Come for some Pi with our Head of Maths, Sarah Whittaker

On World Pi Day we meet Sarah Whittaker, Head of Maths at St Bernard's Prep. She began her Maths headship in September 2022, taking over the reins from Anna Bowen, a veteran member of staff with 30 years under her belt. Sarah felt supported to move into Maths from a musical background, thanks to this strong and enthusiastic encouragement.

“It’s been a smashing week for Maths fans around the world – as we celebrated World Maths Day last week and Pi Day, today,14 March.

We’ve studied a brief history of Pi (in case you didn’t know it’s the name given to the ratio of the circumference of a circle to the diameter) and spent some time using the formula.

Just for fun we also had a ‘Pi off’ challenge to see whether anyone could beat the standing record of 200 places when reciting the digits of Pi, to win our coveted Pi trophy. It’s a pretty complicated feat, as the recitation moves around the room to different pupils, just to keep things exciting. We’ll round off our morning of Maths by dividing up some pie for lunch!

Both today and World Maths Day have been fantastic opportunities to celebrate a subject that is one of our many strengths here at St Bernard's Prep. When it comes to mathematics, our lessons are never dull or boring. Instead, we have children who are always keen to have a go, even if they find it complicated.

Encouraging that confidence can be tricky for some. So what we do is play with numbers to find out what they can do.

We might do a survey, or a detective puzzle, we might even ask our teachers to lie down on the floor while they are surrounded by four-year-olds with measuring tapes trying to find out how long their arms and legs are!

The essential part is making it fun, and then getting the children to ask why that particular bit of maths magic happens - what happens next - and checking whether they can explain it to someone else. For me, the more questions the better, as I really want to deepen that comprehension and love of the subject.

As a musician by training, I love the strong parallel between Maths and Music – they both have clear patterns and progressions. In a song or musical piece this could be the repeating chorus and verse, the different time structures, the beats per minute, or the way different riffs or chord progressions are amplified.

In Maths, patterns also appear, for example in algebraic formulae, geometry, trigonometry, even in times tables – and the challenge is getting our children to recognise that. It's fascinating to realise that performance of music reinforces the part of the brain used in maths. Practice, in both subjects, makes perfect.

As a result, we are never scared to linger longer when it comes to cementing our children's understanding. We have fluid intervention groups after each topic – if it hasn’t stuck in someone’s mind, we rewind and have another go. If the children don't understand, it’s our job to explain it in a different way until they do.

We also challenge those who are ready for more. We take part in both the Primary Maths Challenge and the First Maths Challenge, and the children love to participate in the challenges on TTRock Stars too. Some of our Year 6 even take the leap and try the Junior UK Mathematics Trust test, designed for Year 8 children.

This is what we’re all about. Making sure the basics are firmly embedded, having fun, and then stretching those who are ready for more. I’m proud to say that our children are absolutely fearless when it comes to take the leap in Maths!" 

Does your child love playing with numbers? Why not come along and visit us at one of Our Open Events or arrange a private tour to find out more about how we nurture our pupils’ individual passions and talents. Just email our Admissions team to book an appointment or fill in our registration form and we’ll be in touch.