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.

The game

This game has many variations; the only limit is your imagination. Let’s assume you are teaching a class that has just learnt about multiples, sit the pupils in a circle and give the numbers from say one to ten. (No you don’t have to prepare anything just tell them.) When you say, for example, the number 3 everyone who is a multiple of 3 has to change places. The number 4, everyone who is a multiple of 4 has to change places. There is great excitement and laughter when playing this game, not a bad thing in a maths lesson. Why is it called ‘Fruit Salad’? When you say the words fruit salad everyone has to change places, chaos but enjoyment for one and all.

You my think that this can only be played with younger ones, but I have used it with older kids with great success. After teaching gradient, intercept and the general form y = mx + c I tried ‘Fruit Salad’ with a class just on a whim. Having said no preparation is required for this I just grabbed a pad of post it notes and wrote a linear equation on each such as y = 2x + 1 etc. I handed them out, explained the rules and said anyone with a gradient of 2 change places, anyone with an intercept of 1 change places and so on and so forth. Then on of the class suggested they place the post its on their forehead so that everyone but them could see the equations, they would have to remember it and if they moved incorrectly they would know. This was hilarious, a lesson to remember.

More activities

If this has wetted your appetite for more activities where the pupils are learning, having fun and out of their seats for a change I strongly recommend a book by Viven Lucas called Mathematical Treasure Hunts . I have used this many times and will provide you with a tremendous resource for use with many classes, even adapting it to your own needs. I would not be without it.

More resources for your classroom click on resources 

For general books on how to move your teaching to outstanding click on general teaching books

Books to feed your mind click mind food