Across many remote schools, there is a high absenteeism later in the week. In part, this comes about through the families going into ‘town’ for shopping. Not wanting to miss out on the excitement of being in the town and what the booty might be from shopping, many students take the day off and head to town. This means that for many schools, attendance is often poor on these days, thus reducing overall attendance rates. While one option is to increase the other days in terms of time, such a strategy can be unviable since the days are too long for quality learning. Some of the schools in the Remote Numeracy project have developed a “Fun Friday” program.
To make sure that the Fun Fridays are an enjoyable activity that will entice the students to come to school, the other days are made slightly longer so that Friday is a shorter day. Not only does this help to maximise learning on Monday-Thursday when students are at school, it also means that Friday is shorter and hence more appealing to the students.
Each teacher is responsible for creating fun activities relating to a particular maths topic (such as data, chance, measurement, place value). Students move through the activities on a weekly rotation, and the complexity of the activities is adjusted for the level of the students. The activities are planned by the teachers in whole-school consultation, so that they are aware of what the others are doing.
In some cases, the starting point may be mathematics, in others it is the activity. In one case, during the hot season, the teachers thought the students would enjoy water play (using large water pistols) so planned the activity around the mathematics that could be explored through trajectories, volume, capacity etc. In other cases, the activity is focused on mathematics but built into a fun activity – such as finding the area of the basketball court but incorporating materials that the students would like to use.
The maths activities are not seen as assessable activities and hence sit outside the usual mathematics programs. However, with the support of the numeracy coordinator, the teachers are required to identify the mathematics in these activities and plan them so that they are generally consistent with the usual mathematics program requirements to ensure that the mathematical potential of activities is not lost. Through the activities, teachers also find creative ways to use mathematics resources to enhance learning.
Fun Fridays initially occurred only in the primary classes, but the value of the approach has been acknowledged by the secondary sector of the school. Consequently, the secondary teachers now implement Fun Fridays through investigations, one of which has involved building new outdoor furniture for the area where the students sit. Students needed to design, cost, and purchase the materials, and then build the seats. There is a great sense of pride in the final products which are used by the school.
This strategy has resulted in greatly approved attendance on Fridays, thus increasing the overall attendance rates for the schools. More importantly, students enjoy the activities are see that mathematics can be enjoyable but also applied to a wide range of practical situations.