Maths - Get in on the act

8th February 2013 at 00:00
Blending maths and drama can make for memorable learning

Maths and drama do not seem obvious bedfellows. But after watching a superb lesson blending the two at Great Hockham Primary School in Norfolk (bit.lyXcTYZz), I thought about similar things I have tried with my sixth-formers.

At Great Hockham the drama starts with pupils holding hands in a ring and crossing over together into "Storyland", where a mathematically challenged cook called Chef Jeff runs into a range of numerical problems the young actors are well-equipped to help him with. The pupils are rapt, the learning intense, and the challenge for the teacher is unusual and rewarding.

But what variation of this might work for older students? A probability lesson came to mind featuring a lottery addict - a man with a strange rationale for picking his weekly numbers. I asked a group of students to form a composite counsellor figure, then asked them to gently untangle the gambler's confused logic and explain it until he conceded that his thinking was flawed. As a learning strategy, outcomes were mixed. But the students were surprised to be asked to interact in this way in a maths lesson, and their resulting concentration was impressive.

Another option is to turn to "people maths", based on People Maths: hidden depths by Alan Bloomfield and Bob Vertes, which you can download from the Association of Teachers of Mathematics website (bit.lyYBucDh). This uses people to form the moving pieces of a mathematical activity, be it a puzzle, a sum, a diagram or a demonstration.

The results are fun and the learning powerful. I have used this idea to tackle sorting algorithms in decision maths, where a list of numbers has to be sorted into an order using an effective rule. As anyone who has tried to program a computer to do this will know, it is not a straightforward task.

Ask some of your students to write their numbers on mini whiteboards and line up at the front of the class. Get another student to read out instructions that the group must follow closely. Two other students with mini whiteboards should keep count of the number of comparisons and swaps that take place as the algorithm proceeds.

Somehow the physicality of playing out the algorithm makes it more memorable, and makes comparing algorithms more direct. The potential for "people maths" ice-breakers at the start of the year is obvious.

Jonny Griffiths teaches maths at a sixth-form college

What else?

A murder has been committed. Can your pupils crack the clues to reveal the identity of the killer? Blend maths and drama in maths126's activity.


Pupils practise arithmetic to save the human race from an alien invasion. Make nicolawaddilove's lesson as interactive as you dare.


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