Maths - It's all pine and dandy

14th December 2012 at 00:00
Make wreaths, raise money and create young entrepreneurs

"Wow. This is just like Trade Your Way to the USA." The enthusiasm from Year 3 at St Mary's Catholic Primary School in Horsforth, Leeds was tangible as they told me about their maths project to design and make Christmas wreaths.

Perhaps it was because the class had control from the start, choosing Christmas wreaths as a good "product" because "the materials are cheap, while the wreaths are expensive to buy in the shops". They had explored prototypes and decided on circular wreaths made by inserting pine branches into potatoes wrapped in foil, decorated with pine cones, mistletoe and baubles.

They had carried out a questionnaire to find out if people preferred artificial or natural wreaths and how much they would be prepared to pay. They then wrote letters to local businesses, describing the project and asking for support. Pupils followed these up with visits, impressively negotiating huge discounts (coat hangers for 5p instead of 30p, for example).

On the day of my visit they were working in mixed-ability "collaboration groups", each of which had been allocated a task. One was given all the information from the shop visits to calculate the cost of the materials per wreath, with and without the discounts they had negotiated. Another group was taking wreaths to pieces to put together an "ingredients list" and compile a set of instructions for making them. They used the language of geometry, noticing that each branch formed the radius of a circle. They were careful in measuring and ordering the branches to ensure they knew exactly what was needed to recreate the wreath.

Another group had to find the most efficient way of cutting tinfoil so the maximum number of potatoes could be wrapped from a single roll. There was a delightful moment when they realised that seeing the potato as a two-dimensional shape would lead to cutting foil that was too small. "It needs to be at least double, see," one of the girls said as she rolled the potato over on the foil. Here we can see the beginnings of an understanding of surface area at age 7.

The last group analysed the market research and told us that parents preferred a natural product, and that the colours we needed to focus on were red, silver and gold. Most importantly, they also provided data on which to base the costing decisions. By the time you read this, the class will be selling those wreaths after the school carol concert. Our next generation of young entrepreneurs, it appears, is alive and well.

Tony Cotton is a writer and author of Understanding and Teaching Primary Mathematics. The class was taught by Emma Dobson at St Mary's Catholic Primary School in Horsforth, Leeds.

WHAT ELSE?

Help pupils to present their questionnaire data in chart form, with nickinooski's step-by-step guide. bit.lySurveyCharts

For more seasonal sums, try John Shaw's Christmas jigsaws. bit.lyChristmasJigsaws.

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