Where do I begin?

10th January 2003 at 00:00

I am a student maths teacher about to take my first block teaching practice ( I am studying PGCE secondary maths at university). I will be taking Year 8 probability and Year 9 surface areas. Can you advise me on what would be ideal lesson starters on such topics? Is there any other material I could use to help deliver these first topics?


When teaching pupils you must remember that you have something really interesting and exciting to involve them in. We are all performers and can sometimes suffer from stage fright, especially when we don't know the pupils. So here are some ideas to be going on with.

Year 8 probability

I can remember when I first started teaching that I didn't really know why I was teaching probability, so I asked my head of department. He said that we need an understanding to make life choices, such as whether to vaccinate our children against measles and look at the probabilities involved. Of course Year 8 aren't at that stage in their life, but are in a position to use probabilities to inform lifestyle choices.

Collect newspaper articles or statistics about events that might determine lifespan - a check on the internet might reveal some. For instance, to vaccinate or not, road accidents, lifespan and smoking etc. Select a list, include short sections or a sentence in an interesting format from the articles about the probabilities. Investigate the values attached to these probabilities (and others).

Put the articles on pupils' desks before they come into the room, with some paper strips (about 5cm x 20cm) and felt-tip pens so, later, they can write responses in large letters (to be stuck on to a wall poster). Encourage them to read the articles and ask: "Are you likely to live to be 100?" Make it fun by drawing a cartoon of an old couple, perhaps skydiving. (You could use a PowerPoint presentation, an OHP or just card stuck to the wall.) Ask pupils to contribute to a whole-class discussion on whether they think they are likely to live to this age.

Next, put up a second card underneath the first: "What, from Year 8 onwards, is going to increase the probability of a long life?"

Have two large pieces of paper (A1 size), one with "Within our control" and the other with "Not within our control" written on them. Stick them to the right and left of the board. The class works in pairs to discuss those things that might contribute to increasing the probability of a long life, writing their responses in large letters on the strips of paper. Examples you might like to have pre-prepared are smoking for "Within our control" and genetics for "Not within our control". Allow them about five minutes. Then ask them to contribute to a whole-class discussion. When a new idea is provided invite the pupil to stick their response on the appropriate sheet.

The conclusion of the discussion is that they are in control of their lifespan, and their lifestyle has an effect on the probability that they will live to be 100 years old. Inform them that insurance companies use these items to assess the amount people pay for life insurance.

This can then lead into a lesson on probabilities. As we have to use probability to make decisions in our lifetime and to be able to use the values that are quoted we need to know more about how they might have been created.

Year 9 surface areas

Pupils will need an A4 whiteboard each or a piece of paper.

You will need some 3D objects, which can be packages or a set of manufactured 3D shapes. Also, some OHPs or PowerPoint presentations of nets or some nets drawn on card and laminated.

A fun idea would be to have on your desk a can of baked beans and a plate of chips covered in tomato ketchup! Have a net of the tin to hold up to the class later.

The title on the board is Surface Areas. After taking the register ask the pupils if they know what the items are doing on your desk. Of course the tin needs to be made out of sheet metal and the manufacturer needs to work out the surface area so that they can work out the production and packaging costs. Ask them the name of the shape: a cylinder. Show them the net of the tin. Also show them the shape of the label and relate this to the circumference of the top of the tin.

Next, why the chips? Fat collects on (and in) the surface. Discuss the shape and size of the chips. Crinkle chips have larger surface area (than straight-cut) so have more fat. Surface area is important in manufacturing and chemical engineering.

Now let them know that you would like them to be able to recognise 3D shapes from their nets, as it is important in working out surface areas to know the shape of the net. Expose one net at a time and ask them to write down the name of the shape on their whiteboard. Tell them to hold their answer so no one can see until you ask the whole-class for their answers. Alternatively, for a low ability class you could ask them to come and choose the 3D shape.

Then ask them to roughly sketch the net of the 3-D shape you are holding up - size is unimportant.

Now you are ready to go into the main lesson.

Wendy Fortescue-Hubbard is a teacher and game inventor. She has been awarded a three-year fellowship by the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) to spread maths to the masses. Email questions to teacher@tes.co.ukOr write to TES Teacher, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX

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