Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Winning over Hearts and Minds: Simple Maths activities for Further Education Maths Students

You walk into your classroom in September and are greeted by a new wave of students in the new year. In regards to further education, you know that some students will work with you to pass their exams, to others you are a piece of meat ready to be challenged for their own personal enjoyment. The hardest part of the role is behaviour management within this minefield due to the potential nature of the student as well as the previous negative experiences that student may have faced within education.

So when they enter your class, it is vitally important to your own wellbeing to encourage a quick rapport development with the students you work with, this may be in the form of introducing yourself, playing games and generally exploring possible opportunities within the Maths curriculum. We know however that we are struggling with engagement, students have devices in their pockets ready to engage them at any moment, so potential learning from you may be hard to come by if they see no value in your delivery.

Do your students see the value in chalk and talk delivery? (Image courtesy of
So you've got to ask yourself what can I do to combat this? The most engaging activities in Maths involve learners moving around, getting to know each other and generally being social within their group. This approach builds a strong group dynamic within your classroom which can in turn help you build rapport with some of the bigger characters in your class. If you win them over, you've won them all. Let's go through a few example activities and discuss their effectiveness for this scenario. I recommend the first week of your delivery to be "winning over hearts and minds" which essentially is about getting the students to come round to your way of thinking and to work with you rather than against you.

1) Circle Activity - Introduce another person

In your class, you may find that you have groups of people that know each other but not everyone else in the group. I would wholeheartedly recommend that you create an activity for them not only to get to know you, but to get to know each other as the group progresses.
You're just going to need everyone to have a piece of paper and a pen. Get them to draw a circle and quarter it (embedding of fractions there) afterwards they need to put their name and their neighbours name below the circle.
Each quarter represents a different thing, namely (Job, Holiday, Film, House) the idea is that they have to ask their neighbour what their favourite of each of these things are, once they know, they have to draw these out on their circle in the appropriate quarter.
Once all these are done, they then have to introduce their neighbour to the rest of the class. A very fun icebreaker, be sure to team up with one of the students yourself to make this super effective!

2) Four Four's? Five Five's? Three Three's?

This can be used as a great starter activity to get students thinking about mental arithmetic as well as testing their knowledge of mathematic principles.
You will need post it notes, you should write numbers 1-20 on the board. The idea is that using only four four's and any operation, students have to get to all of the answers. They cannot use two fours or three fours, they have to use all four of the fours!
If you have prizes, you can challenge tables to see who can come up with the most, make it a challenge and amuse adults. A lot of people get stuck into four four's. I picked this little one up at a GCSE Maths training event on delivering the new specification.
This website will help you show the solutions of Four Four's all the way up to 50! Four Four's Solutions Extension anybody?
You can try this with three three's or five five's for interest!

3) Always True, Somewhat True, Never True

Three easy signs you can make on three pieces of paper and stick them around the room. One saying "Always True", another saying "Sometimes True", and the final sign "Never True". You are going to have statements relating to maths and you are going to ask if the students think that the fact is always, sometimes or never true.
What you are assessing is students ability to prove a concept within Maths, if a student can see and argue that they are correct, they are developing their mathematics skills without even thinking about it.
Statements I use include: "When you multiply a negative and a positive number together, it is a positive number" are great ones to use. You can also use this in interpreting data when discussing different aspects of data collection such as "100 people is enough to represent a population in a survey". You could then progress this on to advertising and include some British Values for your Equality and Diversity.

4) The Magic Trick

This one is great for really capturing imagination early on in any Maths lesson.
Follow the trick in this video to try to wow your students by guessing a certain number:

The basic premise, is you get a piece of paper beforehand, then write any 5 digit number on it. (Let's say you picked 23523), fold up this piece of paper, and hand it to someone or stick it somewhere around the room.
Tell your students that you are going to trick them to pick your number that is on the board. The way you do this is say you are starting with a number (in our example, it has to be 3525, I'll explain why later) and get the students to pick a four digit number themselves. Once you have done that, then you write a number below it, you have to make sure that the sum of your number and their number is 9999. Do this again and ask the students to add this up. You know what the answer is going to be as you have manipulated the values to give you whatever 3523 + 19998 is. In this case, it's the number we started with. This works because you are always manipulating the values to give you a sum of 9999 for each selection, you have to do this twice however.
Try this out for yourself, for extra effect, get a student to grab the paper and reveal to the group the number on the board. "How did you do that?!" get's them intrigued and they want to know more!

Tell them you'll let them know how you did it at the end of the lesson!

Let me know if you enjoyed using any of these activities, and be sure to follow me on twitter for more updates and guidance. What activities do you use to capture students interests in the early stages?

Enjoy the rest of your week teachers!

- Matt