Sporting chances

30th November 2007 at 00:00
Making maths fun is a challenge, but pitting your wits against children from all over the world online or calculating a jockey's weight can do the trick, say James Colvin and Richard Potts.Ages 7-11

"Mr Colvin, Mr Colvin, MR COLVIN!" Taneaha, one of my Year 6 pupils, shouts. Fearing the worst, I rush into the technology suite. "Look," She beams at me with sheer pride. "I did it, Sir, I did it!" "It" was winning her game on Live Mathletics.

Not only had she won, but she had also got her best score and beaten someone "from Australia, Sir!"

Sycamore Junior School recently invested in Mathletics, an online, web-based maths program.

It is the best decision I have made as numeracy co-ordinator. Maths is now the most talked-about subject in school and children cannot wait for their weekly sessions.

Mathletics offers a way of supporting and consolidating the teaching and learning we already do here. The package can be tailored to meet the needs of every child - to support, develop and challenge them, as appropriate.

The Live Mathletics section is an online competition that has pupils competing against other children from around the world. Ours frequently play children from Australia, Hong Kong, Pakistan and the USA.

The game is split into five levels, ranging from simple addition to activities that are hard even for the most able mathematicians.

Each child is graded, from a "Raging Rookie" to a "Human Calculator". This ensures that they play others of a similar ability, no matter where in they are in the world.

The main section of Mathletics covers the whole breadth of the mathematics curriculum and is easy to use. For example, if you are working on fractions, go to the fractions tab, click and instantly you have a choice of several activities.

Click on the "Something harder" or "Something easier" tab and you get a new differentiated menu for fractions.

If you get a question wrong, a click on the support button will bring up a friendly anteater, who will show you, step by step, how to do it.

What is more, the teacher is provided with a wealth of formative data. Every score is converted into a percentage, and you can quickly identify the strengths and weaknesses of each child.

Even more impressively, the program calculates a class average for every activity, so teachers can speedily identify what to focus on next time around

James Colvin teaches at Sycamore junior school in Nottingham

Mathletics covers the curriculum from reception to A-level. A free trial is available at

Ages 11-16

The Le Mans car crash in 1955, a day at the races and a rollercoaster ride all have a common link - they can make maths interesting.

My Year 8 Set 7 is made up of some of the pupils least interested in the subject. They don't lack ability, they are just indifferent.

Our mission was to give them more maths, not less, so that they would have one hour of it every day.

The right tools are needed to whet their appetites. Sport pushes lots of children's buttons, and when they are interested in the information they are doing calculations before they know it.

The Fair Play workbooks from Axis Education set questions based on sports, such as football, fishing or extreme sports.

Grabbing the pupils' attention with an initial hook - such as the Le Mans crash, in which 77 people died, or a copy of the Premier League table - means they ask questions based on the information.

Another resource that works in a similar way is the Using Maths series by TickTock. This shows you all the maths you need to be a stuntman, a zoo vet, build a rollercoaster or survive in the wild.

My plan is to take the class on a maths trip every half-term. Our first - to Pontefract racecourse - proved a great success.

The pupils did calculations based on the jockeys' race weights; estimated lengths on the racecourse; used a trundle wheel to measure the parade ring so they could calculate the maximum number of horses that could safely parade; looked at the symmetry and colour combinations for jockeys' race colours; and estimated the capacity of a grandstand.

Set 7 loved it. The only problem is where to go next

Richard Potts teaches at Garforth community college in Leeds For sample worksheets from Axis Education, visit

Order Using Maths from

To arrange an educational visit to a racecourse, contact Vaughan Jones at the British Horseracing Education and Standards Trust

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