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Thursday, 30 May 2013

Maths + Cake = Fun

I had my final official lesson with both of my year 11 classes last week and I wanted to do something really fun with them, so I racked my brain till I came up with some inspiration.....

We could make EDIBLE revision notes by decorating cakes! : ) Yay! (Miss King beams)

The learning objective written up up the board was: To test out the "well known" argument that


and see if it worked when CAKE was substituted for BISCUITS (biscuits being the cheaper option)

Admittedly it was a bit of an expensive lesson - it cost me around £15 for all the biscuits, writing icing, marshmallows, strawberry laces, chocolate drops, silver balls....... (yes I did get a bit carried away), but was it worth it? I reckon so. I've been teaching some of these students for 3 years now and I've had a great time with them so I didn't begrudge a penny.

The big question is though - did the students enjoy it? And did they learn anything?

I was quite surprised by the reaction of the first class actually, I was expecting a bit of silliness and giggles, but instead they all got down to business very seriously and they actually worked really hard, producing 4 or 5 top-quality biscuits each. I thought the atmosphere might get a bit raucous, but instead it was more like an atmosphere of deep concentration as they all tried to keep their hands steady.

The girl who made the exterior angles biscuit (pictured above) spent ages painstakingly drawing footsteps around her hexagon to show that if you walk around the shape you have gone one full turn. Another (usually very vocal) student sat in silent concentration to produce a net and 3D drawing of a cube.

By the end of the lesson there weren't many actual biscuits left, (having mostly been consumed by the hungry workers) but the photographic evidence gave me a wealth of great pictures. Some were simple demonstrations of formulae or theorems (like the circumference formula biscuit on the right) whereas others posed questions to be answered (like the forming an equation with angles biscuit which is below).

Having created all these tasty looking pictures, I thought it was worthwhile doing something with them, so I've put most of them in a powerpoint so that each biscuit is on its own slide with a question, followed by a slide with the answer. I emailed the powerpoint out to the students and wondered if it was worth the bother. Would they care about looking at them again? What I had forgotton of course, is how much students love having their work shown to everyone else. The next day some girls came up to me to say that not only had they tried answering the questions, they'd particularly looked for "their" questions and shown  those pictures to friends in other classes. Result!

Obviously this was not the most efficient method of revision - writing with writing icing takes a lot longer than writing with a normal pen and given the choice of so many decorations, there was always the danger that aesthetic sensibilities would overtake mathematical ones (!) but I had an ulterior motive in mind. I want my students to leave school with positive feelings towards mathematics, and if appealing to their sweet tooth can help that, then I make no apologies for doing so.

At the end of the lesson, when the class pestered me to make a goodbye speech to them, it was this thought that was at the forefront of my mind. So after a bit of reminiscing about the past 3 years, I took a few seconds to say something heartfelt. I told them that no matter what grade you get in the summer, whether it is what you were hoping for, or if you end up just missing out; you need to remember that they are GOOD at maths. Grade boundaries can move around, you can have a bad day, but after you leave school, when people mention maths, I want you to think to yourself, "I'm good at maths" and I want you to have a go at solving any problems that might come your way. A lot of you probably know more maths than your parents do (cue vigorous nodding by about half the class) and you should be really proud of your achievements.

I stopped then, before getting emotional. And I think I better stop writing now, for the same reason.

1 comment:

  1. Charlotte, I really enjoyed reading this. What stood out most for me was how effectively you analysed the purpose of the lesson, its associated costs and benefits, and talked about it in those terms. Where I fear others might simply have written about how innovative/creative their idea was, or how much fun everyone had doing it, you went so far as to admit that it came at a cost of time efficiency. This is rare, and refreshing to read!

    I also liked that you clearly stated an additional benefit of running a revision lesson this way, one that had nothing to do with the revision, and one that probably could not have otherwise been achieved. The way you've written this up now means that the debate can take place where it should: whether the benefits outweighed the costs. The alternative would have been people listing the costs that were overlooked, or mindlessly lauding the benefits, and I think you've done a great job of circumventing that here.

    Often these kind of judgements can only be made by the teacher on the ground - only you know whether the time could be afforded to run a revision class in this way, so for my part I've nothing to add, other than to thank you again for reminding us that 'outside the box' lessons can be thoughtful and purposeful endeavours.