Tag Archives: maths

How IT can switch children on to mathematics

Peter Ransom, President Designate of The Mathematical Association, explores how IT can be used to engage children in mathematics.

More and more teachers are moving away from the idea that mathematics should be taught in short topics in isolation from other subjects. There is a wealth of historical events, technological breakthroughs and subjects that can be linked to mathematics and increasingly IT is a tool to support this cross-curricular approach.

During my 30 years’ teaching experience, I have learnt of new ways to make mathematics more accessible to pupils. Of course there are some students who love mathematics regardless of the lesson format but it is equally important to engage students who have previously had no interest in the subject. A cross-curricular approach that draws on a diversity of subjects and topics is effective in emphasising to a class how mathematics is relevant in daily life and the number of useful applications.

With an increased focus on the STEM initiative, I think it is vital for mathematics teachers to highlight how it links to science, technology and engineering.

One lesson plan that worked well in my GCSE mathematics classes was a presentation on the calculations that were applied by Isambard Kingdom Brunel when designing and constructing the Clifton Suspension Bridge. I showed my pupils copies of his calculations book which included Pythagoras’ theorem examples, simultaneous equations used to calculate distances and even examples of corrections Brunel had made. They found it interesting to see how the GCSE mathematics they were learning had been applied by Brunel hundreds of years earlier.

Brunel’s bridge designs provide perfect material for pupils to exercise a bit of mental geometry. I have found that students have responded well to lessons that enable them to apply mathematics in a practical way, whether it is creating something or using software applications to come up with solutions. Rather than get my classes to inspect a static picture of the Clifton Suspension Bridge, I decided to make it more practical by asking the pupils to investigate the shape of the curve caused by a suspended chain on the bridge. Using a one metre chain and a framework which can be made by cutting a panel out of a cereal box, I would get my GCSE students to suspend the chain from the framework and measure the horizontal and vertical distances from a certain point. The pupils would then input the data into a spreadsheet on TI-inspire CX, which is a hand-held device and software system. From the data, the students were able to use the device to work out the quadratic equation of best fit using either a graph or statistics page. This exercise helps develop students’ measuring, algebraic and IT skills. One of the key advantages of using a hand-held device and software like this is that it provides simultaneous, dynamically linked representations of graphs, equations, data and verbal explanations, meaning that a change in one representation is immediately reflected in the others. This application can really help enhance students’ relational understanding of mathematics in a way that is not possible with a traditional pen and paper approach.

Young people have an increasingly advanced aptitude to using technological applications and harnessing their IT skills in a relevant way can open the door to a much deeper understanding of some tricky mathematical concepts.

Technological devices, software and resources are not there to remove the function of teaching but can act as a supporting tool to enhance lesson plans and pupil engagement in ways that were perhaps not possible a few decades ago.

Peter Ransom works as an education consultant and part-time lecturer at Bath Spa University and is the President Designate of The Mathematical Association. He has 30 years of teaching experience and will be speaking on cross-curricular mathematics at the MA annual conference in April 2013.

For information on CPD events, visit www.m-a.org.uk/


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New term, new focus

“A new school year means a new set of challenges”. David Cregan at St. Matthew’s Academy shares with us all of the new things they are doing this year.

Changing curriculum

There is of course a significant emphasis on the changing curriculum and the government has effectively decided to strip things back, which we certainly see as a positive. A key part of the original academy ethos and ideal is looking for something to plug that freedom into. This isn’t new to us, but we would encourage other primary schools to follow the International Primary Curriculum which has proven a real success at St. Matthew’s. This particular curriculum gives us broad themes through which we can structure all subjects. The theme is communicated to parents as well, so if they are going to take their child out for the day, they can try to focus it on those topics; it is a really encouraging exercise and is extremely engaging.


One of the biggest focuses this year is phonics, and St. Matthew’s Academy has received matched funding to implement a new programme throughout the school. It will involve classes every morning where children will be put into ‘stage not age’ groups; so for example, we might have a child in Year 1 working with a child in Year 3, because that is where they are phonically. We have always been keen to encourage children of different ages to work together and these classes are a vehicle for enabling this to happen.

Reading scheme

Reading is critical and making sure a child’s reading age keeps pace with their chronological age is a key challenge for us, and is something we constantly monitor. This simple system allows us to pair children off depending on their reading age and if a child’s chronological age isn’t the same as other pupils we have reading groups which are also ‘stage not age’, meaning that pupils are not being left behind. A constant challenge is simply finding enough adults to read with the children and this is critical if a child’s parent does not speak or read English.

Mental Arithmetic

Proposed reforms of the maths curriculum suggest a large emphasis on children knowing their times tables and knowing different number rules and bonds. In line with this, we will be having mental arithmetic tests as part of the morning routine and we’ve also reformed our planner, which sets what we expect a child to be able to achieve by a certain stage. Those will be reviewed three times a year with parents and will include things that parents can do with their children as well, supporting parental engagement. Our parental liaison officer will also run sessions after school where we’ll show parents different ways that they can teach their child times tables and other maths exercises. Our parents need help to support their children and we aim to distribute materials using our VLE, website and social media channels such as Twitter.


Collaboration is currently a key focus for the DfE and it very much fits with the ethos of St. Matthew’s. Our logo is a six pointed star and each point is a different length, representing the educational opportunity that we offer for each individual child. Building links with other schools, whilst building aspirations for our pupils, who could potentially go to those schools to do scholarships is important for us, some of our pupils now study Latin at a local private girls’ school, for example. Whilst we don’t want to lose pupils, we feel it is important that we show the mobility that is available to them.

The future

The school was set up five years ago, and as the equipment we first invested in comes up for renewal we are deciding on
the next device that we might need for implementation. We now have a much broader digital broadband network that can take more devices, so we now have the thorny decision between Android which meshes with our industry standard Microsoft system and highly versatile Apple iPads. This has led to us creating some innovation in certain areas in the school to make a full assessment for governors this year.

Linked to this, we are looking to create a fully immersive multi-media room which is going to be our innovation centre. It will be a room where our pupils can be immersed in the International Primary Curriculum topics, so if they are learning about parliament for example, they will get to see exactly what that is like. It will also be a place where parents can come and see exhibitions of their child’s work, which is a crucial element to promoting the understanding and embracing of the new curriculum by students and parents.

We use Bett to benchmark resources; see what is new and crucially being used to support real learning. That is the most significant consideration when making any purchase as it is now the key criteria for OFSTED supporting pupil progression for us this year, so we look forward to visiting the show!

For more news and views from Bett visitors and exhibitors, download 2013’s Bett Update

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Exhibitor sneak peeks

With BETT just a few weeks away, you might be wondering what you can see, touch or try? With more than 650 exhibitors, whatever your interests, there will be exhibitors that will enthuse and inspire you. Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing with you what a selection of these exhibitors have in store.

With the buzz around social media in society and education today, SmileyTalk on stand SW47 is a new, safe social networking website designed specifically for use in the classroom. SmileyTalk aims to encourage cultural awareness and an interest in languages among primary school pupils through a stock of pre-translated phrases in 13 languages which allow them to communicate with their peers worldwide. The ‘walled garden’ website does not allow any free typing, eliminating the risks of cyber bullying and grooming that are associated with open networking site. Instead, children pick questions and answers from a range of different topics which can be added to by their teacher as more subjects are covered in the classroom.

Looking for a way to engage students in mathematics? Easimaths from RM on stand D60 is a new interactive online software package that is designed to encourage pupils to grasp key mathematical concepts without realising that they are doing it. Colourful characters, games and puzzles guide pupils through the maths National Curriculum from Levels 1 to 5 in a range of carefully structured, easy to use activities that enable students to progress at their own pace. Accessible via the internet, Easimaths allows pupils to try harder activities in the privacy of their own home, something they might not feel confident to do at school, with support materials on hand for when things get tricky.

Revision outside of the classroom has always been hard to crack as a universal process. On stand U29, visitors can find GCSEPod, an accessible learning and revision product for mobile technologies. Written by teachers and relevant to all six main UK examination boards, the audio visual material has been designed to support Year 10 and 11 students’ learning outside of the classroom, making revision more appealing and accessible to accelerate the revision process and boost exam success rates. Available via school subscriptions or to students directly, GCSEPod offers a cost effective learning resource that requires no additional hardware investment; schools stream material onto school computers, which students can then download on to their personal handheld devices or access via the school system if preferred.

On stand S57, from Serious Games interactive comes the online, interactive 3D adventure game series ‘Playing History’. Offering a new way to access history, it utilises the game media to teach pupils about important events and periods in world history. The idea behind the series is to focus on the little story that is part of the big one: to experience the role of the individual and its challenges in world history and the living conditions in different historical periods. The game series combines a colourful and humorous visual style with an engaging narrative to motivate players to keep playing and complete mini-games during the course of the game, whether learning about the Plague in 14th century Florence, or experiencing life as a slave in the 18th century.


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