Thursday, 5 March 2015
Teaching maths around a theme is something I am regularly asked about. Teachers are always looking for ideas for good contexts to make the maths purposeful and inspiring. You can get maths out of just about any context; the bit that takes some thought is making it engaging for the children and, most importantly, planning the maths so that they use and apply relevant skills and concepts.

Potatoes cropped up (!) on two separate occasions as a context, so I thought I would share some of the ideas. Both schools are from Lincolnshire but they are unconnected apart from this. The fact they are Lincolnshire schools is significant though – potato farming is a major part of their landscape.

Welbourn primary contacted me to help them plan their Maths Inspire Day and it started with a blank page (and a blank mind). Their Inspire Days had been brilliant in the past, including one memorable one involving a ‘lost’ tortoise in the playground as a starting point to the day.

I had been chatting to a farmer about potatoes before going into Welbourn and thought this could be a possibility. What sort of maths could we get out of a potato – or lots of them?

We shared as many ideas as we could think of, however daft, and then the staff put together a great day from some of these ideas. Here is an outline of the plan:

Scene setup: a large delivery of an assortment of different potatoes on to the playground.

Starting point: a local farmer has an excess of potatoes and they need a hand getting rid of them in a new way.

Possible Investigations or problems to solve for the day:
·      Working out the cost of the potatoes
·      Set up market stall to sell potatoes – work out costings/prices/weights
·      Best way of bagging potatoes? (provide children with a range of different bags)
·      Weighing potatoes
·      Working out the average size/weight of some potatoes - mean/mode/median
·      What is a perfect potato?  Why? Can you argue your case?
·      Potato printing – translation, rotation, printing shapes, repeated patterns, lines of symmetry
·      Design a poster to sell/advertise the potatoes
·      Creating/designing recipes with potatoes - which and how many ingredients do you need?
·      Taste different cooked potatoes – create a taste survey – create graphs
·      Peel potatoes – measure the length of the peels – create line graph

Each class also had a maths specific focus:

Reception  - ordering potatoes, smallest to largest; sorting potatoes into different types; adding and subtracting using potatoes; printing repeated patterns/shapes using potatoes; comparing weights of potatoes with classroom objects.

Year 1 and 2 - drawing potatoes, creating bar charts, weighing and measuring potatoes.

Year 3 and 4 - creating bar/line and pie charts based on class votes on the favourite way to eat potatoes

Year 5 and 6 - drawing potatoes accurately to scale; working out the average potato; working out the mean/mode/median with measurements; working out the volume of potatoes

It was a very successful day – hard work for the staff in planning and preparation but something the children will remember for a long time.

This is something that the staff at Washingborough Academy try to do regularly – make the maths memorable. They use problem solving and real contexts to drive a lot of the maths and so I was very interested when I saw this tweet from them:
They were taking part in the Eat Happy Project and so got in touch with Branston, a local buyer and distributor of potatoes. To the children’s delight Billy Branston and his Amazing Potato Factory turned up at school - a fully kitted-out double decker bus where children can find out all about potatoes.

These tweets give a flavour of some of the maths that came out of it:

They obviously had a great time on the potato bus and learnt a lot - not just for maths. What is always good though is if children see the reason for learning skills or procedures and use them to help solve problems.

It is always good to hear ideas from different schools, so do let me know if you were involved in a particularly inspiring bit of maths in your school - in any context.

Website design by SiteBuilder Bespoke