Saturday, 28 December 2013

10 Tips for learning the times tables

Ten tips for learning the times tables are for use in the classroom or at home. They are simple and work.

If followed they will aid in the teaching and learning of that most difficult of topics in Mathematics ‘the times tables’.

I would sometimes print them off and hand them out to parents who asked either how they could help at home or what could they do specifically to teach their child multiplication tables.

You can adapt them and follow the same process, I can assure you it will go down well with any anxious parent who is keen to help their child.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

BIDMAS, BODMAS and tearing your hair out.

Bidmas or Bodmas

BIDMAS BODMAS not again!
BIDMAS or BODMAS, it doesn't matter which mnemonic you use, it always seems to cause problems for pupils. Below is an idea that is simple and works.

A student or class may be able to apply it to an exercise after your explanation. Give a few questions a week later and all is forgotten. 

Either confusion reigns in the classroom when they try to apply it to problems that are outside the exercise specifically on BIDMAS or it is completely ignored by the pupils. Below is a an activity that will help.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Factors, multiples, primes and Venn diagrams, all in one lesson!


Venn diagrams
We have all had the problem as teachers of thinking a class has understood a lesson we have taught only for the next time we see the class to despair they haven’t remembered  thing. 

It’s even worse for the poor learner, they may remember the aim of your lesson but as for the content it’s gone; what a loss of confidence in their own abilities. 

In an effort to help pupils remember I always try to use colour and imagery along with the other types of standard teaching techniques that all good teachers employ. These techniques are simple and work.

These two good friends of mine aid pupils’ retention of facts, techniques and concepts.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

A taste of summer in the Maths classroom

Ode to autumn
Do you long for the summer now we are back at school? As I write it is an overcast day in the UK, the trees are shedding their leaves and we have already had to turn on the central heating. Not exactly as Keats stated

‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

Close bosom friend of the mature sun’

in his Ode to Autumn. You can bring a flavour of the summer to your life and classroom by playing ‘Fruit Salad’.


I really enjoy game playing and different activities in the classroom, it makes such a difference to the pupil’s enjoyment and learning, and brightens up your day as well, rather than what can sometimes seem like an endless diet of worksheets. I once read about a mathematical activity which was a game based upon transformations. This was a board game; unfortunately this game involved you making the boards. The preparing over thirty cards for each player! In a class of 30 children this means you have to make and manage 900 cards. I do not have to tell any experienced teacher the absolute nightmare of handing out and collecting these pieces of equipment. Fortunately ‘Fruit Salad' requires no equipment at all.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Maths and Mozart

Mozart and Maths – a winning combination?

Playing Mozart to your pupils will increase their grades in Maths. This seems to be the general tone of a number of articles that I have read in books and the press over the years. The ‘Mozart effect’ even extended to some companies producing CDs and videos that mothers could play and show their babies with the suggestion that it would maximise the little ones potential. Is it true? Can playing a piece of music make a youngster more intelligent?

 There have been many academic studies of the effects of playing Mozart to students the effect of students performance when doing Maths. One of the best articles that I have come across is by Judy M Taylor and Beverley J Row ‘The Mozart effect and Mathematical connection’. This is well worth a read, not a long article but provides a short and concise review of the literature.

The original study only claimed a temporary effect in students ability to perform spatial-temporal tasks. Since then there has been a growing volume of research into the diverse use and effects of music, Mozart in particular and its effect on cognitive function, priming and mood or arousal. This expansion of research, from simple learning to a more complex educational and therapeutic uses, has yielded different and often conflicting results. 


Accelerated learning

In education it the ‘Mozart effect’ seems to fall under the banner of accelerated learning, which is a collection of ideas and techniques that purport to improve and enhance the classroom and learning experience. An excellent book that covers most of these ideas is Accelerated Learning in Practise: Brain-based Methods for Accelerating Motivation and Achievement well worth investigating. Accept some of the ideas, reject others, but there is a wealth of ideas that will challenge your practise.


My classroom

I decided to try out music in my classroom. I prepared a few pieces of Mozart and Bach’ loaded them onto my laptop and experimented. As the classes came in on the first day I had a fairly jaunty piece playing, some kids questioned what was going on, others objected, most looked bemused or ignored it. When everyone was seated, books out, I lowered the volume and the noise in the class reduced, they had been trained by TV programmes that when the music stops something else happens.


I did my ‘chalk and talk’, as we used to say, set the next phase of the lesson in action, and gently raised the volume of the music so that it was just audible. The lessons that day did not to my mind seem significantly different. It is very easy to fool yourself that things had changed so I tried to keep an open mind. I continued for several weeks to play Mozart and Bach then one lesson I forgot to start the music. After I had given my starter and main exposition I set the class to work, within a few seconds several kids wanted to know where the music was, they had come to expect and like the experience.


Does playing music make a difference? I do not know but I feel that it alters the mood in my classroom, the pupils appear to me to be calmer, less anxious and even happier. As for improvement in performance, again I cannot say what affect it has as any views would be purely anecdotal but if the atmosphere is better in the classroom then the conditions are right for improvement.


Eine Kleine Nachtmusik

One of my lessons had to be curtailed because of a school event. Whilst packing away early on a girl complained that I hadn’t played her favourite, she couldn’t tell me what it was but hummed a piece, it was ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’ by Mozart. A few others agreed that they liked that as well. The next lesson I saved that piece for the end of the session, and said I was going to play their favourite. Within seconds of starting the piece the whole class was working and humming along to the music, what a fantastic experience, one happy hard working class, one happy teacher.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Line symetry, rotational symmetry and works of art

Works of art

Symmetry, rotational and line
Symmetry is one of the easiest topics to teach. The idea of line symmetry is probably innate and is cultivated from an early age. What parent does not have proudly displayed their 4 or 5 year old's first attempt at combing art and maths; paint splashed on a piece of paper and folded over to produce a glorious symmetrical design. How many homes throughout the world have these masterpieces attached to fridges or other suitable surfaces?

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Scale drawing and estate agents details

The perfect lesson (how to teach scale drawing)

scale drawing
As a young teacher I thought I had delivered the perfect lesson on scale drawing. I set the appropriate exercise and expected the pupils to enthusiastically tackle the tasks, applying their new found knowledge. What could go wrong? The folly of youth. Immediately a hand went up asking for help. 'What's the problem?' I enquired. 'You can't do this one' said the indignant pupil. The question involved working out the actual length a real car given the length of a toy car and the scale to which it was built. 'Why not?' I asked rather bemused. 'They haven't even told you what make of car it is. how can you possibly do it?' So much for the perfect lesson.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Estimation. School walls - don't tell Pink Floyd!

Estimation. How many bricks?

 Pink Floyd

This is  really simple lesson on estimation that makes the topic REAL!

It is easy to do and works, plus it allows you to escape the confines of the classroom.

I guess we have all heard the song 'The wall' by Pink Floyd. I enjoyed listening to it but was never quite sure about the lyrics. 

At this time of year I think most teachers would prefer to listen to Alice Cooper, you know the song 'Schools Out'. Just to remind you about Pink Floyd’s lyric

'We don't need no education
We don't need no thought control
All in all it’s just another brick in the wall'

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Negative into positive with a paper aeroplane

Inferior models

Irritated by paper aeroplanes being thrown in your classroom? It happens to all of us during out teaching career at one time or another, some ‘character’, usually a boy, has learnt how to make a paper aeroplane and uses your class to demonstrate his new found skill. I am always amazed at the poor level of construction of these missiles; they are usually just successive folds along a central axis, a demonstration of symmetry. My dad taught me a far more intricate and aesthetically pleasing method but I’m not sure if it flew as far as the, in my opinion, inferior models.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

What is a decimal?

A difficult question

Fractions to decimals
What is a decimal? Can you answer in one sentence? If there was a pause for thought good, because it is a really difficult question to answer, we are so used to decimals we forget what they are. If you did struggle imagine pupils’ confusion when you start to talk about decimal fractions or changing fractions into decimals.

We have all at one time or another thought ‘decimals should be easy to understand’. After all no matter where we are in the world money is based upon the decimal system, which child has not experienced that? Yet if you ask a student what is the value of 7 in 0.12379 the answers given will probably be not what you want.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Comparing fractions (part 2)

Comparing fractions (part 2)

Comparing fractions - how many segments?
How do you compare fractions with different denominators? Comparing fractions is a nightmare for pupils and teachers. This is a very difficult subject to teach and probably an even worse topic to learn. Put this on an examination paper and you will separate the wheat from the chaff, and mostly it will be chaff. How can we be more successful and not have to teach it year after year to the same pupils.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Fractions - is that pizza for me (slice 2)?

Fractions – is that pizza for me (slice 2)?

What fraction of the pizza am I getting?
 Who has not had problems teaching or learning fractions?  It is a painful experience for educator and learner. Despite our best intentions we do not always succeed. How can we make it easier? (if you have not done so have a look at my previous post Fractions - is that pizza for me (slice 1)?

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Comparing fractions (part 1)

Comparing fractions (part 1)
Comparing fractions

How do you compare fractions? Who has not struggled with learning or teaching comparing fractions? Ask a child (or even an adult) which is bigger 3/4 or 5/7 and you’ll be met with a blank stare and a shrug of the shoulders, lets be honest it is difficult.

Why do people have such difficulty with fractions and even more so comparing them?  Perhaps they do not comprehend that a fraction is just part of a whole and have not had enough practical experience beyond 1/2, 1/4, etc. They need to involve themselves in dealing uncommon fractions such as 5/7, 4/9 and so on.

Below is how I tackle this problem, there is no rushing this activity and it could take several lessons to achieve good results but it is worth it. Once established it will provide a firm foundation for further work.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Fractions – is that pizza for me (slice 1)?

Another fraction of a pizza
Have you ever wanted to improve the pupils learning and your teaching of fractions? I have and I have probably taught fractions the same way as everyone else, but I still had children who did not fully understand what a fraction is, just like everyone else. How many metaphorical pizzas have been used each day during Maths lessons up and down the land? Yet our pupils have the same misconceptions year after year, despite using their favourite food. What is the problem? What was I doing wrong? What is to be done?


The problem

If you give a diagram like the one below and ask the question what fraction is shaded? What fraction is unshaded? How many children would give the answers 2/8 and 6/8, probably most, but can they make the leap to ¼ and ¾? They find this really difficult and need lot of questioning and prompting to see the equivalence.




Another issue is when you ask a student to share 4 chocolate bars between say 5 friends and ask how much do they each get. It takes some time before a 12 year old for example realises it is 4/5. (Perhaps I am being a bit optimistic there.)


As the pupil get older they are introduced to ratio. Do they ever see the link between a ratio of 2:3 and the fractions 2/5 and 3/5?


Thursday, 30 May 2013

Maths games - the way granny used to play

Maths games – my top four resource picks

Maths games, try putting this into Google and the chances are that you will get a list of computer-based activities. Worthy though they are how about the other type of game where the children play with and interact each other? Finding these has proved a difficult task for me over the years but I have collected a stock of them, the best of which are in the books below. I have used them all and can highly recommend them.

The advantages of these games are:
- The children work collaboratively, rather than against a machine, learning from each other.
- They enjoy the challenge of games, which is why computer gaming is such big business
- They are learning, consolidating, revising knowledge in a fun way.
- It gives variety and interest to the teaching and learning experience.
- It encourages positive attitudes to Mathematics

During a conversation with a girl in my class, at the end of a long school day, I was shocked to discover this was the first lesson that she was not sitting in front of a computer.  Although the lesson was a traditional ‘chalk and talk’ before they attempted an exercise she was pleased that she didn’t have to stare at a screen again. So Maths games does not necessarily mean log on to the computer

1. Games, ideas and activities for the primary classroom by John Darbell

This gives ideas for all areas of Maths that can be used for individuals, groups and classes. It is clearly broken down into small clear sections. The activities can be easily adapted to suit different classes or topics. There are over 150 games and activities, a real resource bank and time saver for any teacher.

One reader said 'I wish I'd bought this book last year while I was an NQT, but at least I have it in my cupboard for this year.'

'Designed with busy teachers in mind, the Classroom Gems series draws together an extensive selection of practical, tried-and-tested, off-the-shelf ideas, games and activities, guaranteed to transform any lesson or classroom in an instant.

Easily navigable, allowing you to choose the right activity quickly and easily, these invaluable resources are guaranteed to save you time and are a must-have tool to plan, prepare and deliver first-rate lessons.'

12 reviewers on Amazon gave it 4.1 stars out of 5


2. 25 super cool Math board games by Lorrine Hopping Egan

The games are reproducible fun and are linked to concepts that we teach very year. They are applicable to any classroom organisation even home schooling. The rules are not complicated, how often do games look good but when you try to play them with  group they've lost interest and enthusiasm because they don't understand what they have go to do. Not so here.
'How does a hungry raccoon clean up behind a human picnic? If it's "Remainder Raccoon," simple division and practice with remainders will do the trick. Each game in this book presents math concepts (computation, fractions, decimals, geometry, logical thinking) in a fun, imaginative context. You'll find both competitive and cooperative games; individual, small group, and large group games to accommodate home schoolers to entire classrooms; multi-level play so that kids can achieve success and then advance to a more challenging level; and complete reproducibles with spinners, boards, pieces, markers, and more.'
4 reviewers gave this 4 stars out of 5 on Amazon

3. Key stage 2/3 Numeracy games by John Taylor

This covers pupils from ages 5 to 14. Slightly differnt from my other recommendations as it has puzzles quizzes, investigations, games and ICT activities. One reviewer particulaly liked the preponderance of kinesthetic games, what a pleasure to find some.Plenty of ideas to pep up your teaching, or leaning.
'This book is fantastic! Just what I needed to make me want to teach maths again. After being given many boring recommendations for maths teaching, it has reminded me that creativity in maths makes it fun. Lots of kinaesthetic games, and plenty of cool tricks using the interactive whiteboard for me to show off with next time I am observed teaching maths.' - customer review, amazon

11 reviewers gave this 4.2 stars out of 5 on Amazon

4. Mathematical team games by Vivian Lucas

I could have chosen any Vivian Lucas book to include here. Most re geared to an older age group but as always any competent teacher can use a good ide to their advantage. Once you've used this you'll use it again and again and again. I bought my own copies because prising them out of others hands was always difficult.

Mathematical Team Games: Enjoyable Activities to Enhance the Curriculum

'Team Games are special mathematical puzzles and problems which produce real cooperation between the members of a team. The mathematical content is that of the normal curriculum. Each player only gets some of the information and so all must play a part in arriving at a solution. Sixteen tried and tested team games are provided in photocopiable form.'
5 out of 5 stars from 5 reviewers on Amazon

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Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Breakfast Maths or the cereal that never ends

A cereal lesson 

Here is an idea that will get you plaudits from those that like to see Maths in a context or ‘real life’ Maths. It will give a different pace to your lessons and engage those who prefer a kinesthetic learning style or experience. Yet again what you do depends upon your imagination and perhaps appetite.


Eat lots of cereal. Ban toast for breakfast and force, if you have to, your family to eat packets and packets of cereal. Keep the boxes. No recycling. You have to supervise the opening of the boxes as you want them to be in as good a condition as possible.

The Lesson

Organise the class into groups around tables, 4 to a table seems to work. As the proud owner of numerous cereal packets distribute one or more to each group. Ask the class what they could find out about the boxes, give them a minute or two to jot down some ideas then collect one from each table and record them on the board. It is now up you how you progress. Sometimes I have collected the ideas from the class, recorded them on the board, and then discussed what we have to find. Alternatively I have collected the ideas but also handed out a worksheet to some classes listing what needs to be found or what tasks they have to do. Here are some suggestions of what they have to do and record as a group.

Find the height, width and length of the box.

Find the volume of the box.

Draw a net of the box to scale.

Make an isometric drawing of the box.

Find the surface area.

How much does the it cost per gram? per 100g?

How many boxes could fill the classroom?

What is the ratio of sugar to salt? Does it fit in with Government guidelines?

If it takes 10 days to eat a box how much salt would I consume in a year?

Further ideas

There are always new and exciting ways to tackle topics. Buy this books and you will be generating  even more ideas for yourself 100+ Ideas for Teaching Mathematics (Continuum One Hundreds) .
As one reviewer says  'I was looking for a book which would inspire me when planning sessions for teaching mathematics. I browsed a number of books but this one was definitely the best as far as I could see on-line. When it arrived it was even better than I expected. I would certainly recommend this book to anyone who teaches maths! '

Extension ideas

Alternatively you could work on the suggestions gathered from the class. The outcome could be  report produced by each group or answers in their books from  prepared worksheet by you.

You could provide them with boxes of the same product but in different sizes which is the best value? I am sure you can think of other ideas. Happy eating. (By the way you have noticed a picture of porridge, I don't eat any other cereal these days, can't think why.)