your shape? In the following lesson, a group of students who often struggle with math were able to create a completely original proof about a type of shape they called a “Bob.”

  7. I love your balance between structure and self-discovery. And I am very inspired by your informationary. Thank you Claire – looking forward very much to following your maths year!

  8. Inspired! I love the Maths informationary idea as well! I didn’t understand half the Mathematical Terms you used… I may need an Informationary myself then, hey?! 😉

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