Maths is everywhere

The International Day of Mathematics is celebrated across the world on 14 March.

Illustrations of mathematical symbols and a calculator

The theme for 2020 is ‘Mathematics is everywhere’, encouraging schools to consider how mathematics is used across a wide range of professions, in the organisation of society and government, plus in everyday activities.

As a primary subject leader, I like to find creative ways to raise the profile of mathematics so that pupils start to appreciate that the subject is not just something that you learn about in lessons but also that it can be used as a tool within the real world.

One of my favourite whole-school activities, embracing the theme of ‘Mathematics is everywhere’, is based on the website ‘Have you got maths eyes?’, which aims to open pupils’ eyes to the environment around them, with a focus on mathematics. Pupils are asked to take a photograph that has a link to mathematics. This could be numbers they spot, shapes around them, a picture showing a measurement or maybe highlighting a concept such as fractions or percentages.

An initial assembly to launch this gave a wide range of examples and class teachers also spent some time with pupils looking around the school. The pupils were encouraged to think about the different environments they encountered, such as inside their home, in the local park or at the shops. Once they had taken the photo, they were also encouraged to think of an accompanying question to go with it. Examples of this included ‘How many miles is it to the airport?’, ‘What fraction of my apple pie has been eaten?’ ‘How long is the football pitch?’ and, my particular favourite, ‘How fast is dad driving?’

There were several factors that made this activity a success. Firstly, the school governors became involved and agreed to judge the photographs. This meant that the pupils were engaged by the competition element as well as school governors becoming more involved in the curriculum. Secondly, the competition was open to all pupils from EYFS to Year 6 and, as it did not rely on mathematical ability, it was a very inclusive activity. Lastly, parents became involved, which was encouraging as it can be very difficult at times to engage parents with mathematics. It was a non-threatening activity requiring little parental mathematical understanding and some really took on the challenge with their children.

As a teacher, it is important to highlight the use of mathematical skills within other curriculum lessons so that pupils see the connections and a purpose to demonstrate that mathematics is everywhere. Research by the Central Careers Hub (2018) finds evidence that young pupils gain many benefits from early careers education, introducing them to employment opportunities and seeing the relevance of their learning. Emphasising where mathematics is an essential tool for a job or a skill to help in solving problems across the curriculum is important and this needs to be made explicit through planned teaching. For example, my recent class topic about ‘Life in space’ spent time examining the mathematical or scientific skills and knowledge that an astronaut needs to have. Through that, pupils can start to understand how their learning is useful and that this is an occupation that they can aspire to. This is especially important within areas of high family unemployment or low-waged jobs, to increase pupils’ awareness of careers available to them but also to broach stereotypical gender attitudes.

STEM Ambassadors are a fantastic free resource to use and we were lucky enough to have Nicola, one of the Senior Systems Aerospace Engineers for BAE. She told my class all about her exciting aeronautical design engineering work on Typhoons and her upcoming top secret concept work on the new Tempest stealth fighter. She ran some science activities that linked to our work on forces, including making and testing planes, and discussed the use of mathematics and science within her job. It demonstrated to pupils how a job such as hers could be accessible to them, demonstrating the use of their learning towards what they could achieve, as well as providing a female role model for the girls in STEM.

Whether you are planning to celebrate the International Day of Mathematics on 14 March or run some activities throughout the year, why not consider how you can demonstrate that mathematics is everywhere? You could use some cross-curricular projects that link to other STEM subjects, look at the use of maths within the humanities subjects or get your cameras out and go on a hunt for mathematics in the local environment.

Alison Hogben is a teacher and maths consultant at Springhead Primary School @AlisonHogben

This article is taken from STEM Learning's Primary magazine.

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