Ten Mars, six Twix and the likes and dislikes of vegetables

Richard Masters

Lies, damned lies or crucial information? David Green gives a step-by-step guide to practical data-handling in the primary classroom, while Richard Masters encourages his Year 6 pupils to show off their statistical skills.

A lot of the fun seems to have gone out of the teaching of data handling (attainment target 5) and pupils appear less confident in this area.

Three years ago I decided to write a topic that would allow the children to practise some of the data handling techniques they already knew as well as learn new ones.

It would allow the pupils' imaginative powers to play a big part and, at the same time, really stretch all abilities. I also wanted something flexible, which could be dipped into or done in one block of time depending on the circumstances.

It had to have a possible computer usage. This turned out to be important, since many pupils wanted to use a pie chart, which they had not been taught but were still able to produce using the computer. Above all, the project had to be enjoyable with, at the end, a piece of work the pupils could be proud of.

I have now done "Showing Off" (see box right) with Year 6 for three years running and it has been the one of the most successful and popular topics I have ever taught. The pupils' mathematical creativity has been remarkable. It has sharpened up their skills and techniques and given them the impetus to want to learn new methods.

The children choose the groups they work in. Twos, threes or fours work best. Groups of two or three have to choose eight out of the 10 statements but groups of four have to do all 10. Each statement has to be shown in a unique way. So, for instance, if a group decides to use a bar chart for number 1 they must use a different technique for, say, number l0, perhaps a bar line graph or a pie chart.

The groups can present their final work in the form of a book or a poster. (A warning: the final displays can be very large and sometimes include tapes, 3-D models and even electronics.) At the end of the topic I take two classes at a time into the hall. The final pieces of work are spread out and the children can spend time looking at them all.

I encourage them to write down any of the statements which they feel have been done particularly well or unusually or where a good idea has been used. They also look to see if any presentations are unsuitable for the particular statement. This is often true of number 1 where a pie chart has been used.

A full discussion follows where the children talk about other groups' work as well as their own. Finally, the work is displayed in the classroom and in corridors around the school.

Richard Masters is responsible for maths at Fairlands Middle School in Somerset

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