Winning by a nose
Use children's films and cartoons to liven up maths lessons. Emma Low shows how it all adds up
How many lies would Pinocchio have to tell for his nose to reach the whiteboard?" In Shrek2, Pinocchio tells lies to make his nose grow enough to rescue a princess.
In class, we explore Pinocchio's nose growing 5cm for every lie and estimate distances in "lies". Pupils can make paper strips or use connecting cubes to represent the length of the nose. The strips or cubes create an instant bar graph that can be labelled and discussed.
Imagine teaching all the objectives from a unit in the Primary Framework for Mathematics using one shared experience. That is the thinking behind Maths at the Movies, a pilot project where teachers use popular children's films and cartoons to inspire work in mathematics. Some activities are starters, others span one or two sessions.
There is much emphasis on "real-life" situations when problem solving in maths, but it's hard to find ones that are relevant and interesting to all.
The pilot project found that using film situations and characters that pupils are familiar with helps them work more effectively on problem solving.
Watching the fairy godmother's workshop in Shrek2 led Year 2 children to follow recipes to make magic potions and develop their own. Their teacher observed them being far more accurate in their measuring because they understood that there was a reason for doing it.
Watching Gloria the hippopotamus in her tank in Madagascar was the opportunity for Year 4 pupils to fill measuring cylinders to given levels, placing toy animals in the water to see how the water level changed. What happens if the zoo keeper fills Gloria's tank before she gets in? Acting out the role of the new boss in Monsters Inc, pupils in Year 5 propose and justify whether they would collect screams or laughs to produce energy - using facts, figures, charts and pictures to support their argument.
This speaking, listening and reasoning activity draws on many aspects of maths and links closely with literacy work.
Teachers have also adapted ideas from the materials to make links across the mathematical strands. A limbo dancing activity inspired by Shrek was used as a springboard for estimating and measuring length.
A teacher used the activity to support children's understanding of measurements and to reinforce multiples of 10 as they counted down 10cm at a time. After the lesson, one boy was able to correctly answer 10x10 for the first time.
Emma Low is a numeracy consultant with the Essex Mathematics Team Maths at the Movies, Essex Grid for Learning, www.e-gfl.org.