Lovin’ Maths, Lego and more fun!

“Fun is the genetic payoff for learning.”

(Glasser’s Choice Theory identifies fun as a basic need that drives human behaviour.)

Here we see how much fun learning tables can be! Every element of Maths has the capacity to make us smile, if we look at it and think ‘ what can we do that will make this fun?’ We remember  what we learn when happy emotions connect with our learning.

I am passionate about the teaching of Maths in Primary Schools. In my workshops at the Leeds Primary Maths Conference I am hoping to share this passion and some ideas for you to take back to school with you to spread enthusiasm for this beautiful and vital subject. Vital because so many career paths are blocked without a Maths GCSE, and pupils who don’t achieve a good L2 at KS1 have their chances greatly reduced for achieving their GCSE – so early Mathematical learning and enjoyment is key to every child’s success.

Over the Summer I have completed an online Maths course –

How Students Should be Taught Mathematics: Reflections from Research and Practice. by Jo Boaler, Professor of Mathematics Education, Stanford University.  

It was a brilliant and inspiring course. A one page summary of the main ideas in the course was produced – the red writing in this blog post is copied from this document and for my workshops I will exploring how we can apply these messages in our classrooms.

Jo Boaler has created a website which will continue on form the course – Youcubed and there is a facebook page .

Mathematics classrooms should be places where students:

  • Develop an inquiry relationship with mathematics, approaching math with curiosity, courage, confidence & intuition.

Maths is not all about numbers, but it is all about thinking. ‘Developing an inquiry relationship’ means choosing to present Maths in a way that engages our pupils. We need to capture their interest and imagination, so what works for one class may well not spark the next years cohort. As teachers we need to be going with the pupils’ ‘flow’.

Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.

In our work with the Numberetti everyone in the class was engaged. They worked in their mixed ability groups, so sorting the spaghetti didn’t take long. This simple task was also a great way getting the children to thing about number formation, as they had to look very closely to determine if a pasta shape was a 6, or a 9. We could recognise pasta shapes when they were reversed, but interestingly as they sorted they flipped the shapes over to show the digit correctly.

This task gives a good example of a group activity where the children have worked together to assign different elements of the task to different children in their group. However everyone was involved and could understand how the final answer was obtained.

This activity was done with my Year 2 class, it would be a very interesting activity to do with a Year 6 class as they would probably have a different idea about what finding the biggest number might mean. The children in Year 2 took it to mean adding all the digits together, although they did also use multiplication to work out their answer.

Click here to link to the Youtube video which inspired the work.

  • Talk to each other and the teacher about ideas – Why did I choose this method? Does it work in other cases? How is the method similar or different to methods other people used?

LEGO Maths.

Using LEGO bricks in our Maths lessons was an idea that began last year with a class of children, some of whom originally sighed and looked less than enthusiastic when they came in from play to their Maths lessons. Originally to hook them back in, I picked up on their love of Moshi Monsters and called our Maths, Moshi Monster Maths. In one day we seemed to go from not enjoying maths, to ‘lovin’ it!’ All the material on the IWB was illustrated with Moshi Monsters and with a bit of expenditure on ebay we were able to count in tens and units using moshlings! I purchased a sticker book and used the pages with rows and rows of stickers to help us with arrays and numberlines.

From the success of this, I began to think about what other things the children enjoyed playing with. I talked with the children and together we came up with the idea of using LEGO bricks in our Maths lessons. They brainstormed a huge list of everything we could use LEGO for in our Maths lessons and then identified the problem of there not being a brick to represent 10!

The children were so excited by their ‘invention’ of the 10 brick that it was called the ‘magic maths brick’ and they asked for it to be sprayed gold! However spraying the brick gold meant that we could no longer easily build with these bricks, so this years stock have been left as yellow LEGO bricks! In essence we are using LEGO bricks as a maths resource such as deines equipment or numicon, but to the children it is still a LEGO brick! It has the added advantage that unlike other school maths resources, most of the children have LEGO bricks at home, and with a little help from an adult and some strong glue, they can create their own maths sets at home too. (The number tiles are simply made with a sharpie pen and the flat tiles from the LEGO pick a brick wall)

    • Work on mathematics tasks that can be solved in different ways and/or with different solutions.

  • Work on mathematics tasks with a low entry point but a very high ceiling – so that students are constantly challenged and working at the highest and most appropriate level for them.

I like the analogy of a ‘Goldilocks task.’ Goldilocks didn’t want the porridge that was ‘too cold’ or ‘too hot’, she wanted it just right. Yet Mother bear had clearly prepared 3 bowls of porridge, each at a different temperature, and yet over time even the hottest bowl would cool down – but each bowl, was still porridge!

Students need tasks which engages them all in essentially the same thing – no one wants to feel that they have to be given a different task for them to be able to succeed and yet we need to ensure challenge for everyone. Open ended challenges are often a good way of achieving this – for instance the difference between working on number bonds to 10, and the challenge of 10 is the answer, what is the question? Or working out the perimeter of shapes given on a sheet, compared to being told the perimeter is 24m, what could the shape be?

  • Work on mathematics tasks that are complex, involve more than one method or area of mathematics, and that often, but not always, represent real world problems and applications.

For real life Maths problems – Sparky Teaching is a great website.

This problem is an example of a problem listed on Sparky Teaching. We watched only the beginning of the video initially before we started to work on the problem. What numbers of chicken nuggets can you make using the standard packs of 6, 9 and 20? I had paid a visit to McDonald and had plenty of boxes for us to use and we used light brown tissue paper and glue to make pretend nuggets. Some children chose to use the physical resources, whilst others worked on paper.

Later we watched the rest of the video and discovered the Happy Meal pack of 4!

The children were so engaged in the problem that some were even getting their parents involved and were coming in with examples of how they had worked on it at home – or more boxes from Mc Donalds! We then went on to design a game based on the problem which they enjoyed sharing with other classes.

  • Are given growth mindset messages at all times, through the ways they are grouped together, the tasks they work on, the messages they hear, and the assessment and grading.

Children in my class work in Mixed Ability Groups. Since reading Jo Boaler’s book, ‘The elephant in the classroom’ I have worked with my class in this way for about the last 4 years and would now resist reverting to traditional ability grouping vehemently. When I first moved to Mixed Ability Groups, having been told that children didn’t know what the group they were in signified , a 6yr old girl came at playtime and politely informed me that I had put her on the wrong table as she never worked on a table with x,y, or z. I told her that we would be working in different groups and that she would still always be challenged but that she would discover that actually everyone in the class can work together as we all have different things we are good at and then things that we would like a little help with. I continued to check with her after that to make sure she was happy in her group and her replies were always positive.

Mixed ability grouping requires an open mind from the whole class team, adults and children. It’s about believing that anything is possible, but knowing that sometimes things take a little longer to master, but that we are all there to support each other. Activities need an entry level that ensures everyone can get going, and then the task needs to evolve  in such a way that children drive their learning on with no ceiling to their achievements.

There needs to be flexibility. If I feel some children are ready to jump into their task, while others are still looking puzzled –  I let those that want to go, go and then work with the remaining group together on the carpet. This group knows that as soon as they feel confident, they can get up and go. Likewise, anyone who has gone to do the task, can always return, if they feel they need a little more group work first.

I believe the labels of the groups are important too. My groups are Fantastic Friends, Clever Kids, Marvellous Mates and Super Stars – so every time I refer to a group, the language is immediately positive. Each Team has a team leader and a team coach. The team leader changes every half term, and children once they have been a team leader can then decide if they would like to become a team coach. Team Leaders are chosen using a random name selector, so that everyone has an equal chance. By the end of the year, everyone will have have had a role with in their team, but always the importance of being a good team member is given great importance.

  • Are assessed formatively – to inform learning – not summatively to give a rank with their peers. Students should regularly receive diagnostic feedback on their work, instead of grades or scores. Summative assessments are best used at the end of courses.

School systems and SATs mean that we have to do some formal assessments of pupils, but I ‘market’ these to the children as ‘quizzes!’ My children love Mathletics, and the final ‘game’ in each of the curriculum blocks`is labelled as ‘Test,’ so when they see a Maths paper they will often comment on it as being ‘just like a paper version of Mathletics.’ This seems to get us through the formal assessments without too much stress. Mathletics for me is also a powerful assessment tool as I am able to see exactly what every pupil is scoring on all the games they play and then tweak their courses accordingly.

In terms of the children’s learning, I believe giving the children the opportunity to talk to each other and to myself about their work is the best way to assess their understanding.

Mathematics classrooms should be places where students believe:

  • Everyone can do well in math.

Check out this video by Jo Boaler –

See also links about Learning Matters and Growth Mindsets on www.super-school.co.uk

  • Mathematics problems can be solved with many different insights and methods. Mistakes are valuable, they encourage brain growth and learning.



I teach the children about their brain so that they can understand why mistakes really are part of learning and also the importance of practise. This book is excellent and also has an APP.


  • Mathematics will help them in their lives, not because they will see the same types of problems in the real world but because they are learning to think quantitatively and abstractly and developing an inquiry relationship with math. 

Activities like building a ‘Cardboard Arcade’ and sharing it with classes across the school, give children an opportunity to play with Maths in a engaging way.

Together we had designed the Chicken Nugget Arcade game so that the children had ideas about how to construct their games. Children could decide whether to work in pairs on on their own and then designed their own game which was to be fun and also should have a mathematically element. It was interesting how the children also decided to tweak their games when different classes of children came in to play. Some also added maths resources such as flaps with 100 squares. It was brilliant to watch the children communicating together about how the game worked.

This final video shows how the children enjoyed a day of Maths celebrating World Maths Day.

The main page of this blog also has many more examples of the Maths we do in class. The page links at the top are from previous talks and workshops and share ideas about songs, videos, stories and other ways to make Maths engaging and fun.

Please do comment and share your ideas too, or tweet me at @ejf23

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