8.11.2012 Maths – not a boring session….

I want to present to several hundred Student Teachers at Sheffield Hallam, and then race back to Leeds to do 2 workshops for teachers at the Primary Leeds Conference – because I am mad…. passionately mad about Maths!

My first passion was PSHCE / SEAL, but then I began to lead Maths and it became clear that all that I believed important to teach through these subjects was just as important in Maths. If children don’t believe that they can do Maths, they become self fulfilling prophecies of their own beliefs. So in terms of the ‘Every Child Matters Agenda’, Maths takes on a real importance, if we are to consider giving children a chance to make a positive contribution in their world,  and a chance to achieve economic well-being: not being prevented by economic disadvantage from achieving their full potential in life.

The ‘Made to Measure’ report from Ofsted in May 2012contains these thought provoking messages.

  • too many pupils who have a poor start or fall behind early in their mathematics education never catch up. The 10% who do not reach the expected standard at age 7 doubles to 20% by age 11, and nearly doubles again by 16.
  • For too many pupils, this gap is never overcome: their attainment at 16 years can largely be predicted by their attainment at age 11, and this can be tracked back to the knowledge and skills they have acquired by age 7. Low attainment too often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

For those pupils who fail to achieve a level ‘C’ at Maths GCSE, their chances of Further Education have in essence vanished….. What other dreams vanish, that a love of Maths at an early age could have saved?

The number of adults with poor numeracy skills has reached 17 million in England alone – very nearly half the working-age population. The figure has increased by nearly two million over the last eight years (from 47% to 49%) and is a disturbing indictment of national attitudes to numeracy. It far exceeds the equivalent figure for poor literacy – five million adults. http://www.nationalnumeracy.org.uk

http://www.guardian.co.uk The Guardian Teacher Network report in Mar 2012 stated, ‘ If you’ve got poor numeracy, you’re twice as likely to be unemployed, twice as likely to become a teenage parent, twice as likely to suffer depression.’

So all of the above, really make you realise that every Maths lesson really does matter.

Rachel Riley, is quoted as saying:

“If children are engaged with maths from an early age and enjoy the subject, they are far more likely to be successful in it. We need to find imaginative ways to switch them on to maths and teach them to be proud to be numerate.”

This statement forms the basis for the objectives for my lecture and workshops.  Unpicking the keywords in the quote – engaging, imaginative (sessions) switched on, proud (pupils).

Lots of ideas about visual, kinaesthetic and auditory ways to liven up Maths lessons were shared in my talk at the STEM Primary Maths Conference – so please also see the VAK up your Maths page.

Below are additional ideas –


Origami / Paper founding.

Paper folding gives a great opportunity to explore shape and fractions. Activities can be extended so that children work out the amount of paper needed and how the squares can be best cut from A4 sheets of paper. The example of the Christmas card below is made with an A4 sheet of paper cut into squares from 2cm x 2cm up to 10cm x 10cm. Each square is then folded with the same teabag fold as demonstrated on this youtube video.

Children also enjoy making paper snowflakes and most classes have folded paper and made this version of snowflakes.

But here is a more challenging snowflake to make. I have used this snowflake as a group activity as it requires 6 sections to be cut, folded and glued to make the one snowflake – but the final result is very pleasing and children will certainly get a sense of pride when they complete it. Again lots of Maths which can be adapted according to the ability of the children. (Youtube video for instructions)

FUN with 3D shapes.

SENTeacher provides nets for a host of 3D shapes. Children will enjoy making the shapes but finding a use for shapes makes the session so much more meaningful. Try making them into pretend fireworks – we stuck on stickers with our rules for Firework safety on them, attached shiny thin ribbons and then threw them into the air and make firework noises! A safe indoors firework display!

M. C. Escher Kaleidocycles –  is an excellent book with nets that can be photocopied and coloured to make a tessellating cube and tetrahedron.

Fun with visuals – Moshi Monster Maths.

This was a project which was just sparked from a realisation that my new class had a lot of children who were ‘into’ Moshi Monsters. It was really just a case of finding images of Moshi Monsters to adorn the Smartnote pages, and buying    some of the Monsters and a book with a great page of stickers which could be photocopied and used as arrays or strips to count etc. As the children showed their enthusiasm I then purchased a few more Moshi monsters and a couple of tins. 

These are examples of the pages in the Smart notebook.


Virtually every Maths session in my class starts with a song. My lessons tend to start straight after play, (that in itself makes one thing about the priority we give to Literacy, in that the timetable puts the Literacy in first) so starting with a song means that we don’t sit and wait until everyone is ready… as the children come into class the song is on, signalling to them to come and join in the fun. Embed the songs with a range of visuals on the IWB.

Quiet sounds that the children also have to focus on are also a useful way of engaging children. With the moshi monsters, I would tell them how many I had in my lap, and then drop some into the Moshi tin. Similarly dropping coins into a tin will get the children listening carefully and focusing.

Number Fun has a fantastic range of songs and resources, also an App for the iPad. My Year 2 class have particularly enjoyed and learned from the Numberfun rocket song, which reinforces counting in 2,5,and10s and the Mik the Mechanic song, which is great for teaching partitioning. I have the latter song on the IWB with the place value ITP set for the numbers in the song to model it with place value cards as we sing. Also great to have children at the front with large place value cards to take apart. The Numberfun Interactive Whiteboard resource is also fantastic.

I have done their Numberfun Nativity with children in a school where the majority of children were not Christians and performing the Nativity could be tricky, but by emphasising the Maths focus everyone was happy. It also meant that much of the performance could be practised at the beginning of Maths sessions. One song was omitted which referred to the bible. This year we are performing it in full at my new school with KS1 and I know it will be great again.


Maths in PE sessions. recently we have been working on Multiplication and division. For the 2x table the children used their PE lesson to have a go at Irish dancing, and then in class we watched the video back and could see how the children joined the dancing line 2 at a time – just like the 2 times table. We performed it with the multiplication held on one sheet and the answer on another sheet for each pair. Most importantly it was lots of fun – and stuck in the children’s memory.

Here is the link to the video on our class blog. www.ffks1.primaryblogger.co.uk

Also in PE we play a game in our warm up – children get into groups of different sizes and who ever is not in a group is the remainder. We take a photo of each time we stop and then view it in Maths and look at the ITP which shows the same scenario.
The Division game in PE, by 2F. on PhotoPeach


The Primary School I previously worked at became the first Mathletics Centre of excellence, and through the work of teachers making their lessons more lively and interactive, and a whole school approach to making Maths high profile and fun – along with the use of Mathletics we saw our KS2 SATs results improve by 30% in 3 years!

Mathletics delivers maths learning to children in a way that engages the 21st Century Learner, and then encourages them to keep practising. The graphics are appealing to children, with their own avatar and screen for them to customise. The use of models and images is excellent, and I regularly use the program to demonstrate maths concepts in class.

But the secret lies in keeping children using the program over a prolonged period of time… and this needs people to notice what children are achieving, to ‘chivy’ them on. It’s all about motivation and peer interest.

Last year from Sept ’11 to Sept’12 the children at my Farsley Farfield achieved 445 certificates. This year in the 1st half term they have achieved 629!

More information on Mathletics can be found in older posts on this blog.

The Land of Sums.

This is a fascinating radio 4 program. The reporter looks at how Maths in learned in Japan. It talks about how the children first learn their tables as a nursery rhyme, first learning the rhythm of the song before they are old enough to understand their tables. It then looks at the use of the Soroban abacus and how children attend clubs in the same way our children might go to swimming clubs. Finally it visits a championship where contestants add 15 numbers in a couple of seconds, not using the soroban abacus, but using a mental picture of one in their head. If you watch a video of this you can actually see the contestants moving their fingers as they focus. The winner added 15 numbers with a total of over 8,000 in 1.70 seconds. You tube video – Flash Anzan

The program talks about the way the soroban teaches more than just calculation, it teaches concentrate, resilience and the importance of practise – these skills are surely what makes the difference, and the high profile given to maths in the country. They also stress the importance that the ababcus gives a concrete physical form to numbers – they are no longer abstract. The abacus encourages children to use the visual and motor parts of the brain. In Japan ‘Maths is something to have fun with’ – there in lies the secret…..

The elephant in the classroom.  – by Jo Boaler. A book that changed the way I teach Maths, also her article titled ‘Stop telling children maths isn’t for them’ is another good read.

And to finish with a thought about why the Japanese are good at Maths and the elephant in the classroom… look at this beautiful Japanese picture which illustrates the answer to a mathematical problem.

‘In the 1778 Funki Jinko-Ki, or Riches of Jinko-ki, an anonymous author suggests an approach that would without doubt be appreciated by the great Archimedes as much as by the modern health conscious public. Bring the elephant onto a boat and mark the water line. Remove the elephant, then fill the boat with stones of known weight until the water reaches the same level it did with the elephant. Quite an aerobic exercise is this! ‘Japanese Art and Maths.

More good Maths reads in ‘Alex’s Adventures in Numberland‘ hosted by The Guardian.

Leave a Reply