Maths is boring and pointless. I can already count my change in the shop, what more do I need? I won’t even need maths in the real world! If you are a maths teacher, you may hear these phrases or something similar on a weekly basis. Getting students to see the relevance in mathematics is key to getting them interested in learning more about the subject. The problem is you can only get so far in achieving this stood at the front of a classroom lecturing about engineering, computers, etc. The answer? Drag them away from that classroom and in to the “real world” they are so adamant has nothing to do with maths and point it all out to them.
My school recently took a coach of 12-13 year olds to Paris to do this. I was lucky enough to be asked to go along on this trip, though I cannot take any credit in the planning.
Day 1 – ‘activity’ booklets
Before we even left the school car park students were issued their ‘activity’ booklets. Their first task was to ask the bus driver and record the time and mileage at the start of the journey and at each stop – services, ferry terminal, French services and hotel. This allowed them to work out time taken and distance covered to calculate the average speed. Conveniently for use the coach recorded distance in kilometres so we could also get them to convert units to miles per hour to see if we were breaking the speed limit or not (we obviously weren’t I’d like to point out!). While on the ferry they had various tasks to do involving finding and using the Sterling to Euros exchange rate, and investigating items in the duty free shop to work out best buys.
Day 2 – Maths Teachers
A problem we face as maths teachers is that sometimes the maths we teach at school level actually isn’t all that relevant to the real world as it might just be the foundations to a more advanced topic which CAN be applied to practical purposes. A visit to the Science Museum allowed us to introduce some of this higher level material to the students. In their maths exhibit, our booklets came out once more and the students completed their tasks on Normal distribution, chaos theory and optimum surfaces. They were also able to look at displays on Escher, fractals and more. We gave everyone the opportunity to look around at all of the other exhibits, most students enjoying the optical illusion exhibit. See – maths can be cross-curricular!
Next stop – Arc De Triomphe. Measure the depth of one step, count the steps to the top of the Arc, use this to estimate the height of the Arc. Simple enough maths really and the counting gives them something to concentrate on other than complaining about how many steps they have to go up! At the top of the Arc there is a handy Display allowing the students to complete a task on taking bearings of different land marks in Paris. At this point, one girl stated, “Well the Eiffel Tower doesn’t look much higher than this!” Hmm, if you say so! Let’s see what you think after our next stop… We actually picked up a French tour guide after the Arc and drove around Paris learning snippets of History (is that more cross curricular activities you say?).
Unfortunately, our visit clashed with the marathon so we were unable to complete the activity planned at the Louvre. It was intended that the students should measure a glass panel on the pyramid find its area, and, by counting and estimation, use this to find the surface area and volume of the Pyramid. There is also a chance for using scale factors and similar objects here for the smaller pyramids.
On to the Eiffel Tower! We were generous enough to let the students use the lift at this landmark rather than the stairs. On the second level viewing platform they had to do some data collection, using some common phrases in foreign languages to ask people where they were from for the purpose of drawing a bar chart. When at the very top of the tower, the same girl previously mentioned was blown away by exactly how much higher up we were than at the Arc de Triomphe once it was pointed out to her.
Being at the top of the Eiffel Tower was an amazing sight so they had no other maths to complete here – just enjoy the view.
Day 3 – Disney Land Paris
Disney Land Paris and Disney Studios Park – well, they are just kids and they are in a theme park so we did some very limited maths here. All they had to do was record what time they went to certain rides and the length of time they queued for them. All in all, the theme parks just gave a lovely opportunity to interact with the students in a slightly less formal scenario (but only slightly…).
Day 4 – Homeward bound
Homeward bound. Three late nights, missing home (and maybe parents) and a steady diet of sugar from the day before. Tempers were too fragile to attempt pushing them to do too much thinking on the way home, so the back of their booklets just had logic problems and puzzles. I had the lovely opportunity to talk with one boy about string theory when he was showing me his photos and he had taken one of the Grande Arc, aka the “4 dimensional cube”. Obviously this was incredibly difficult for him to comprehend but there was a glimmer of understanding and with the questions he was asking me I knew I had a budding mathematician on the hook. A few of my other colleagues also managed to introduce the idea of relativity to a students who wondered why it always looks like objects closer to the bus looked like they were moving faster than the objects far away.
So did we achieve our goal? Yes, with some. Not everyone is a mathematician, but eyes were opened and interests piqued. I call that success.
Thanks to Natasha Hughes for her excellent contribution of images and text