Maths - A2 + B2 = C2 - Sum achievement

Combining maths with other subjects will help pupils understand its relevance in the real world, says Sue Pope

Showing pupils how mathematics relates to the real world gives them a greater appreciation of its relevance and application. Young people often tell us that they don't get on with mathematics because they are unlikely to use it later in life. But there are many ways in which you can bring it to life for them.

Combining mathematics with other subjects is a powerful way of demonstrating its use in researching topical issues. For example, when pupils worked on a joint mathematics and citizenship project, based on the question "How fair is our society?", they drew on their functional skills and applied mathematics to understand the issues.

In small groups they identified questions such as: Does slavery exist today? How is wealth distributed in our society? How does where you are born in the world affect your life expectancy? They then identified suitable data - searching on the internet and interrogating a variety of sources using critical judgment to determine the veracity and reliability of the data.

Finally, they analysed the data and presented their findings to their peers. The exercise showed the relevance of mathematics by applying it to a topical situation as well as drawing on their communications skills. Introducing flexibility and a cross-curricular approach gave pupils the pleasure of understanding and explaining a social problem in a methodical way.

Mathematics has a rich and fascinating history that teachers can draw on to improve motivation and interest. Why not introduce some of this history into your lessons? One way of working on Pythagoras' theorem and number systems is to use a copy of a Babylonian clay tablet that shows a square with some markings (Yale tablet YBC 7289).

Ask pupils to work in groups to decide what the markings mean. They will be amazed to learn that the tablet is more than 3,000 years old but still bears symbols that they can recognise as mathematics today. They may be excited to find out more about the ancient Babylonians from researching on the internet, to visiting the British Museum to see more clay tablets. Visit for more details.

Sue Pope is programme manager for mathematics at the QCA.

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