HOW TO: Practical Ways to Make Maths Relevant

A common frustration among some teachers is a difficulty to engage their students in lessons of all sorts – history, maths, science, geography… Often times they wonder if it’s their teaching style that students aren’t responding to, or if the class environment isn’t stimulating enough.

I currently teach Year 3, Set 3 maths in a primary school. Our school tiers maths into top set, 2nd set, 3rd set, and bottom set. Teachers in the bottom set tend to develop their own plans that are predominantly numicon-based, with an emphasis on place value and securing basic bonds and timetable knowledge. In my set, I typically teach students who are just able to sneak past bottom set, and whose place value skills are still quite shaky, so it can be difficult to adjust the content of my lessons on a day-to-day basis. There is a LOT of differentiation happening in my set on a constant basis, and, unlike the top two sets, the students in my class don’t always have the same passion and desire to learn maths. I am constantly trying to find new ways of teaching them maths in a way that is relevant and inspiring for them. I have a lot of success playing interactive games with my set, as the foundation of such games rely on quick thinking and rapid recall of basic facts.


On the days that we delve into a practical activity or investigation, I do my best to set the classroom and the activity parameters so that they resemble ones that might be found in a real-life situation. In my experience, I’ve found that students are more engaged and inspired to apply their learning when they understand how the material is relevant to their own lives, or in their foreseeable future (however far ahead that is in Year 3).

Below, I’ve compiled some practical ways to thread examples of “real life” application into your maths lessons. Some of these ideas I have used myself, and they have worked out fantastically. I’ve also linked a few related resources that you might find useful as well:

  • Organise a lesson where students can explore an outdoor area (playground, park, nearby field/open space) and generate maths questions pertaining to the area.
    For example:
    – What fraction of the bench is blue?
    – How many trees can you count on the field?
    – What is the distance from the school to the ______ ?
    – What unit of measurement would you use to measure the amount of rain the playground gets?
    – How many sitting areas are there on the playground? How might you categorise them?
    – How tall is ______ ? How much taller is ______ than ______ ?
You might find it useful to show students a picture and ask them to brainstorm the maths they see in the picture on their whiteboards.
You might find it useful to show students a picture and ask them to brainstorm the maths they see in the picture on their whiteboards.
  • A detailed lesson plan and accompanying activities can be found here
  • Before beginning an investigation or practical project, ask students “What kind of person might be interested in this type of project?” or “What job might this investigation be useful for?” – this gets them thinking about the kinds of people or types of careers their lesson might potentially benefit.
    For example:
    Using this lesson, students use 3D shape templates to construct their choice of structure from a small list. You could ask the students who would need to construct a model template before building, why it is important to know quick maths facts (to calculate lengths and heights), and why it is essential to understand angles and measures.
  • Give students every opportunity to apply the skills they learn in class to a variety of settings, including halls, outside, other classes, and on school trips, etc. For example, equip students with rulers, measuring tape, metre sticks, etc and send them off in groups (with a TA) outside to apply their knowledge of measuring to a different setting. This will help to solidify their knowledge of measurement, as the setting and context of their skills application is different than applying them in the classroom.
  • Grab your students’ attention by titling your projects and activities with official names, such as “Engineer’s Booklet”, “Construction Manual”, “Mathematician’s Workbook” – sometimes sneaking in a professional title or adding a few professional touches boosts you students’ desire to treat a project with a bit more focus and maturity. You might just see your future “engineers” or “builders” emerge with an attention to detail you’ve never seen before!
  • Ask you students lots of questions about real-life and current affairs – has a city begun construction on a new set of homes? Has the next town over been working on repairing a broken bridge or railway line? Are your students’ families in the process of redecorating or building extensions in their house? Plotting a new garden? Putting up a new fence? Asking questions opens the door to conversation about building, fixing, measuring, scaling – the possibilities for mathematical discussion are endless!

Hopefully some of these suggestions have given you a few ideas to use in your own classroom in the upcoming term. How do you inspire relevance in the classroom? How do you teach students to see the practical, everyday uses of the skills they are learning? Leave me a comment below 🙂


3 Key Ways I Stay Organised in the Classroom

I get a lot of teachers telling me how organised my classroom is, or telling me how they “wish they could make their classrooms as tidy” as mine. I’ve never thought about my need to keep things orderly; it’s always just been a habit for me. My father is an absolute neat freak, so maybe my desire to keep things neat and tidy comes from him. Similarly, my mother always kept our house clean. Everything just felt comfortable, and I always liked coming home to a fresh house.

Admittedly, there are days when the classroom is extremely messy. This is usually due to the students having participated in a messy activity such as Art or D/T, or a Science experiment that got out of hand. I am so lucky to have students that are so proactive and helpful when it comes to tidying up their mess. Without any prompting, they look up to see the clean-up timer counting down (I usually give them about 5 minutes to tidy up, possibly more if we’ve made a big mess!) and just get on with it, delegating tasks to each other and working cooperatively to make the room tidy to my standards (which hopefully have now started to become their standards too).

But I find that my mind becomes most scattered when the mess isn’t child-inflicted. My concerns arise when I look at my desk, my storage cupboards, my side cabinet, or my display boards, and find disorganisation; this can be stray papers, felt tips without lids, scattered scraps of paper, work to be stuck on my working walls, forms that need to be handed to the office – the list goes on and on.

I’ve boiled down my strategy to 3 main points. Note that these are merely suggestions; things that have, and continue to work for me.

1. If it doesn’t have a purpose, it doesn’t have a place

When met with a cascade of papers (forms, letters, miscellaneous homework, extra copies of paper, etc) I like to sort it straight away. Obviously with time constraints, this doesn’t always get done in a timely manner.

I like to first gather every loose bit of paper onto my desk and begin sorting. I generally sort into piles like “Work to mark”, “Work to tick”, “Extra copies”, “Unfinished projects” – things like that. Once I have sorted my work, I paperclip it so I can see neat piles in front of me, and instantly my brain becomes a bit more decluttered.

If I have made too many extra copies of something, or if the sheets are not likely to be used again, or if they don’t provide evidence of a child’s work, I tend to rip it in half and store it in my bag of “scrap paper” for children to write on during morning work, incase their whiteboard pens don’t work (which happens quite often). I find it nice to know that these sheets can have a purpose after their initial use (just simply have children write on the back of them).

If, after sorting, there are sheets of paper that are simply not needed anymore, and they’ve been written all over and are unable to be reused, it gets tossed in the recycling bin, again emphasising “if it doesn’t have a purpose, it doesn’t have a place”

2. Do regular checks and tidies of your storage compartments

I know this may seem daunting or time-consuming to some teachers, but if you dedicate 5-10 minutes a week to this, I guarantee you will feel less stressed and work with a much clearer head.

I like to have a quick scan of my top desk drawer (where I keep my pins, pens, confiscated unclaimed trinkets, sticky notes, etc), storage shelf (right next to my desk), art cupboard, and general storage cupboard. Anything that isn’t needed, or doesn’t work, gets tossed in the bin. Over the years I’ve learned to simply let go of things that serve me no purpose. Things like assessments, success criteria, children’s work, reading logs, parent notes, etc need to be sorted, of course, but don’t confuse 3-week old spare copies of homework with something that really matters. The longer you leave things unchecked, the worse off you’ll be when things REALLY start to pile up.

3. Enlist the children to help

At the end of every day, I make sure they know how important it is to keep the room tidy. This means shifting the desks so they are tidy, putting pens upside down in the pots to keep ink flowing, and picking up bits from the floor. Not only does this give the appearance of a tidy classroom, it instills responsibility in children, and encourages them to respect not only their learning environment, but also respect the cleaners who spend hours cleaning the rooms at the end of the day.

This doesn’t just apply to their tables and the floor, but also the walls – usually just before the end of the half-term, I ask different children which “jobs” they’d like to complete before the holiday. These can be:

  • Tidying the bookshelf
  • Sharpening the pencils in the spare pencil box
  • Picking wanted tack off the walls
  • Washing art brushes and pots
  • Organising the supplies drawers
  • Pulling old work off the displays to go home
  • Tidying the art cupboard
  • Making sure there are enough supplies in each table pot
  • Sweeping away crumbs and scraps off the floor with the small dustpan and brush

Some teachers might disagree with me on this, but I think it’s imperative to give children tidy-up tasks, even in junior school, so that they feel a sense of ownership and responsibility towards their classroom. A cluttered room is a cluttered mind, in my eyes. (Plus, the overwhelming majority of them love to help out anyway!)

I hope this post gave you something to think about, and inspires you to do a bit of tidying up of your own. Your kids (and your sanity!) will thank you in the long run.

How do you stay organised in the classroom? Leave your comments below; I’d love to read them 🙂