GCSE maths: 5 Christmas-themed lessons

From data analysis on Christmas hits to Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land, Rebecca Atherfold shares her festive maths ideas
7th December 2020, 2:06pm
Rebecca Atherfold


GCSE maths: 5 Christmas-themed lessons

Gcse Maths: Five Christmas-themed Lessons

The last week of term before Christmas makes me nostalgic for the first few years of my teaching career, when it was totally acceptable in December to have a drink or two at lunchtime and spend the afternoon watching a film.

But things have moved on in the past 20 years: daytime drinking at work is no longer a thing (at any time of year) and I really don't want to waste any of the lessons I have with my GCSE resit maths classes.

By the time we're a week away from Christmas, a lot of my students will have just completed assessments. If I go in too hard with the content, I risk losing them and wasting the lesson in a different way. Not all of my students will celebrate Christmas, but they are all getting a holiday and I want them to leave college for the break feeling positive about maths.

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So, here are some of my ideas for making the most of these lessons.

Chirstmas-themed GCSE maths lessons

Christmas geometry

I have rarely met a resit student in FE who feels truly confident with a protractor and compass or with mathematical drawing. I always wish I had longer to let them practise and develop their skills. Shape is everywhere, even more so at this time of year.

This amazing website has Christmas-themed lessons ready to go with resources that allow students to explore geometry while being creative. The instructions are already on a PowerPoint so perfect to share with students at home, too. I'm really excited to try these and give the students time to get absorbed.

Geometry is beautiful but too often reduced to remembering facts about exterior angles. Making something is satisfying and I'm not sure that resit students feel that way enough about maths.

Christmas No1 songs

I also often wish that I had more time to let students collect and work with their own data. So, this year, I'm going to ask them: what would make the perfect Christmas number one? If I can get my hands on a room with computers, then we can look at previous number one tracks. How could we categorise them? How could we represent that data? How could we use it to help us decide upon a sure-fire winner for the top spot in the charts? Is it that simple? Why not? Bonus - I have an excuse to listen to Last Christmas.

The Tale of a Tenner

Sticking with data, I think some of my students would find data visualisation engaging. Mona Chalabi's social media accounts are a rich source of inspiration. The organisation Totally Locally, which represents high streets across the world, has lots of information and a great video called Tale of a Tenner. High-street retailers are under more pressure than ever this Christmas, and a data visualisation activity might appeal to business and art students.

A Christmas quiz

What about a good old-fashioned quiz (let's call it retrieval practice)?Quizzes are fun: it feels good when you know the answers. Pitched right, it's a positive way to end the term by celebrating what students know. After a term of individual desks and the noticeable absence of group work, I want to make this collaborative - which, admittedly, is easier said than done at the moment.  

I might try the format of University Challenge where there is a starter question and the team that wins that get three further questions about which they can confer. The internet has plenty of online timers to jazz it up a bit and students online could be in a team with their classmates.

Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land

Finally, if you can't resist a film, Donald in Mathmagic Land (1959) is charming. Featuring Donald Duck, it was the first Disney cartoon to be televised in colour. The context (the Cold War and the Space Race) is interesting and if you want prompts for work afterwards, then there are plenty on the internet. But I really think there is enough in this 27-minute film to fill a free discussion about the maths included. And who knows where that might lead?

Rebecca Atherfold is a maths lecturer at Southwark College.

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