My left-field lesson - Cooking up a storm

26th September 2014 at 01:00
Enthral students with Breaking Bad-related maths activities

It was when my students asked me if I'd seen Breaking Bad that inspiration struck. I have been a maths teacher for more than 10 years and I hear the question "When am I ever going to use this in real life?" on a regular basis, so I always try to ensure that maths lessons are obviously relevant to students' lives.

It was clear that I could use their fascination with Breaking Bad to increase engagement. So I got to thinking and came up with a "Baking Bad" series of maths activities, mirroring the five seasons of the show.

Every "season" has a PowerPoint and worksheet (as well as answers) tied to a story about Billy Black. Each presentation begins with the initial title screen and a similar backstory to the original show to make it clear that the activities are linked, although my plots involve catering rather than the slightly more controversial narcotics of the TV series.

One activity begins like this: William "Billy" Black has been a food technology teacher for years. He has won awards at community bake-offs and is well known for producing the best cakes in the local area. As a result, he has been earmarked by visiting aliens to become their planet's official chef. Billy has decided to go with the aliens and is selling his wares to provide for his family when he's gone.

Feeling the heat

The activities become increasingly difficult as students work through the problems, enabling the teacher to pick their own start and finish points depending on pupils' ability.

Topic areas include ratio, algebra, and volume and surface. Activities relating to this last topic include working out the volume of each cake tin to determine how much cake mixture should go in. Another resource asks pupils to use algebra to work out how many cakes need to be put on each table when Billy Black expands into catering for events.

In my view, the most successful use of the activities is to display a problem, allow the class time to complete it and then draw the answer from them, asking different individuals to explain what's happening at each stage; I also ask whether anyone used a different method to solve the problem. This means that you engage the entire class. And, if anyone is totally at a loss, either you or a fellow student can nudge them in the right direction.

Using popular culture has made my maths lessons more relatable, but there is one problem: things change so rapidly that you have to work quite hard to keep your finger at least relatively close to the pulse.

Andy Lutwyche teaches at Worthing High School in West Sussex. Download his resources from the TES website.

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