Problem solved

29th June 2007 at 01:00
When is a maths lesson not a maths lesson? Nick Morrison discovers the unusual answer at a Birmingham primary

It's a familiar tale for primary teachers: children arrive full of confidence, they can do anything and, within a short space of time, they're saying, "I don't like maths". The trick, according to one school, lies in taking away the label "maths".

"They tend to think of maths as different from everything else, so we've tried to move away from sitting down with a maths book and having everybody work out sums," says Amanda McKenna, early years co-ordinator at Great Barr Primary, Birmingham.

"We do problem-solving and say we're going to be using number skills. We don't go to great lengths to point out when we're doing maths."

She says that, just as word problems crop up all the time without being necessarily highlighted as such, so maths is constantly being woven into lessons. "A lot of the time the children wouldn't say they were doing maths," she says.

The school's practical, inquiry-based approach takes the pupils outside as much as possible, with maths introduced into road surveys, treasure hunts and wildlife projects. One of the children's favourites is jumping along the number line. The teacher draws a line in the playground and marks numbers at short distances apart. The pupils then jump up and down the line doing their addition and subtraction.

"Physically jumping along the number line means they can see that if they aren't moving then it doesn't count. That helps to embed numbers," says Amanda.

"The children are happy jumping backwards and forwards. And by Year 2 they're making those jumps in their heads."

Free resources from The TES Count the pennies: downloadable money workbook free from the TES Resource Bank at

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