Where maths in everyday life really figures

5th August 2011 at 01:00
A school that brings maths to life with practical applications, and another that aims to give pupils an early start on reading, were winners in the Scottish Education Awards, writes Julia Belgutay

When will I ever need this in real life?" is not a question children at Keills Primary on Islay ever ask about their maths work.

The school scooped this year's Numeracy Across Learning Award at the Scottish Education Awards for its innovative approach to numeracy teaching, which aims to use real-life experiences for maths problems.

"There is a never-ending set of opportunities for schools to use - you just have to open your eyes and see them," said headteacher Kathleen Johnston. "You use what you have at your fingertips. You make use of your school year, your community, the people around you and the opportunities that arise."

Using real-life experiences is a focus across the curriculum, she says, and teachers aim to embed the skills and ensure there is a depth of learning, to then allow the children to apply the skills in a context.

Regular items in the school calendar, such as fundraising for Unicef or the tuck shop, are some of the opportunities used by staff to let children try out their maths skills.

Every day, one of the classes in the school is responsible for healthy tuck provision, which reinforces the pupils' ability to deal with money and handle data.

When the school's eco-committee decided on raised plant beds for the school grounds, this provided a wealth of opportunities for practical numeracy teaching. P4 and P5 went around the school to measure the tables in the classrooms, to see which bed height would be appropriate for each stage.

They then established the beds' width by experimenting with how far children of different ages could reach across. Having come up with the perfect location for the three different sizes of raised beds, they marked their position using string and pegs.

Children from P6 and 7 used the work of the younger pupils to create scaled plans on a computer, which they then forwarded to a local joiner.

"It was one of the most amazing things," Mrs Johnston said, "because on Monday morning I came up to school and here were these built, raised beds in the place where the children had marked out using string and pegs."

Numeracy is also tied in with other topics. When writing newspaper articles about natural disasters, fractions and percentages were used to demonstrate the devastation caused by the event, and children researched statistics relating to the disaster.

The Education Awards judges praised the support of parents at the school - the joiner who built the raised beds was also a dad at the school. They also commended the fact that staff were "committed to ensuring opportunities for the development of numeracy" and pupils were "involved in planning and evaluating their learning".

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