Maths - Feed pupils a varied diet

1st February 2013 at 00:00
From Michelin-starred lessons to the equivalent of beans on toast

If your house is anything like ours, everything stops for The Great British Bake Off, when Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood and their contestants hold us rapt. Last month's Red Nose Day series, The Great Comic Relief Bake Off, also made for great viewing.

But I recall television cook Delia Smith announcing the results of a survey she had undertaken: the average household possesses cookbooks that contain 1,500 recipes, yet only 35 of them are ever attempted. Of the estimated 171 million cookbooks in Britain, 61 million are said to remain unopened. And two-thirds of respondents were honest enough to confess that their cookery books were kept for show rather than with any practical use in mind. In a world where many are starving that seems somehow sacrilegious.

The statistic also made me consider the teaching publications I have at home, and what percentage of activities from them make it into my classroom. I feel a little queasy when I think of all those good intentions trapped between the covers of improving books on my laden shelves. I may possess 1,500 lesson plans, yet do I rely on just 35 to get me through most years? I am surrounded by cordon bleu advice for turning my lessons into gourmet maths, yet do I usually serve up beans on toast? If maths classrooms were awarded Michelin stars, would I win one? Or would Uncle Jonny's Greasy Spoon sum up my establishment rather better?

The truth is that no one can teach cordon bleu maths lessons all day, every day. Nor, in fact, would that be desirable. The preparation time for this type of lesson can be huge and, given the open-endedness of the outcomes, the emotional burden on the teacher during delivery is large, too. For time-deprived teachers, lessons are sometimes planned as you walk through the door. If something is not practical, it will not happen.

A teacher who once worked in a school near to mine aimed to teach maths wholly through investigations. He was hugely popular but his pupils' exam results were terrible, perhaps because the thinking was not organised into a strong basic structure that informed pupils' day-to-day skills.

Open-ended, investigational problem-solving should be at the heart of my maths classroom - and a carefully prepared "recipe" provided by a colleague can be just what is needed. But there is room for other lessons that are less glamorous and less demanding on my teaching skills but allow what is learned in the more adrenaline-filled lessons to be systematised and practised.

If we ate out every night, the thrill would soon pall. An evening at the Fat Duck or a plate of scrambled egg? I want to provide a classroom diet that includes them both.

Jonny Griffiths teaches at a sixth-form college in Norfolk


Use algebra for cooking in this activity from Amanda Godard, which introduces formulae for calculating cooking times.


Pupils use ratios to compare food prices in a real-world activity shared by mrslack_maths.


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