Maths - Time to prick up their ears

2nd December 2011 at 00:00

What the lesson is about

I must have been a dreadful pupil to teach. I recall being asked to do some exercises from a textbook in GCSE maths, and complaining about the questions, writes Michael Tidd. "Miss, I'm not being funny, but if a hedgehog can estimate the height of a lamppost that accurately, how come he can't just estimate the width of the road?"

I'm fine with setting word or money problems. But using and applying geometrical knowledge? That's when I end up in hedgehog land. I blame the real-lifers. At some point, we got fixated on the idea of maths problems being linked to real life.

Mixing pots of paints in different ratios, trains running in opposite directions, sharing pizzas out equally are things few of us deal with in "real life". But who said maths has to be real? Some of the most interesting things happening in maths these days are pushing the boundaries of reality.

All maths problem-solving falls into one of five types, A-E: Actual, Believable, Curious, Dubious and Educational. Actual problems for 10-year- olds to solve are rare, and Believable ones hard to come by. The Dubious but Educational hedgehog presents his own problems, but the Curious ones are what get us interested. Thankfully, these we don't have to think of, because someone else has done all the hard work for us.

Where to find it

The enriching maths team at the NRICH project has created hundreds of problems for every topic and every key stage. Go to:, or visit the NRICH profile on TES Resources to try out the project's resources.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today