SHINE a lightShining a light on creative mathematics
Before starting my Placement with MakeBelieve Arts, I was very intrigued as to how they would teach Maths using drama. I’ve had idea’s how to teach other subjects using drama and theatre, but I never thought Maths could be taught in this way.
The Year 4 class had already started learning about fractions the week before and had been told that Stanley and Thomas (characters) had been given a farm after their father had passed away and left it to them in his will. His last words were: “Share everything equally”. So, splitting into pairs and using masking tape, each pair split their “fields” in half, so both Stanley and Thomas got an equal share of the field. Then they split each half of the field into eighths.
Nosey Neighbour Nelly liked the land that the brothers had and wanted to buy some of it. She offered to buy, 3/8 of Stanley’s field and 1/2 of Thomas’. The pupils then had to work out if this was fair for both brothers, but it wasn’t as Thomas was losing more of his field, so Nosey Neighbour Nelly tried again. This time she offered to buy 5/8 of Stanley’s field and 3/4 of Thomas’. Again, this wasn’t fairly split as Thomas was still losing more of his field. Nosey Neighbour Nelly then said: “This is my FINAL offer”. She wanted to buy 2/4 of Stanley’s field and 4/8 of Thomas’. The class decided that it was fair as both the brothers would be left with half of their field.
Nosey Neighbour Nelly didn’t have any money and so offered to pay the brothers in animals. She offered them 1/2 of her 6 pigs, 1/3 of her 3 horses, 2/3 of her 3 sheep, and 1/4 of her 12 cows, so the brothers would have 9 animals between the both of them. The class first had to work out how many animals the 2 brothers would get (3 pigs, 1 horse, 2 sheep, and 3 cows = 9 animals). The class then had to split up the animals evenly, but how would they do it with an odd number of animals, as you can’t split an animal in half? They were asked to value each animal. Cows would be valuable because of milk and possibly food, sheep give you wool, pigs can be made into food and a horse can help work on the farm. Each pair came up with a fair way to distribute the animals between the 2 brothers.
By being in the session, I realised that using a simple story can help to grab the children’s attention, and the Maths can be incorporated into the story. I knew what the facilitators were doing and even I forgot that they were teaching Maths as it was fun, engaging and the word Maths was never actually used. The pupils looked like they were enjoying themselves and, like me, forgot they were being taught Maths.
A really enjoyable and eye opening experience for me as a facilitator as well as looking at different ways to engage an audience, no matter what age and no matter what subject is being taught, as long as you have an interesting story to keep people engaged.
Abi Wood talks about her experience attending one of our SHINE a Light sessions:
My second day of work experience at MakeBelieve Arts came with great anticipation, and I was so excited to see the magic for myself. Arriving at Beecroft Garden Primary School, I was introduced to the first group of children we were working with, and was greeted with a circle of engaged (if a little excited) kids who immediately bombarded me with various questions on my very existence. The group was made up of children who had been identified to be struggling with maths, and having never enjoyed maths through school I sympathised with them and could relate to their struggles. The idea of the session was to help the kids engage with maths through a more creative and fun way, to ensure that they have a good time and maintain focus as well as memorising the techniques.
To start, we were all asked what we would do with a single £10 note, and if we would save or spend it, and what on. I went straight for Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, (at £4.49 each I would be able to get a tub of cookie dough and possibly chocolate fudge brownie too), but there were some far more imaginative suggestions in the room, including my partners who couldn’t decide between a trip around the world or a supersonic yoyo.
Throughout the morning we did multiple games and exercises (a rows and columns warm up included) with both groups of children. They seemed to forget that they were in a maths lesson and became, like myself, completely enwrapped in this world where maths is something to be enjoyed rather than endured.
What I loved most was probably the intense looks of concentration on all faces across the room while competing in number chart challenges for ‘gems’ and ‘treasure’ (aka marbles), and the sheer excitement over choosing various items in the ‘shop’ for the queens holiday this year. Being involved really brought me back to a time where anything is possible and even addition can become an adventure.
Their mission was this: to find all the missing numbers around the school and identify them as odd or even numbers. So fifteen Year 3 and Year 4 pupils in dark glasses began staking out the school corridors searching for mysterious odd and even numbers. They hunted high and low even using magnifying glasses to spot rogue numbers on clocks and underneath intricate art work.
It was a dangerous task, they had to be stealthy and quiet so as not to scare the numbers away as well as ensuring that they didn’t bump into the OFSTED inspectors that were in school that day!
All the number detectives were victorious in compiling their numbers and reported back as to how many they had found and how they were able to work out which numbers were odd and which were even (and they had lots of fun too!)
This work reminded me once again of the power of being ‘in role’. Once the children had their dark glasses and their invisible magnifying glasses they had a genuine curiosity about finding and compiling the numbers and because the stakes were high (they had to return the missing numbers to the number kingdom), there was a heightened urgency to the task.
Have a look at our short film to see what happened……
Early on in our planning we were aware that there was something interesting and exciting about seeing 100 of something. We have experimented with a range of props begged and borrowed from the MakeBelieve Arts prop store which has seen our group counting everything from 100 grains of rice to 100 mega blocks. We are now working with a life-size number square, made from circular table mats which goes from 1 to 100 which is large enough for the children to walk on and create mathematical pathways, explore sequences and play with addition and subtraction in a kinaesthetic way.
We have now completed four Creative Maths sessions. The sessions are focused around the King and Queen of number who rule the land of number. All our workshop exercises are framed within the story, raising the stakes and making the situations real for the children involved. We have had lots of adventures so far including throwing a massive party with number games for all the townspeople, tidying up all the muddled numbers that have been knocked down from the festivities the night before and something very interesting with a snail (but more about that in a later blog!).
It never ceases to amaze me that by playing and enjoying numbers, you remove the fear factor or getting it wrong or right!
After two sessions, we realised that one of the biggest challenges for some of the children in the group was writing down numbers and ensuring that the numbers themselves were the correct way around. We used our story of the King and Queen of number to create a number warm up that involved the entire group making the number shapes with their arms and bodies. We had to ensure that the facilitator was facing the same way as the children so that he was modelling the correct number shape in the right direction!
A key skill in mathematics for the Year 3/4 was to be able to count accurately and we were able to play with this idea by creating a scene between the King and Queen of number trying desperately to check that they had 20 pencils for their 20 secretaries to send out party invitations.
The most effective part of this scene was that we were able to then ask the class to be our ‘experts’ on counting accurately. One brave volunteer decided to show us exactly how to do it by counting the object as it was placed on the table to ensure accuracy. The children were then able to use this model of effective counting in future workshop sessions and refer back to what they had seen.