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Sunday, May 31, 2020

Making maths more engaging

Making Maths More Engaging
Steve Sherman
Classrooms are filled with students fearful of maths. Finding the value of ‘x’ has become a dreadful task for them. However, if the teaching approach is modified, students can be brought on board

There is no greater joy for a teacher than watching lightbulbs switch on around the classroom.  The “Aha” or “lightbulb” moment is when the students grasp what you were trying to put across to them. I often joke with people and describe my job as a lightbulb technician. My goal is not only about getting the bulbs to glow. My goal is to get the students to be engaged in the content where questions will arise naturally and then they reach the point where they do not want to leave the room until they have produced an acceptable solution. I want them to be passion-driven and therein lies the challenge for many teachers. How does one switch your students into an excited-to-learn mode? Perhaps the regular approach needs to be revisited? When teaching a new concept, most teachers tend to start off their lesson by declaring all the definitions. This is then followed by many examples and finally, the text books reinforce the concept with examples that are neither realistic nor relevant. Sometimes the examples are mundane and do not excite the learner to chase a solution. Making maths more engaging Making maths more engaging Making maths more engaging Making maths more engaging Making maths more engaging

The best way tao engage learners is to begin with an activity or task.  Often, the students will intuitively come up with the relevant questions without you having to prompt them. I will suggest a few fun activities for you to try with your students. I am confident that you will see how some simple exercises will keep your students engaged and hungry for more.

Begin with an activity or task. The students will intuitively come up with the relevant questions without you having to prompt them

  1. Give the students two pieces of paper. Ask them to fold the first page horizontally into a cylinder.  The second one must be folded vertically into a cylinder. Ask them what do they observe? If you had a bowl of popcorn, which cylinder would hold more popcorn?  Let them discuss and debate it. Use the popcorn to settle the debate.  How does one prove your observation using maths? This is a fun way to introduce the volume of a cylinder.
  2. Give your students a piece of string that is 100 cm long. Ask them to make a border with the string that will spread over the floor.  What is the best shape that will take up most of the floor. This is a fun way to introduce area.
  3. Your school is hosting a guest speaker. The guest is confined to an electric wheelchair which is very heavy.   How does the guest get onto the stage to present?  What could the school do to get her onto the stage?   How steep is the ramp that the students are proposing?  Is it too steep for a wheelchair? How do we measure the steepness?  What factors will affect the steepness? This is a fun way to introduce a protractor and angles.   On a deeper level it is a fun way to explore gradients with straight line graphs.  One can also see why the difference in y and the difference in x are both important to the gradient.
  4. Give the students two dice and ask them to predict which number (made up of the sum of the top two numbers) will appear the most. They then roll their dice 50 times.  They should document the sum of the top two numbers each time.  They can explore different methods of documenting their results.  What did they notice?  Probability is always fun when it is a hands on activity.
  5. Ask a student to lie on the ground with their arms outstretched. Mark where their wingspan starts and stops.  Now get them to lie head to toe over the same marks.  What do the students observe?  How is your wingspan related to your height?  How accurate is this method?  Are there any other unusual connections with body measurements?  Have you tried the length of your foot with the length from your wrist to your elbow crease? This could be a fun introduction to measurement, ratios and data handling.
  6. Get five students in the classroom to shake hands with each other while introducing themselves. They are only permitted to shakes hands with someone once.  How many handshakes have taken place?  Can you generalize the number of handshakes for six or seven people?  Is there a formula that you could create to best describe the pattern?
  7. If a tap is switched on over a container the size of a shoebox, how long would it take to fill the box (assuming the box is watertight)? What would impact on the time?  How would we work this out?  This is a lovely look at volume and rates of flow.
  8. If the school was going to change all the light bulbs over to LED’s, would the school end up saving money? Would it be instant or would you have to wait a while before you notice the savings?  How many lights does the school have?   How much electricity do the lights use in total?   How much would it cost to replace all the lights with LED’s?  A great exercise in data handling, calculations and comparisons based on evidence with real life implications if the conditions are found to be favourable!

Making Maths More Engaging1

When learners get to take part in an activity, try to let them make their own observations.

Once they have pointed out a few things, ask them a question or two that might lead them to a point of view.  Then ask them how to demonstrate or prove their theory.

Maths should be a lesson filled with happy curious learners.  When learners are engaged with the content, they will better understand the context and the lesson will be memorable.

I love offering two problems to think about each edition.


How many different numbers can you find which, when written, have as many letters in the word as the number itself? For example, SIX has 3 letters.


Dave has been hired to paint the house numbers on a recently completed housing estate. There are one hundred houses and therefore Dave has to paint all of the numbers from 1 to 100. How many times will Dave have to paint the number nine?



There is only one number with this property – FOUR, which has 4 letters.


There are 20 nines to paint: 9, 19, 29, 39, 49, 59, 69, 79, 89, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99.

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