Teachers across the UK share the secrets of their classroom successes. Here are 18 ways to brighten up your maths lessons, including dancing the Macarena, number tumbles and finding new angles
Ages 4 to 11
Pupils dance the Macarena (instructions below) as they drill their times tables or count up in tens. I used this with the 1, 2, 5 and 10 times tables.
1. Practise the dance, arm movements only.
2. Practise saying the 1 times table, arm movements only.
3. Repeat with other tables.
4. Combine tables and dance; for example: times 1, jiggle/jump/turn to the right, times 2, jiggle/jump/turn, times 5, jiggle/jump/turn, times 10, jiggle/jump/turn, and then you’re all facing forwards again.
1. Right hand straight out in front, palm down.
2. Left hand out, palm down.
3. Turn right palm up.
4. Turn left palm up.
5. Right hand to left shoulder.
6. Left hand to right shoulder (both arms crossed over the chest).
7. Right hand to back of your head.
8. Left hand to left of head (you should now look like you’re doing sit-ups).
9. Right hand touches left hip.
10. Left hand crosses to the right hip.
11. Right hand to right hip.
12).Left hand to left hip.
Geoff Harman is a trainee teacher in County Durham
Ages 7 to 11
Unlock that maths head
Here’s one to improve those times tables. Completing a weekly grid test can help key stage 2 children learn.Get them to draw a 6x6 square in their maths books and give them six numbers to write outside the grid across the top, and six to write down the left-hand side.
The children must multiply the numbers to complete the grid. They work against the clock, calling out when they’ve finished so you can give them their time, which they record.
Stop the test after two minutes and mark the answers together. Incorrect or missing answers should be circled. The following week, get them to compete against their personal best time and number of correct answers.
Reward those who improve.Over a term, they should be able to see some real improvements in their scores. Differentiate by changing the size of the grid or the numbers used.
Elizabeth Smith teaches at Badsworth C of E Voluntary Controlled Junior and Infant School in West Yorkshire
This activity is good for problem-solving, mental maths and practising times tables.
Using your Smartboard, go into the notebook and, from the gallery, paste on two or three tumbling dice. Pupils come up and touch the dice to change the numbers. Ask them, “What is my answer?” and allow time for them to decide what it will be. For example, dice showing two, three and five could give you the answer 13: (2 x 5) + 3 = 13, or 2 + 3 + 5 = 10, or (3 x 5) x 2 = 30.
Pupils need to demonstrate how they worked out their answer. As they become more confident, you can add more dice. It can be done as a whole-class activity or, if you wish to make it competitive, do it in teams for points. You can use ordinary dice if you do not have a Smartboard.
Valerie Stoddart is a P5 primary probationer at Aboyne Primary School in Aberdeenshire
I’ve used this activity with children of different ages and abilities and it has never failed to motivate them.
Explain to the class that every letter of the alphabet is worth money: a=1p, b=2p, and so on to z=26p. This can be displayed on the board or on paper for reference. Then write a shopping list and ask pupils to work out the cost of each item by adding together the values of the letters. For example: bread costs 2p+18p+5p+1p+4p=30p.
This is a good opportunity to discuss strategies for adding mentally or you could provide calculators if appropriate. Then challenge the class. What is the cheapest item they can find? What is the most expensive? Can they find an item worth exactly £1?
You can vary this to reinforce any concepts that you have taught recently. Pupils could use words relating to the Tudors, or the coast, or poetry — I’ve never yet had a child point out you couldn’t buy these things in a shop. You could make this seasonal by asking for words relating to Christmas or Easter.
The children enjoy the competitive element and are practising their spelling, addition and problem- solving skills in a fun way.
Mel Heale is a part-time teacher at St Andrew’s C of E Primary School in Wirral, Merseyside
Rope and role
To help pupils understand shape and space, stand them in a circle, holding a long loop of rope. all out the names of three to 10 pupils to hold the rope while the rest drop it.
Then get them to pull tightly to form a 2-D shape. Pupils can identify the shape and discuss its properties.
Problem-solving skills can be developed by asking pupils to organise the rope into a particular shape, such as an irregular nonagon. As an extension, ask more able pupils to make a 3-D shape (a cuboid perhaps) with the rope. Talk about the properties of 3-D shapes including the difficulties they encounter when using materials such as rope to model them.
Benjamin Westley teaches Years 3 and 4 at Meldreth Primary in Cambridgeshire
Draw a grid with numbers in each square that are complements of 100 (complements are numbers that when combined add up to 100, such as 70 and 30).
To make it easier, you can use only multiples of 10. The first pupil to play “serves” a number by standing at the front of the class and calling it out to fellow pupils. Their classmate must shout out the number’s complement. If they are correct, the rally continues and the first classmate “serves” another number to a different pupil. If they get the answer wrong, the first pupil wins points according to the rules of tennis scoring: love, 15, 30, 40.
Complete a few rallies then ask the class what the problem is with the game — they will probably reply that only the pupil at the front can win any points. Then change the rules so that when the responding pupil gets an answer right, they can ask a question back to the “server”.
Once the game is won a new volunteer should be chosen.
Paul Ainsworth is deputy head at Belvoir High School in Bottesford, Leicestershire
Time to play
Stuck for a way to revise times tables besides reciting them in unison? This bingo activity motivates pupils of different ages and abilities. Give each pupil an A5 sheet of paper or a whiteboard. Find out how many times tables they have learnt and decide from there.
Ask pupils to draw a square grid, divide it into nine parts and write the answers from two different times tables, any between two and 10, into each square. You can help by giving them some examples orally. Call out a number sentence such as “six times six”. Pupils with 36 in their grid cross out the number. The first person to cross out all the numbers says “Bingo”. Then play it again.
Make sure that the winners are rewarded. It’s also a good idea to prepare some nice stickers or a variety of other rewards in advance.
Weiqing Zhu is a supply teacher in Glasgow
Ages 9 to 11
Pupils love this activity, and it is always a huge success in terms of knowledge and understanding.
To teach the topic of ratio and proportion, put the pupils in pairs and then give them a tube of Smarties. Ask them to record the ratio of each Smartie colour to every other colour.
Once they have grasped this, move on to calculating the proportion of each colour within the tube. Encourage them to work out how to write these as fractions and percentages, then simplify the fractions and round decimal numbers to the nearest whole number. Once they have completed the task, they can eat the Smarties. It’s funny how motivated they become with the lure of chocolate. This may not fit in with the Healthy Schools agenda, but as a once-a-year motivational tool, you’ll find it works a treat.
Louise Payne teaches at Collingwood Primary School in Essex
Invite a child to be the king or queen and sit in front of the class, wearing the crown. Write a number on a Post-it note and stick it on the crown. The children in the class use number fans or the whiteboard to give the child the clue to what the number is.
For example, put number 7 on the crown. The children calculate what must be added to the number to make 10 and show this on their number fans. The king or queen look at their numbers and can then work out the number on the crown. The class is learning, the child is under pressure and learning, and the teacher can differentiate easily during a maths mental starter, which is often not easy.
It can be used for almost all the mathematical concepts you are teaching. I have used it for fractions and percentages in Year 6, describing shapes (using whiteboards), times tables, subtractions and additions. The children love it.
Clare Higgins is a Year 2 teacher at St Mary’s C of E Primary in High Crompton, Oldham, Lancashire
Up and down
Do you find that teaching — or even using the vocabulary of fractions — can somehow be fraught with hazards?
Try twisting your tongue around “thirteen-fifteenths”, “three-sixths”, “six-sevenths”. Do you get numerator and denominator mixed up and the wrong way around? Children do this all the time. Yet their positions can be easy to remember — simply say each key word aloud while simultaneously pointing to them. Use mnemonics:
My favourite is an activity involving building bricks with enough letters to make both words. These are used to build a two-word tower. The children know a tower should reduce in size as it rises.
They will soon discover the obvious: NUMERATOR goes above, DENOMINATOR goes below. Alternatively, make it a class activity using drag and drop letters on an interactive whiteboard. You could also make this into a wall display with brightly painted bricks.
Richard Coles teaches maths at Fyndoune Community College in Sacriston, County Durham
Here’s a fun but “chop chop” approach to numeracy lessons named Straight Line Kung Fu. It was inspired by a kung fu lesson I watched in China.
With the class, decide on actions for parallel, perpendicular, diagonal, horizontal and vertical (adding on the angle vocabulary in further sessions). Pupils stand up straight with their arms by their sides waiting for the first command. The caller shouts “Parallel” and the pupils make the corresponding movement and call out “Huh”. Then the caller shouts another command and so on. You could even end with a courtly bow.
Kate Cullen teaches at Turnfurlong Junior School in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire
Ages 10 to 13
Ready to be converted
Whiteboards converted my pupils into maths enthusiasts.
Use the corridor or playground, or clear a space in the classroom for this kinaesthetic activity to practise converting between fractions, decimals and percentages.
Give each pupil a mini whiteboard. Form three queues of pupils, positioning them at the left, middle and right side of the classroom. Name one row fractions (pupils A), one decimals (pupils B) and the last one percentages (pupils C). Call out various fractions, decimals and percentages with various conditions.
Here’s an example using a fraction:
Pupils A in the fractions queue must write down a fraction with a denominator of 10.
Then they run to the decimals queue (pupils B) to convert the fraction into a decimal.
Next, pupils B run to the percentages queue (pupils C) to convert it into percentages.
The first team to sit down with a correct conversion gets a point. An example of a correct conversion would be: 8/10, 0.8 and 80 per cent.
Mark Ingham teaches maths at Bishop’s Stortford College Junior School in Hertfordshire
Ages 11 to 16
Throw of the dice
Teaching probability can be a nightmare. So much of the vocabulary is used in everyday life that it can be difficult for pupils to make the connection between theoretical and practical probabilities. I didn’t want a difficult Year 10 set throwing dice around all lesson, so I devised a way to get the spreadsheet program Excel to show how, on a fair die, the relative frequency of a six being thrown is 1 in 6. The spreadsheet (which can be downloaded from www.tes.co.uk/resources/frequency “rolls a die” 1,000 times, then calculates the relative frequency of the sixes.
A graph shows the tendency towards 0.166 recurring. The number of rolls or the die face number can be altered if you want to convince them that a six is just as likely to come up as any other number. Press F9 to get a new selection of random rolls.
Rob Percival teaches at Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School in Hertfordshire
Never be stuck for a starter again. I got my pupils into a routine by writing the date and the lesson number in their books. If there are three lessons a week, you’ll probably get up to more than 100 lessons by the end of the year. We had two numbers to discuss.
Pupils looked for connections between them; for instance, on September 25 it was lesson nine, so both were square numbers. On October 8, it was lesson 13, so both were Fibonacci numbers. You might encourage pupils to find the lowest common multiple and highest common factor of the two numbers, or one as a percentage of the other. It all depends on the ability of the group.
This also helped me to see from their books if a pupil missed a lesson — it’s easier to see if any numbers are missing, rather than looking at dates.
Joyce Brown teaches maths at Durham Johnston Comprehensive School in Whinney Hill
Find new angles
To help pupils overcome difficulty in learning trigonometry, try starting with a practical investigation. Give pupils a worksheet with three similar right-angled triangles.
Ask the pupils to measure each side of each triangle. From this, they should be able to work out the ratios: adjacent: hypotenuse; opposite: hypotenuse and opposite: adjacent.
Taking experimental error into account, the pupils should get each of the three ratios correct to two decimal places. Ask them to explain what they would expect to find for three other similar triangles, if each of them has a different angle. Explain that each ratio has a special name — cosine, sine and tangent, with each ratio for any right-angled triangle having the same value.
This method allows pupils to go on with confidence using trigonometry in current and future lessons.
Graham Green is a private tutor in Chesham, Buckinghamshire
Walking the line
The ability to graph data correctly is important. Building a human graph is a kinaesthetic and effective approach before putting it on paper.
All you need are: three long pieces of rope (x-axis, y-axis and the graph line); A4 paper for titles, labels and numbers; Blu-Tack; and the corridor or playground.
One pupil holds two pieces of rope at the origin that extend outwardly as the x and y-axes. Two pupils pace out the scale on each axis, Blu-Tacking the numbers and labels to the floor. The remaining pupils are divided into an x co-ordinate queue and a y co-ordinate one. The first x, y pair stands at the origin. A co-ordinate is read out; they walk along their axis to the correct value, turn and join at the specified co- ordinate. They cross hands to show x marks the spot.
This continues until all co-ordinates are plotted. A third rope is used to join the points. The success criteria and pupils’ plotting skills are then used to graph data on paper.
Yvonne Davies is an Advanced Skills Teacher for science at Thurston Community College in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
Ages 14 and over
Start making money
Design your own gold coins, worth different amounts of money. The only rule is that the measurements must be precise because gold is expensive and, if lots of the coins are to be minted, they need to contain the exact quantity of gold. Pupils can find the up-to-the-minute price of gold per gram at www.lbma.org.uk/statistics_current.htm, or the teacher can check that morning. Discuss why the price varies even though other relevant factors, such as the density (19.3 g/cm3), are fixed.
1. What denominations are possible/desirable?
2. How thick should coins be?
3. What shape is best?
4. Why aren’t coins made out of gold any more?
Able pupils might design coins consisting of two different components (eg, gold and silver), like the UK £2 coin, or coins with holes in the middle. Making a coin in the shape of the UK 50p piece is a significant challenge for a GCSE pupil with a knowledge of trigonometry and sectors of circles.
Colin Foster teaches mathematics at King Henry VIII School in Coventry, Warwickshire
Ages 11 to 16
Multiply the fun
Would this starter amaze your pupils? Choose a three-digit number such as 856, multiply it by 1,001 (allow low-ability pupils to use a calculator). Try this three more times.
What do you find and can you explain why this is? When you multiply any three-digit number by 1,001, the answer looks like the original three-digit number repeated twice: 362 x 1,001 = 362 362. Go for a four-digit number multiplied by 10,001: 4,270 x 10,001 = 4270 4270. Ask pupils what they would have to multiply a five-digit number by to make the answer look like it is the original number repeated twice (answer: 100,001).
Heidi Hartley is a teacher at Magical Mathematics and Enchanting English, a professional tuition centre in Stroud, Gloucestershire
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