Maths - Don't just sit there

20th January 2012 at 00:00
Inject some fun and movement into classes to inspire children

Meeting my 10-year-old son and his best friend after school, I asked how their day had been. Expecting the usual pre-teen mumbles, I was taken aback by "Really good ... maths was great". What wonderful, inspiring lesson had their teacher crafted?


Measuring! Measuring what? Anything, everything - it did not matter. The point was that they were up, out of their seats, trying things out, experimenting, making decisions, in control.

Kids just love to move around, be hands-on and try things out for themselves. This was a classic case of kinaesthetic learning - learning through touch and movement.

Talking to children for long periods can be counterproductive. It is tempting because it means they are in their seats, quiet, and the teacher can be in control. Allowing children to move is more unsettling, noisy and risky, but the rewards can be great: the learning so much richer, deeper and engaging; the pupils more curious, interested and motivated. For maths to become a more joyful experience for many, the kinaesthetic approach is a must - boys in particular benefit from it.

Linking together mathematical concepts, joining up the dots and seeing the big picture can also be enlightening.

I was blown away by an inspirational talk by Christopher Lloyd (author of The What on Earth? Wallbook). He summed up the history of the earth, all 13.7 billion years of it, in just under one hour. Simply amazing. I learned (and relearned) stuff that all made so much more sense when fitted together.

I used this idea - of zooming out and seeing a big picture as opposed to zooming in and focusing on one concept - when working with a group of 40 pupils on an intensive revision maths residential. Linking together (deep breath) number bonds with adding and subtracting (and sum and difference) with summing numbers to 180 with angles in a triangle with different types of triangles with different types of polygons with the interior and exterior angles of a polygon with the area of a rectangle with factor pairs and multiples with the area of a triangle with BODMAS (brackets of division, multiplication, addition, subtraction) with square numbers and cube numbers, and so on. All in one session. Interjected with loud music and some snappy YouTube clips. It really worked.

Naomi San has taught in primary and secondary schools for 18 years. She is also a freelance consultant and Inset provider

What else?

Holidays, mortgages, charity work abroad ... rachelj1987's PowerPoint contextualises interest and exchange rates for pupils. Or try DebbieGordon's resource mixing multimedia, quizzes and facts to explain economic analysis.

For plenty of measuring fun, try Diannadd's classroom investigation worksheets, Rushtini's poetic introduction to centimetres and metres or Simon Haughton's against-the-clock 2DIY matching game as a competitive plenary.

For a sticky challenge to find the longest line, try weybourneinfants' cube and string activity.

Visit the "Measure" collection for more resources to master measuring.

In the forums

Share your ideas for kinaesthetic maths lessons.

Teachers debate whether schools have a responsibility for maths education.

For more active approaches to algebra, see what teachers suggest.

Find all links and resources at

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