Playing for real

17th September 2004 at 01:00
Steve Abbott explains how a favourite interest can offer stimulating problems for pupils to solve

Football fever gripped the nation this summer as England's top players battled it out in the splendid stadiums of Portugal, only to crash out of Euro 2004 on penalties. A new football season brings renewed optimism, and I like to think a new term does, too.

Linking teaching and football is not so daft. A well chosen real-life context can be the starting point for several aspects of maths, illustrating its connectedness as well as its utility. With so many girls and boys following the game, teachers can use football-related tasks to engage them in using and applying maths (mathematics attainment target 1) while simultaneously teaching important content.

When I visit schools as an inspector, pupils often tell me that they believe maths is important, because it is "useful in real life". But for some this belief is an act of faith, because they experience school maths rather differently, as a set of rules to be learned, sometimes applied in patently fake contexts, but rarely to solve real-life problems.

Most effective maths departments try hard to integrate Ma1 into everyday teaching and learning. But where do their ideas come from? One way is to seek out maths in teachers' own areas of interest and expertise. On the principle that inspectors should be able to "walk the walk" as well as "talk the talk", I offer some suggestions based on my interest in stadium design (see lesson ideas).

This is an area rich in mathematical applications with links to several other subjects, including enterprise education. With many clubs offering stadium tours, an educational visit can bring work-related learning into maths.

The stadium tasks are intended for work in groups, with solutions written up as posters or multimedia presentations. They include topics such as problem-solving; validating answers; calculation; estimation; algebra; measurement; area; scale drawing; loci; 2D representations of 3D; use of compass and ruler; data handling; information and communication technology; internet research; links to geography, history, safety and citizenship.

Some are design problems that put teachers into a coaching role, helping pupils to clarify their thinking and encouraging them to use maths creatively and collaboratively. Stadium design is just one possibility.

Most teachers will find maths in at least one of their interests. The challenge is then to devise contextualised tasks that encourage students to think for themselves, to make choices and justify them, and to use the maths they know.

Before giving these tasks to students, it is good practice for teachers to work on them together, to get a sense of the possibilities and the teaching points that might arise.

Steve Abbott HMI is a member of Ofsted's maths subject team and a long-time supporter of Ipswich Town


Around the grounds

* Visit resourcesfactsheetsfs2.html. Estimate how many people can safely stand in a 10m x 10m square of terrace. Allowing for gangways and exits, work out how many standing spectators a 115m x 22m terrace would hold. What if some or all were seated? How about corner quadrants or other shaped stands?

* Find out the dimensions of a football pitch and draw one to scale. Draw a scale diagram showing whether or not a full-size football pitch can be fitted inside a standard athletics track.

* Analyse attendance data ( to determine which football clubs are most popular.

* Estimate how many turnstiles, toilets, food bars, pies, and so on, are needed for a crowd of 25,000.

* Using aerial photos, estimate the capacity of football grounds or individual stands ( Older grounds are easier because they have fewer roofs blocking the view.

* Given a plan of a restricted site, such as Luton Town FC, design a stand or entire stadium to achieve a target capacity.

* Compare the capacity of single and multi-deck stands on a given site (eg a 25m strip alongside the pitch) that is subject to restrictions (eg maximum overhang of one tier over its support is 15m; minimum 10m of support for each deck, maximum slope 35 degrees). Draw a plan and side views. Demonstrate that all spectators can see the pitch.

* Use drawing software or isometric paper to create a 3D representation of a stand from a side view.

* Design a facility for disabled supporters to be part of an ordinary stand. Refer to the guidance document "Accessible Stadia" ( Explain how the formula for "C" values is used to assess sight lines.

* Before the Second World War, Norwich City played at "The Nest", a converted chalk pit. Use the internet to find out about the ground. What problems would it have posed for spectators?


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