Secondary maths - Fuel their excitement

16th January 2009 at 00:00
Take a class of primary pupils, add practical activities and Formula 1. What are you left with? Children who are intrigued by maths, say Sarah Niblock and Mike Rodgers

It's important to nurture a real interest and enthusiasm for maths early on. At Langley Park School for Boys - a maths and technology specialist school with 1,600 pupils - we are involved with six feeder primaries as well as Cator Park Girls' School, our partner school, and pupils can take part in mathematical enrichment schemes even before they start secondary study.

One of our maths teachers spends half a day a week in each primary school, usually with the Year 6 pupils. Practical activities are interspersed with work in the classroom, giving pupils the chance to work together to understand and use simple formulae as well as exposing them to simple mathematical modelling.

Pupils from the feeder primaries and the two secondary schools also attend one masterclass a term at Langley Park and some of these masterclasses are incorporated into clubs that our pupils can participate in each week.

The Motion Jaguar Cars masterclass and club revolves around a software program that accurately models F1 racing cars.

Pupils measure the length of a scaled down F1 track with a piece of string; the angles of the bends on a track; and from this work out the maximum speed that their car can race with around each feature of the track. But this is a simulated maths model, so calculations also have to be made for fuel - overall as well as at each pit stop.

The length of the race is another maths calculation involving numbers of laps and best lap time and no calculators are allowed. Not only does this extra-curricular activity help to boost academic achievement, but the boys get the chance to race their own maths-modelled car at the end to see who wins.

Another masterclass is run by Dr Susan Tinder from Cambridge University, who delivers a day of mathematical activities for our Year 7 pupils as well as Years 5 and 6 in our partner primary schools.

A number of jigsaw puzzles, games and various combination problems are set up that they have to try to work through.

Sums in Science, or Get me out of Here, is a masterclass we take with the primary schools. We start by thinking about how fast we need to go to get away from the surface of the earth. Then they look at how fast you would have to fire a rocket from the surface of the earth. This comes to very large numbers, which helps pupils understand these quantities and they realise that you can't throw something far enough to get it away from the earth's gravitational speed. We fire air-propelled rockets outside. The headteacher, who is a keen rocketeer, also takes part.

Many parents have a hands-on involvement at primary school and they may feel this is lacking once their sons move to secondary school. To accommodate this, Year 7 parents are invited into the school in October for an early evening session on maths at secondary schools today.

We tell the parents about the kind of maths they would have learnt compared with how long-division and long-multiplication, for example, are taught now. Many want to help with homework and understand the curriculum, and this session goes some way towards bridging the gap.

See also Infinity and Beyond, the school's maths and computing specialism newsletter, at

Sarah Niblock is a maths teaching assistant and Mike Rodgers is head of A- level maths and maths specialism at Langley Park School for Boys in the London borough of Bromley.

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