The following is a list of what I consider to be important ingredients when planning and teaching a successful mathematics lesson. The list (or recipe) is split into two: lesson planning and lesson structure.

Lesson planning:

**Be clear about your goal**. What exactly do you want your students to learn in this lesson? How are you going to integrate mathematical content with mathematical processes? (The proficiencies or Working Mathematically components)**Know the mathematics**. If you don’t have a deep understanding of the mathematics or how students learn that aspect of mathematics, how can you teach it effectively? Where does the mathematics link across the various strands within the mathematics curriculum?**Choose good resources**. Whether they are digital or concrete materials, make sure they are the right ones for the job. Are they going to enhance students’ learning, or will they cause confusion? Be very critical about the resources you use, and don’t use them just because you have them available to you!**Select appropriate and purposeful tasks.**Is it better to have one or two rich tasks or problems, or pages of worksheets that involve lots of repetition? Hopefully you’ve selected the first option – it is better to have fewer, high quality tasks rather than the traditional worksheet or text book page. You also need to select tasks that are going to promote lots of thinking and discussion.**Less is more.**We often overestimate what students will be able to do in the length one lesson. We need to make sure students have time to think, so don’t cram in too many activities.**You don’t have to start and finish a task in one lesson.**Don’t feel that every lesson needs to be self-contained. Children (and adults) often need time to work on complex problems and tasks – asking students to begin and end a task within a short period of time often doesn’t give them time to become deeply engaged in the mathematics. Mathematics is not a race!

Lesson Structure:

**Begin with a hook**. How are you going to engage your students to ensure their brains are switched on and ready to think mathematically from the start of each lesson? There are lots of ways to get students hooked into the lesson, and it’s a good idea to change the type of hook you use to avoid boredom. Things like mathematically interesting photographs, YouTube clips, problems, newspaper articles or even a strategy such as number busting are all good strategies.**Introduction: Make links to prior learning.**Ensure you make some links to mathematics content or processes from prior learning – this will make the lesson more meaningful for students and will reassure anxious students. Use this time to find out what students recall about the particular topic – avoid being the focus of attention and share the lesson with students. Talk about why the topic of the lesson is important – where else does it link within the curriculum, and beyond, into real life?**Make your intentions clear.**Let students know what they’re doing why they’re doing it. How and where is knowing this mathematics going to help them?**Body:**This is a good time for some collaboration, problem solving and mathematical investigation. It’s a time to get students to apply what they know, and make links to prior learning and across the mathematics curriculum. This is also a time to be providing differentiation to ensure all student needs are addressed.**Closure:**This is probably the most important time in any mathematics lesson. You must**always include reflection.**This provides an opportunity for students to think deeply about what they have learned, to make connections, and to pose questions. It’s also a powerful way for you, the teacher, to collect important evidence of learning. Reflection can be individual, in groups, and can be oral or written. It doesn’t matter, as long as it happens every single lesson.

There are many variables to the ingredients for a good mathematics lesson, but most importantly, know what you are teaching, provide opportunities for all students to achieve success, and be enthusiastic and passionate about mathematics!

]]>

**Be a positive mathematical role model**

I’m sure this won’t come as a surprise, but there are teachers in our schools who actually don’t like maths and don’t like teaching it. Why is this a problem? Student know! This knowledge perpetuates the common misconception that it’s okay to dislike mathematics, and worse still, it’s okay to be considered ‘bad’ at maths. Unless the teacher is an award-winning actor or actress, it’s really difficult to hide how you feel about a subject – it’s obvious in body language, tone of voice and of course, the way you teach the subject and the resources you use. If you know someone like this, suggest they seek some support from a colleague or colleagues. Often the reason a person dislikes mathematics is related to a lack of confidence.

**Get to know your students as learners of mathematics**

The foundation of student engagement requires an understanding of students as learners, in other words, the development of positive pedagogical relationships (Attard, 2014). Positive relationships require teachers to understand how their students learn, and where and when they need assistance. It’s also important to provide opportunities for ongoing interactions between you and your students as well as amongst your students.

Another way to get to know your students as learners is to use existing data. For example, if your school takes part in external testing such as PAT, you can use this data as a guide. However, keep in mind that things change quickly when children are young – what they knew or understood three months ago may be very different after a long summer holiday.

A great activity to do in the very first few maths classes of the year is to ask your students to write or create a **‘Maths Autobiography’**. If required, provide the students with some sentence starters such as “I think maths is…” “The thing I like best about maths is…” “The thing or things that worry me about maths is…” They could do this in different formats:

- In a maths journal
- Making a video
- Using drawings (great for young children – a drawing can provide lots of information)

**Start off on a positive note**

Have some fun with your maths lessons. I would strongly recommend that you don’t start the year with a maths test! If you want to do some early assessment, consider using open-ended tasks or some rich mathematical investigations. Often these types of assessments will provide much deeper insights into the abilities of your students. You can even use some maths games (either concrete or digital) to assess the abilities of your students.

A great maths activity for the first lesson of the year is getting-to-know-you-mathematically, where students use a pattern block and then need to go on a hunt to find other students who have specific mathematical attributes. Encourage your students to find someone different for every attribute on the list, and change the list to suit the age and ability of your students. For example, in the younger years you could use illustrations and not words. In the older years, you could make the mathematics more abstract.

**Take a fresh look at the curriculum**

Even if you’ve been teaching for many years, it’s always good to take a fresh new look at the curriculum at the start of each year. Consider how the Proficiencies or Working Mathematically processes can be the foundation of the content that you’re teaching. For example, how can you make problem solving a central part of your lessons?

Take a close look at the General Capabilities. They provide a perfect foundation for contextual, relevant tasks that allow you to teach mathematics and integrate with other content areas.

**Consider the resources you use: Get rid of the worksheets!**

Think about using a range of resources in your mathematics teaching. Regardless of their age or ability, children benefit from using concrete manipulatives. Have materials available for students to use when and if they need them. This includes calculators in early primary classrooms, where students can explore patterns in numbers, place value and lots of other powerful concepts using calculators.

Children’s literature is also a great resource. A wonderful book to start off the year is **Math Curse **by Jon Scieska and Lane Smith. Read the book to your students either in one sitting or bit by bit. There are lots of lesson ideas within the pages. Ask your students to write their own maths curse. It’s a great way to illustrate that mathematics underpins everything we do! It’s also a great way to gain insight into how your students view mathematics and what they understand about mathematics.

**How will you use technology in the classroom?**

If you don’t already integrate technology into your mathematics lessons, then it’s time to start. Not only is it a curriculum requirement, it is part of students’ everyday lives – we need to make efforts to link students’ lives to what happens in the classroom and one way to do that is by using technology. Whether it’s websites, apps, YouTube videos, screencasting, just make sure that you have a clear purpose for using the technology. What mathematics will your students be learning or practicing, and how will you assess their learning?

**Reach out to parents**

As challenging as it may be, it’s vital that parents play an active role in your students’ mathematical education. They too may suffer from anxiety around mathematics so it’s helpful to invite them into the classroom or hold mathematics workshops where parents can experience contemporary teaching practices that their students are experiencing at school. Most importantly, you need to communicate to parents that they must try really hard to be positive about mathematics!

These are just a few tips to begin the year with…my next blog post will discuss lesson structure. In the meantime, enjoy the beginning of the school year and:

Attard, C. (2014). “I don’t like it, I don’t love it, but I do it and I don’t mind”: Introducing a framework for engagement with mathematics. *Curriculum Perspectives, 34*(3), 1-14.

]]>

Late in 2016 there were reports from international testing that Australia continues to slip further behind in mathematics when compared to other countries. So, what can you do about this? Relying on teachers alone won’t fix the problem. There are many things parents can and should do to help their children learn mathematics, particularly before they begin school and during the primary school years. The following is a list of tips for parents that will help them to help their children succeed:

**Be positive about maths!**

May people openly claim they don’t like maths or they’re not good at it, unintentionally conveying the message that this is okay. Unfortunately, this can have a detrimental effect on the children who hear these messages. In my research on student engagement, children whose parents made similar comments often used the same comments as mathematics became more challenging during the high school years. These behaviours can lead to children opting to stop trying and drop out of mathematics as soon as they can, ultimately limiting their life choices.

As a parent, be conscious of displaying positive attitudes towards mathematics, even when it’s challenging. Adopting what is referred to as a ‘growth mindset’ allows children (and parents) to acknowledge that mathematics is challenging, but not impossible. Rather than saying “I can’t do it” or “it’s too hard”, encourage statements such as “I can’t do it yet” or “let’s work on this together”. If you’re struggling with the mathematics yourself, and finding it difficult to support your child, there are options such as free online courses like Jo Boaler’s YouCubed website (www.youcubed.org), apps such as Khan Academy, or you can seek help from their child’s teacher.

If you choose to use a tutor to help your child, make sure it’s a tutor who knows how to teach for understanding, rather than memorisation. Too often tutoring colleges use the traditional teaching method of drill and practice, which won’t help a struggling student to understand important mathematical concepts. Find a tutor who understands the curriculum and can tailor a program to work alongside what your child is learning at school.

**Developing a positive working relationship with teachers**

It’s important for parents to work with their child’s teacher to ensure they are able to support the learning of mathematics. This will help the teacher understand the child’s needs and be better able to support the child in the classroom, while at the same time helping the parents support the child at home. Often schools hold information evenings or maths workshops to help explain current teaching methods with few parents turning up. It’s important to attend these events as they are a good opportunity to learn ways to help children with mathematics at home.

**Know what maths your child is learning**

Mathematics teaching and learning has changed significantly over the last few decades. Unfortunately, many of the older generations still expect children to be learning the same maths in the same way, regardless of how much the world has changed! Access to the mathematics curriculum is free to everyone. Parents have the opportunity to find out what their child should be learning simply by accessing the curriculum online, or talking to their child’s teacher. This can help parents who may have unrealistic expectations of what their child should know and be able to do, and will also help them understand that mathematics is not just about numbers or learning the multiplication tables.

One of the most common complaints when it comes to school mathematics is that children don’t ‘know’ their multiplication tables. Is this important? Yes, it’s still important that children gain fluency when dealing with numbers. However, it’s also important that we don’t just rely on rote learning, or repetition. Children need to understand how the numbers work. In other words, they need to be numerate, and have a flexibility with numbers. Once they understand, then fluency can be built. Using maths games (there are lots of apps that help with this) is a good way of getting children to build up speed with number facts.

**Make maths part of everyday activities**

Bring maths into daily conversations and activities with your child. After all, there’s maths in everything we do. For example, if you’re cooking you might ask your child to help you measure out ingredients. If you’re shopping, you could have a little competition to see who can make the best estimation of the total grocery bill or perhaps ask your child to work out the amount of change (this may be challenging given that we use credit cards most of the time).

If your child likes to play digital games, download some maths apps so they can use their screen time to learn while having fun at the same time. Alternatively, traditional games can provide opportunities to talk about maths and help your child. Games that use dominoes and playing cards are great for young children as are board games such as Snakes and Ladders or Monopoly. Even non-numerical games such as Guess Who have benefits for mathematics because the promote problem solving and strategic thinking, important mathematical skills.

Parents who can work with their child’s teacher, be proactive in their child’s education, and demonstrate positive attitudes towards mathematics can make a *big difference *to their child’s success at school. **It’s an investment worth making.**

]]>

**Numeracy and Mathematics education is everyone’s business**

As a society, we all need to take some responsibility for the decline in mathematics achievement and more importantly, we all need to collaborate on a plan to change the decline into an incline. From my perspective, there are three groups of stakeholders who need to work together: the general community, the policy makers and school systems that influence and implement the policies, and the teachers.

Let’s start with the general community. It seems everybody’s an expert when it comes to mathematics education because we all experienced schooling in some form. Many say: “I survived rote learning – it didn’t hurt me”. The world has changed, access to information and technology has improved dramatically, and the traditional ‘chalk and talk’ practices are no longer appropriate in today’s classrooms. Many hold a limited view of school mathematics as drill and practice of number facts and computation. Although it’s important that children build fluency, it’s simply not enough. We must promote problem solving and critical thinking within relevant contexts – making the purpose of learning mathematics visible to students. It is, after all, problem solving that forms the core of NAPLAN, TIMSS and PISA tests.

The community pressure for teachers to use text books and teach using outdated methods, along with a crowded curriculum and an implied requirement for teachers to ‘tick curriculum boxes’ causes significant tensions for teachers, particularly in the primary school where they are required to be experts at every subject. If we consider the limited number of hours allocated to mathematics education in teacher education degrees compared with the expectations that all primary teachers suddenly become experts on graduation, then we should understand that teachers need continued support beyond their tertiary education to develop their skills. In addition, rather than focusing on students’ learning, the crowded curriculum leads them to focus on getting through the curriculum (http://v7-5.australiancurriculum.edu.au/mathematics/curriculum/f-10?layout=2#page=1) and this often leads to a ‘back to basics’ approach of text books, work sheets and lots of testing that does not create students who can problem solve, problem pose and problem find.

This is where the policy makers and school systems must come into play by providing support for high quality and sustained professional learning and encouraging primary teachers to gain expertise as specialist mathematics teachers. We already have a strong curriculum that promotes problem solving and critical thinking both through the Proficiencies and through the General Capabilities. The General Capabilities provide teachers with the opportunity to embed mathematics in contextual, relevant and purposeful mathematics. However, teachers need to be supported by all stakeholders, the community and the policy makers, to use these tools and focus less on the teaching of mathematics as a series of isolated topics that make little sense to students.

**What can we do?**

There are no easy solutions, but one thing is clear. We need to disrupt the stereotypical perceptions of what school mathematics is and how it should be taught. We need to support our teachers and work with them rather than against them. Let’s band together and make some changes that will ultimately benefit the most important stakeholders of all, the children of Australia.

Attard, C. (2013). “If I had to pick any subject, it wouldn’t be maths”: Foundations for engagement with mathematics during the middle years. *Mathematics Education Research Journal, 25*(4), 569-587.

]]>

Short activities:

- If you have a Christmas tree in your house or school, how tall is it? Can you reach the top of the tree by reaching up? How much taller than you is the Christmas tree? What fraction of the height of the tree is your height?
- Draw a picture of a Christmas tree. Use your drawing as a plan to show where you will place the decorations.
- Tie a piece of tinsel to the very top of the Christmas Tree. Wind the tinsel around the tree until you reach the lowest branch. What is the length of the tinsel?
- If the individual lights of a string of Christmas lights are 30 cm apart, how many lights would you need so decorate the perimeter of the classroom?
- How would you work out how much wrapping paper needed to wrap 10 presents that were each the size of a shoe box?
*Record all of your working out. What mathematics did you use?*

Investigations:

- Plan a Christmas party for some of your friends. Show all the mathematics that you need to use for your planning.
- Many families start to budget for Christmas presents several months before Christmas day. Design a budget for the Christmas presents that you would like to give to your family members, relatives and friends. Perhaps you might like to include your teachers.
- Survey the other students in your class using the question, “Do you have a Christmas tree in your home?” “Is it a real tree or an artificial tree?” “Which type of tree do you prefer and why?” Present the data that you have collected and present a report to your class.

Extension Activities:

- Investigate and research the tradition of decorating a tree for Christmas. Answer questions such as “When did the tradition start?”
- Plan menus for the meals for family for Christmas Day and Boxing Day and include a budget.
- Make a list of the things you would like for Christmas. Sort your items into needs and wants. How would your list compare to the list of a child in a different country? Investigate.

I hope you have enjoyed this series of posts that have included many rich activities to keep students engaged with mathematics until the very last day of the school year. If you do implement any of the tasks, I would love to hear from you and see your students’ work samples!

]]>

This week I am sharing a set of tasks that are taken from a book written by John Pattison and myself: *Engaging Maths: Everyday Investigations for Early Years *(2014). The tasks are separated into short activities, investigations, and extension activities. The short activities are intended as a warm up for the more complex investigations.

Short activities:

- This year how many days holiday will you have before Christmas Day? How many days will there be between the beginning of the school holidays and the last day of the year?
- Do you have a Christmas tree? How tall is the tree? Can you touch the top of the tree if you stand on tip toe? Is the tree taller than your dad or mum? How many lights are there on the tree?
- Does your family put presents under the Christmas tree? How many presents did each member of your family receive? How many of the presents were yours?
- How much tinsel would you need to decorate the Christmas tree?
- Your grandmothers, grandfathers, uncles, aunts and cousins are coming to your house for Christmas. If each person has a Santa bag full of presents under the Christmas tree, how many bags would there be?
- If each person is given a knife, fork and spoon with which to eat their Christmas dinner, how many pieces of cutlery would you need altogether?

Investigations:

- Make a list of the ten presents you would like Santa Claus to bring you for Christmas. Put the presents in order starting with one (1) for your first choice. Write a letter to Santa giving reasons for your choice of presents.
- Use store catalogues to help you to find the cost of your list of presents. Santa has said that he can only supply one hundred dollars worth of presents. Which presents will he choose to give you?
- Make a list of all the food items that Mum and Dad have to buy for the Christmas dinner. How many shopping bags will they need to take to the shops to carry all the food?

Extension Activities:

- Christmas Day always takes place on the 25
^{th}of December. Christmas Eve is the day before Christmas Day and Boxing Day is the day after Christmas Day. In 2013 Christmas Day was a Wednesday. What day was Christmas Eve and what day was Boxing Day in 2013? On which days of the week will Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day take place in the next five years? What did you discover? - Christmas celebrations are very different in other countries. Use the Internet and the books in your library to investigate how people in other countries celebrate Christmas. Share the information you discovered with your classmates and teacher.
- There are many books with stories about Christmas in Australia. Find some of these books in the school library or on the Internet. Read your favourite story to the rest of your class.

]]>

As the end of the school year approaches, report writing is almost complete and Christmas is on the horizon. It’s easy to lose focus, get distracted, and keep students occupied with ‘busy work’. However, it’s critical that we don’t waste a minute of students’ learning time, particularly when we know that over the long Christmas break some students may regress in relation to mathematical fluency and understanding.

So how can you keep mathematics engaging until the last day of school? Consider the elements required for sustained engagement to occur. Three factors are critical: cognitive, operative, and affective engagement. In terms of mathematics, true, sustained engagement occurs when students are procedurally engaged and interacting with the mathematics and with each other; when there is an element of cognitive challenge within the task; and when they understand that learning mathematics is worthwhile, valuable, and useful both within and beyond the classroom. It is easy to mistakenly think that students are engaged when they appear to be busy working, or ‘on task’. True engagement is much deeper than ‘on task’ behaviour, rather, it can be viewed as ‘in task’ behaviour, where all three elements; cognitive, operative and affective, come together. This leads to students valuing and enjoying school mathematics and seeing connections between the maths they do at school and the maths they use in their lives outside school (for more information see my FRAMEWORK FOR ENGAGEMENT WITH MATHEMATICS).

As this time of year it is easy to design mathematics tasks that promote high engagement and have the potential to stimulate learning. The following is a set of problem solving activities based on the famous Christmas Carol, * The Twelve Days of Christmas. *The activities are suitable for children in the middle years (grades 5 to 8), however can be easily adapted to suit younger or older learners.

*Resources Required:*

A copy of the lyrics of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”

The book “The Twelve Days of Christmas” (There are several versions available)

Price Lists

Other resources as required, eg. shopping catalogues

Possible Investigations starters/Task cards

*Teaching/Learning Activities:*

- Read the book/lyrics or listen to the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas”
- Discuss how the gift giver has to increase the number of gifts to his true love each day.
- Provide students with a price list (this can be adapted according to the ability of the group)
- At this point students can be asked to investigate the cost of the gifts, turning the activity into an open-ended investigation, or, specific questions can be posed to the students.

Examples of possible problems to explore are:

- What is the total number of gifts given?
- Is there an easy way to work this out?
- What is the total cost of the gifts?
- If the department store was holding a pre-Christmas sale and offered a 15% discount for all purchases, what would the new cost be? (This does not include performers, maids, lords etc)
- What if the discount offered only applied to live animals?
- The maids give a 10% when booked for more than two consecutive days. What would their new fee be?
- The musicians charge a 10% Goods and Service tax and this must be added to the total cost.
- How many people arrive at the true love’s house on the twelfth day?
- What would it cost to feed all the people and the animals? (Internet would come in handy here!)
- Use some Christmas shopping catalogues to replace the gifts with something more appropriate for a modern true love and calculate the cost.
- Re-write the lyrics to fit your new list of gifts.

**The full list of activities and hypothetical price list are available on PDF here:** The Twelve Days of Christmas

Other engaging end-of-year mathematics tasks are:

- Making snowflakes: https://nrich.maths.org/5352
- Find a range Christmas Advent calendars at Nrich where each day in December has new mathematical problems and investigations to explore http://nrich.maths.org/7778

All of the above activities have the potential to promote high levels of engagement at a time of year when it is difficult for students and teachers to remain focussed. However, it is important to remember that any activity is only as good as the teacher implementing it. To enhance students’ engagement and learning, ensure there is regular student reflection, and rich discussion about the mathematics embedded with the tasks.

]]>

Regardless of what technological devices you use, if you do use technology in your mathematics lessons, chances are you already have some good assessment data that you can use in your reporting. Take, for example, the use of apps on an iPad or other mobile device. If your students are engaging in different apps to either build on their mathematical fluency (typically game-type apps) or to express mathematical reasoning and communication (with apps such as *Explain Everything, Educreations *or *ShowMe*), then it’s rather easy to collect evidence of learning. Some apps offer the affordance of being able to save student progress, and others simply require students to take a screen shot of their results.

*Educreations allows you to save files that record audio and written mathematics, allowing assessment of content and process outcomes.*

I recently conducted a research evaluation of the *Matific *suite of resources (access the research report here). One of *Matific’s* affordances is that it allows teachers to track student progress.

*The Matific website allows teachers to view assessment data in a number of ways*

Interestingly, out of the 16 teachers involved in the study, only nine teachers used the ability to track student achievement and even fewer considered using it as assessment data. However, those who did use this affordance, considered it a valuable tool that allowed them to differentiate future tasks, tailoring the learning for individual student needs:

*It was perfect in a sense that we made it a point that we started at the middle and we went down for those who needed extra support, which was fabulous because they were still doing it visually, they were doing the exact same thing, and then we also gave the option that they could go up if they felt confident enough but at the same time visually, it was exactly the same for those kids that don’t want to be different, that maybe do need that little bit of extra support (Year 6 teacher).** *

Data from students’ interactions with educational apps such as *Matific, *game apps and productivity apps can provide valuable formative and summative assessment data that can remove the anxiety associated with formal pen and paper testing, particularly during the primary years when it’s critical that we foster high levels of student engagement. Consider the apps you currently use – how can you collect evidence and use it to your advantage and the students’ advantage…and also save you time? Isn’t it better to spend class time on learning rather than testing?

]]>

This struggle arises partially from the common perception that every outcome (in NSW) or Content Descriptor (from the Australian Curriculum) must be addressed as an individual topic, often because of the way the syllabus/curriculum is organised (this is not a criticism – the content *has* to be organised in a logical manner). This often results in mathematical concepts being taught in an isolated manner, without any real context for students. A result of this is a negative impact on student engagement. Students fail to see how the mathematics relates to their real lives and how it is applied to various situations. They also fail to see the connections amongst and within the mathematical concepts.

Imagine if you could forget everything you remember about teaching and learning mathematics from when you were at school. Now think about the three content strands in our curriculum: Number and Algebra, Measurement and Geometry, and Statistics and Probability. Where are the connections within and amongst these strands? If you could, how would you draw a graphical representation of all the connections and relationships? Would your drawing look like a tangled web, or would it look like a set of rows and columns? I’m hoping it would like more like a tangled web! Try this exercise – take one strand, list the content of that strand, and then list how that content applies to the other two strands. If you can see these connections, now consider why we often don’t teach that way. How can you teach mathematics in a* different* way that will allow students to access rich mathematical relationships rather than topics in isolation? How can we make mathematics learning more meaningful for our students so that maths makes sense?

This leads me to my second point and what I believe is happening in many classrooms as a result of misunderstanding the intention of the mathematics curriculum. If students are experiencing difficulties or need more time to understand basic concepts, **you don’t have to cover every aspect of the syllabus. **It is our responsibility as teachers to ensure we lay strong foundations before continuing to build – we all know mathematics is hierarchical – if the foundations are weak, the building will collapse. If students don’t understand basic concepts such as place value, it doesn’t make sense to just place the ‘strugglers’ in the ‘bottom’ group and move on to the next topic.

We need to trust in our professional judgement and we need to understand that it’s perfectly okay to take the time and ensure ALL learners understand what they need to before moving on to more complex and abstract mathematics. It most definitely means more work for the teacher, and it also means that those in positions of leadership need to trust in the professional judgement of their teachers. Most importantly, it means that we are truly addressing the needs of the learners in front of us – the most important stakeholders in education.

]]>

So how can you make mathematics more meaningful? If you are new to teaching with contextual mathematics, I would suggest that you begin by designing a mathematics trail at your school or somewhere out in the community – it could even take place at the local shopping centre. Find points of interest that have mathematical potential, photograph them and then plan a set of activities. For example, if you have a giant chessboard in the school playground, you might pose the following questions:

- Estimate the following and explain your thinking: The area of the chessboard, the perimeter of the chessboard, and the area of each tile
- Use words to describe the position of the chessboard without coordinates and in relation to its surroundings.
- Locate the chessboard on a map of the school grounds. What are the coordinates?
- Investigate the total number of squares (of any size) in the chessboard.
- Design a new maths game that can be played on the chessboard and write a set of instructions for another group to follow.

You will notice that the questions above are quite open-ended. This will allow for all students to achieve some success and provides an important opportunity for children to show what they can or cannot do. Open-ended questions are more engaging for students and often require them to think harder and more creatively about the mathematics they are engaging in.

Another idea for contextualising mathematics is to use objects or photographs of real life objects, items or events. It could be something as simple as a school lunchbox, with questions such as the following:

- Explore the ways sandwiches are cut. What different shapes can you see? Can you draw them?
- Before recess, compare the mass of your lunchbox with five other lunchboxes. Can you order the lunchboxes from lightest to heaviest?
- List the types of food in the lunch boxes today. Can you sort them into different categories? What categories do you have? Is there another way to sort them?
- Conduct a survey to find out the most popular recess or lunch food in your class.
*Do you think this is a healthy food?* - How many Unifix cubes do you think would fit in your empty lunchbox? Write down your estimate and then test it out. Was your estimate close? Find someone with a different size or shape lunch box and repeat the activity.
- Use a special bin to collect rubbish from your lunch boxes. How much rubbish did you collect?
- Sort out the lunch box rubbish and organise it into a graph. What information does your graph give you?

Another idea is to collect interesting photographs from around the world. I took the photograph above recently in Oslo, Norway. What sorts of questions could you ask students to explore relating to the interesting shapes you see in the bridge and the building? Here’s another interesting photograph from Morocco.

There are several interesting mathematical questions you could pose relating to the phtograph:

- Can you work out the number of hats in the photograph without actually counting them one by one? How? Is there another way?
- The hats at the top of the photograph are called a ‘fez’ or ‘tarboosh’. Investigate their history and construct a timeline.
- If each fez cost 80 Moroccan Dirham, how much would each one cost in Australian currency? Would the entire contents of the shop be worth more than $200?

A great free resource (and one of my favourites) that often has fantastic mathematical potential is the website, Daily Overview (http://www.dailyoverview.nyc/). Each day Daily Overview post a different aerial photograph from somewhere in the world. The photograph is accompanied by background information that could also be explored within a mathematics lesson.

There are many ways to bridge the gap between school mathematics and children’s lives. If we can promote the relevance of mathematics to children while at primary school, then we have a much better chance of sustaining their engagement through the secondary years, when mathematics becomes more abstract. We want children to continue the study of mathematics beyond the compulsory years and this is more likely to happen when they no longer ask ‘When am I every going to use this?’.

]]>