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Phone a friend

Jean Knapp
Published: 11 April 2008


Many pupils find mathematics difficult or uninteresting because it can feel quite abstract.

But the real world is full of mathematics and it is often when the subject is injected with relevance that it becomes interesting and fun.

With this in mind, I wrote a scheme of work around mobile phones for pupils in Year 5 and above while teaching in Hillingdon.

It was such a success that I have continued to use it as an adviser in the same borough.

The mobile phone market is saturated with special offers, with companies aggressively competing with each other. It is only the customer who is prepared to do a little groundwork who will seek out the best deal, when looking for mobile phones and in other areas of life.

The activity focuses around the need to find the best mobile phone deal from four competing companies for an imaginary customer, Jo.

I have used the pupils' requirements as an illustration, and their varying needs frequently result in a different deal being selected.

After discussing terminology and Jo's typical phone usage, the "statements game" is a good group starter activity that promotes speaking and listening.

It involves pupils putting different statements in order of importance, such as: "We want a deal with the lowest peak tariff" and "We want line rental costs to be included". The groups of pupils get a poster each that explains the different companies' offers.

They discuss them and present their findings to the class, with those streaking ahead illustrating their findings with graphs or charts.

At the end of the lesson, everyone compares options and comes to a decision about which phone is the best value for our customer.

It is fascinating to see how many pupils are attracted by tempting offers of free phones, only to realise they will be stung in the long term.

Jean Knapp is a mathematics adviser for Hillingdon local authority in west London.

- Take a department from within the school and redesign it more sustainably.

- Identify an existing building with sustainable credibility. Explain how this is achieved, and suggest improvements.

- Outline the design for a new building on a given plot of land, ensuring that it is sustainable.

The big task has three phases. Phase one involves research, exploring scientific and mathematical aspects that will inform design thinking. In phase two, pupils generate ideas to address the task, including any scientific and mathematical justifications.

The final phase sees the pupils model, communicate and evaluate proposals using scientific and mathematical criteria.

Key questions for any evaluation will be: What is the building made from? How is it made? How does it provide services? How will it be retired?

This unit was developed with the Design and Technology Association. For a "how to" pack visit

Donna Trebell is lead Advanced Skills Teacher in design and technology at Mascalls School in Tonbridge, Kent.

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