Looking for ideas to link maths and the Olympics? Olympic Top Trumps!

With only 87 days (and 3 hours, 21 minutes and 2 seconds as I’m writing this) to go until the Olympic Games are you beginning to consider how you can harness this fantastic context in your maths lessons? (For the Olympic countdown visit http://www.theolympicgamescountdown.com/)

Learning is at its best (and often its easiest) when it is relevant and meaningful to the learner. Obvious really isn’t it? As the Olympic Games approach everyone will be talking about it, every channel will be airing news about it and our everyday lives will be full of an event that none of us will experience in our own country again within a lifetime. So it would seem a good time to start to look around and bring all of the essential maths that the athletes will be relying upon in their quest to be the best into our classrooms.

Every athlete aims to be the best at what they do. Some are the best in the world, they all are the best in their country and many achieve their personal best during the Games. But it’s all about being the best you can possibly be. What a  great message to begin with: always aim to be the best you can be.

So how can we use ‘being the best’ in maths? How about a childhood game which has stood the test of time for many years: ‘Top Trumps’? Such a simple and yet absorbing game. I’ve seen many a Year 3 boy, who seemingly can’t order numbers to 100 or 1000 in  a dull maths lesson, cope easily with the very same numbers during wet break or on the bus on a school visit. So engaging contexts really do make a difference.

How about designing and making your own Top Trumps by researching facts about the Olympians taking part in this year’s Games? How fast can they run? What age are they? How tall? World ranking? Number of previous medals? Age they became involved in the sport? Distance they’ve travelled to the Games? Number of athletes in their team? Number of athletes from their country?

Why stop at human Olympics? What about the animal kingdom? Did you know that a killer whale can cover 1km in a minute? How far can you run in a minute? What about Usain Bolt if he managed to keep up his 100m sprint speed? Which animals are the fastest? Tallest? Longest? If a poison dart frog is 100 times smaller than a zebra, what happens when we multiply his speed by 100? Is it faster or slower than the zebra???

The cross-curricular links here are endless. Reluctant readers get caught up in the context, ICT becomes essential, geographic skills in using Google Earth and atlas skills are applied and real reasons to discuss and present work are everywhere.

So, what are you waiting for? Grab the maths that the Olympians depend upon in their quest to be the best and place your maths lessons firmly in the real world where learning is relevant, applicable and exciting!

For more ideas like this visit www.karenwildingeducation.co.uk and look for ‘Olympic Maths Resource’.

Karen Wilding is an independent primary maths consultant working both in the UK and internationally.

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Linking the ‘Olympics’ with ‘Titanic’?

Today is 10th April 2012; 100 years to the day that Titanic first set sail on its maiden voyage from Southampton. And so the timeline to one of the most unexpected and terrible maritime disasters begins…..

To explore how the events unfolded on the fateful night of April 14th 1912, visit sites such as http://www.theteachersguide.com/Titanictimeline.html. What a meaningful way to understand time in a context that everyone is talking about. Try bringing the timeline to life through video clips, personal testimonials and photographs?

As the forthcoming 2012 Olympic Games are clearly in our sights, sharing the story of ‘Olympic’ (Titanic’s sister ship) would seem a very appropriate place to begin. ‘Olympic’ was Titanic’s older and slightly smaller sister but one who went on to have a long illustrious career. Why not begin by investigating the lengths of these amazing ship and then move on to harness just some of the amazing mathematical statistics a ship such as ‘Titanic’ could boast?

Intriguing websites such as ‘Titanic Facts’ http://www.titanicfacts.net/ offer numbers truly worth wrestling with mathematically.

  • Just how much is £4,775,000 (the cost to build Titanic) in today’s money?
  • Did you know that a suite on Titanic cost £870 whilst a steward working in the stateroom earned only £3.75 a month?
  • Why were only 20 lifeboats provided when the ship was built for 64 (and would this have been enough anyway?)

For more facts like these go to:


The list of rich and meaningful starting points for measures, scaling, percentages, fractions, difference, division……is exhaustive.  Try creating ‘mathematical exhibitions’ to show the quantities involved using appropriate scales; often a particularly powerful way of communicating otherwise difficult to understand statistics. Investigate the ratios of staff for each class of passenger and the enormous costs involved.

So, take a few days (or even a week!) and look at the ‘Titanic’ maths that shouts out to be explored as history happens around us. Don’t ever forget that maths children need to use to calculate and understand the world is real and happening all of the time; not sitting in a text book or written on a worksheet. Grab what everyone is excited about, talking about and interested in and bring your maths (and in this case history) lessons truly to life!

Karen Wilding is an Independent Primary Maths Consultant who is passionate about giving children (and their teachers) a life-long love of mathematics.

                  For more information visit: www.karenwildingeducation.co.uk

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Stuck for ideas for your next maths lesson? How about bringing maths to life through today’s news reports?

Ever stuck for inspiration for your maths lessons? Do you find yourself sitting staring at a laptop screen waiting for inspiration to strike and then, all too often, reaching for a textbook example which deep down you know just won’t do the job?

Sometimes we need to retrain ourselves to stop and notice the things happening all around us. Maths is everywhere, all of the time. We are talking about it, using it and at the mercy of it. So how about using it to bring your maths lessons to life?

This blog describes three articles that all appeared in the news today. As with most news, these stories have been endlessly recycled through every daily newspaper, TV broadcast and internet news sites and will therefore be very easy to track down. (I’ve made it even easier by including a link with each one).

I use news stories like these in many different ways: I have them on my board as children come in and ask them to identify the maths within the story. Sometimes I have just the picture and they have to guess what the story might be and how maths is connected. I use a news item to ‘set the scene’ for a maths lesson so we can generate rich discussion about which elements of maths we’re dealing with and which mathematical ‘tools’ we’ll need to make sense of what we’re reading.

The news presents us with endless fascinating examples of mathematics such as data, measures, ratio, averages, percentages and both huge and tiny numbers. Many of the ‘hard to teach’ areas are the most commonly used in news reports, so it really makes sense to regularly bring them into the classroom to allow children the time to become more familiar with these concepts before having to ‘chomp’ their way through a specific maths problem.

So stop and listen more, capture the news happening around you more and turn your maths lessons into living breathing examples of how maths is essential to life and how a true love for this subject, at its most basic level, really enriches our lives.

‘Take Away Pizza Saltier than the Atlantic Ocean’    http://bit.ly/GShAO9

One take away pizza can contain a whole day’s recommended salt intake. One report showed this as four teaspoons of salt tipped next to the pizza. Supermarket pizzas contain, on average, half this quantity. Could you produce a ‘mathematical exhibition’ to show people in your school the levels of salt, sugar and fat in different foods to help them make healthier choices?

Director of film ‘Titanic’, James Cameron, reaches 11km under the sea in the Mariana Trench in the Western Pacific ocean. Deepest dive ever achieved.    http://bbc.in/GOgn82 

11 tonnes in weight and 7 metres long, the ‘designed in top secret’ diving pod was subjected to 1,000 atmospheres of pressure (compared to 90 on the Earth’s surface).  How long did the trip take and did he descend at a regular speed an distance? How did the atmospheric pressure increase during the decent and at what rate? How deep is the Mariana Trench compared to other trenches? If you compared the depth of this trench with the height of Everest, which is taller/deeper? What is the distance from the bottom of the Mariana trench to the top of Everest?

More than 1 in 3 babies born in 2012 will live to 100 http://bit.ly/H86KV3

This is described in various news stories as ‘more than 1 in 3’, ‘1 in 3’, ‘35%’ and ‘a third’. What a great way to interpret data and find equivalence!

I wonder what the average expected life span of the children in your class is? What about your generation? What about your parents? Grandparents? What is influencing this change? If someone of your children’s grand parents’ age has an expected life span of 76 years can you calculate when they could have been born and die?

          For more ideas and inspiration to bring your maths teaching to life visit: www.karenwildingeducation.co.uk

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The Trouble with Maths?

This gallery contains 7 photos.

When you hear or see the word ‘maths’ what do you think? It’s more likely to bring about an actual feeling than a thought for most of us. Maybe you feel excited, interested and challenged when you hear this word? … Continue reading

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Maths Outside! Free Seeds Delivered to School to Celebrate the Diamond Jubilee

Is there a better way to engage children’s interest than getting them outside interacting with nature?

This month the wonderful ‘Woodland Trust’ are offering every school a chance to receive a pack of seeds (delivered in March) to plant trees in celebration of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee later this year. Simply visit the Woodland Trust ‘Nature Detectives’ website or click on the link below to find out more:


Also available are a number of high quality free teaching resources including videos, activities and fascinating facts for use in the classroom including the BBC active iposter and  the Woodland iposter

Using natural studies as a starting point for engaging, rich mathematics is a truly ‘win win’ combination. Children working outside in their local environment, talking, collaborating and using and applying their key skills in both mathematics and literacy, can only serve to raise standards across the board.

So why not sit down as a staff and identify how planting trees (and other seeds) could be used to teach key mathematics in a way that every learner sees the purpose of their learning and the need to develop and extend their skills?

Don’t be constrained by the planning ‘Blocks and Units’ of the strategy, but instead take ownership of your maths curriculum and focus upon making connections between areas of maths, building skills and using and applying existing knowledge. It won’t surprise anyone to hear that ensuring coverage is not difficult when your learners are immersed in authentic mathematical learning that knows no boundaries.

So go ahead and research which months to plant, monitor growth rates, explore seed arrangements (arrays), calculate average tree heights, estimate the area available for planting, measure the depth the seeds need to be planted, find the difference in height of seeds…….securing  relevant, engaging learning in maths for everyone!

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Bringing Maths to Life! Remembrance Day Friday 11th November

I’m on a life-long quest to show children (and teachers) the application of maths in their everyday lives. What better reason is there to learn new skills and reach deep into your ‘mathematical toolbox’ than a topic that everyone is talking about?

In two weeks time it is Remembrance Day in the UK. The day that back in 1918, on the 11th hour of the 11th day on the 11th month, World War 1 finally came to an end. Whilst I was growing up, this day focused upon the important memory of the huge numbers who fought and in WWI and WWII and although this continues to play a very significant role, we now also remember those who are fighting today. A subject that touches many of our children’s lives.

Dealing with war and remembrance requires great understanding and sensitivity and this is an ideal opportunity to link areas such as PSHE with Maths (as well as subjects such as Geography and History). Bringing maths to life is not primarily concerned with making maths ‘fun’ but instead showing children how maths skills  help them make sense of their world.

So how about trying out a few of the following ideas with your children? The links with history and geography in particular offer ample opportunity for collaborative tasks and rich mathematical discussion.

On each occasion ask the children to discuss the maths skills they think they will need before the task and the reflect upon the skills they used afterwards:

  • When did WWI and WWII take place and how long did they last?
  • How long was the world at peace between WWI and WWII?
  • Do we know about anyone in our family who was born during these times? How old are they/would they be today?
  • Can we make a giant timeline outside and plot when WWI and WWII took place along side other events we’ve studied or know about? What’s the difference between each of these dates?
  • How many soldiers were involved in these wars? What was the average age? How would we work this out?
  • Where did the men fight? How far away is this and how did they get there? How long did it take then and how long would it take now?
  • Where are people fighting today? How far away is it and how long do they typically go away for? What would this mean if they left today? When would they return?

Fund raising with poppies:

  • What is the money raised used for?
  • What do the facilities provided by ‘Help the Heroes’ and other organisations do for returning soldiers and what do these facilities cost?
  • How could we raise money and how would it be used?
  • What is the average donation in our school and how much have we raised?

By sharing articles, videos and stories with the children, they could begin to contribute their own ideas and make suggestions that could take the learning further if you wish. Perhaps select one or two ideas as starting points or be brave and abandon your planning altogether and see what wonderful opportunities are born from such a ‘talk and thought- worthy’ context!

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New Carol Vorderman Report on Maths

Carol Vorderman’s report for the government on maths teaching was published this week: ‘A World Class Mathematics Education for All’.

Interesting observations have been made about need to improve primary teachers’ subject knowledge and confidence in maths; a view widely shared within the profession. Is there a need to question why so many teachers feel this way about maths and make sure we don’t subject another generation to experiences which bring about similar results?

The report also looks at the importance of making maths ‘real and relevant’ so that children leave school being able to successfully apply their skills in their work and home lives. The report suggests that this is necessary for our lowest attainers. Surely meaningful application is not only the main point of maths for most people but also a reason to engage and enjoy the subject?

So let’s look forward optimistically to reforms that support primary teachers in developing their skills as effective maths teachers and offer a curriculum that is relevant and meaningful;  engaging every learner at every level. Hurrah!

Click here to read whole report.

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