Bringing Maths to Life:
Both last week and this one coming I’m travelling around the UK delivering training on planning using wonderfully named ‘Maths Sandwich’!
This is an approach I developed over many years to show children WHY they need the skills, understanding and procedures we teach in our maths lessons. My children were SO much easier to teach, contributed more and retained their skills far more effectively when I taught maths through meaningful contexts.
The premise of the ‘Maths Sandwich’ approach is we begin with a question or context that is worthy of our thought, stimulates connections and generates questions. This is the first ‘piece of bread’ in the sandwich. The ‘filling’ is the skills we need to sharpen to solve the problem and the second ‘piece of bread’ is the application of our skills both back in the original problem and in other contexts (offering essential variation).
In one of my sessions last week we used an everyday local newspaper as our first ‘piece of bread’. Free and widely available, this is an excellent resource and has enormous application across all key stages.
Where to start:
Get the children working in pairs exploring the newspaper and looking for numbers. You don’t need a whole paper for each pair, just a few pages and these can be swapped around so everyone sees the front and back pages, shopping offers, TV listing etc.
Focus upon noticing and discussing WHY the numbers are where they are. What are they doing?
For example, we might have ‘55p’ on the front; so these numbers are the price. Next to this there could be ‘5th’ as part of the date; so this number is telling us which day of the month the newspaper was published. Under this we might see 12°C alongside a weather report; this number is telling us that day’s temperature.
As we explore the paper we can look for numbers of different sizes doing different jobs (think ‘more digits rather than ‘bigger’ numbers). We should begin to notice that symbols and letters are used as clues to what the number is doing. For example %, £, m etc.
Let’s think about these numbers and what they’re doing a bit more. Numbers are really interesting things; they can measure, order and label and sometimes they can even do more than one thing at a time!
When we see ‘55p’ the ‘p’ is short for ‘pence’ which we know is money. Money is a form of measurement and helps us know ‘how much’ something is.
When we see ‘5thMay’ this tells us the position of the day in the month of May; it is the fifth day. This isn’t measuring but is instead ordering. ‘5’ here doesn’t mean five things but instead is a label for that day of the month. So tomorrow will be ‘6th’ and yesterday ‘4th’ (‘Star Wars’ day for those of you in the know!)
Labelling is where a number is used like a name. Sometimes numbers are used to label a bus or a road, our phone numbers and credit card numbers could all be letters or other symbols; the numbers have no numerical value. A number ‘7’ bus doesn’t have 7 passengers, it isn’t the 7thbus to arrive, it wasn’t the 7thbus made. It’s just called the ‘Number 7’bus.
Simpler Starting Points:
For younger children let’s just notice when something in the paper is a number or a letter. Different fonts, sizes and colours can make distinguishing between the two very challenging!
Noticing units of measure. How many abbreviations for units of measure can we spot and what are they measuring? What do we know about the units of measure e.g. % ‘percent’ meaning ‘part of 100’ and are there other units within this ‘family’ e.g. litres, centilitres and millilitres.
What about 12°C? Is this measuring or ordering? Is it merely labelling? How do we know? If it is measuring then what is it measuring? If it is ordering that what comes next?
All of the above acts as our first ‘piece of bread’; we are noticing, discussing, explaining, connecting and wondering. Might it now be easier and more purposeful to strip away the newspaper context and focus in on the numbers themselves? You could be looking at ordering numbers, working with measures, solving problems involving time using the TV guide, scaling the recipes in the pull-out section, comparing house prices, calculating percentage offers and so much more!
I’ll return to this idea and give more examples of how to continue with the journey on to our second ‘piece of bread’ in a later post. In this we’ll look at the importance of applying skills we learned away from the newspaper context so that children see the enormous potential of their ‘newly sharpened’ skills.
So, gather some newspapers, get noticing and off you go! I’m off on my travels using not only newspapers but juice cartons, Macdonalds, ‘Maths Through Stories’ and lots more…all to ‘Bring Maths to Life!’
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‘One of our EYFS Teachers has just attended this training and came back totally inspired and singing your praises. She said that she learnt more on this course than any course she has ever attended!’
C Magnocavallo Head of Maths, Chesham Preparatory School, Bucks
Thank you for showing us HOW to change. So many courses just tell us what isn't working but not how to go about addressing this. Your approaches make so much sense!
Just to say thank you again for 3 really brilliant talks at SGIS. We're a small school near Basel and we’d be interested in anything you’re doing nearby (Zurich way) so please let us know!