Is there enough time for “practical maths” activities in the new curriculum?

We are all aware, I am sure, of the pressure of time in delivering the curriculum – there seems to be an overload of content (a percentage of which is irrelevant, inappropriate and unnecessary) and just not enough time to deliver it!

This manifests itself in the core subjects and particularly affects Maths and Science which both rely on practical elements to illustrate and cement learning.

However, in the case of mathematics have the practical elements been pushed to the side in the endless drive to cover the curriculum?

Many years ago every classroom in a Primary school had a maths table. On this table was kept a full store of maths equipment that was needed for the maths curriculum that year. It meant that practical maths was available at any time and the equipment was accessible either through planned practical lessons or alternatively at a moments notice to illustrate a particular point or to clarify a concept for individual children. In other words practical maths was part of the classroom environment…and as the stuff was there it got used !

But do we now have the time for practical maths?

If I look at medium term plans for classes I can see a broad overview of the topics covered and the approximate weeks they will occupy.

I recently was asked to look at a maths medium term plan with a view to continuity of number….which I duly did – however I also noticed the pressured time frame given for each unit of the maths curriculum and I have to say that many of them were not achievable. Not that this was a criticism of the school or teacher concerned…more a reflection of colleagues working against a curriculum and time frame that is stacked against them.

With this pressure on the curriculum is there really time to spare for practical maths sessions or are we at a point where it has become :

                                                                      Deliver – move on….

Practical maths are an opportunity to cement concepts learned and to give things a relevance. I am sure you have seen many times, children who have been unsure of the written and theoretical side of a maths topic to suddenly get that “lightbulb moment”  when practically it all makes sense. Its fantastic to see and really establishes what practical maths is all about. Because let’s be honest – we are teaching maths to children as a life skill…yes there may be the 1 or 2 who will go on to study theoretical mathematics but for the rest of us it is a life skill….and life skills need to be practical.

However is there now a danger of replacing the “hands on,” practical side of maths with the interactive board activity? So instead of actually getting out the equipment for lets say weight, the children simply drag and drop weights onto a computer image balance on the screen!

With the vast selection of apps and programmes available is there a temptation to short cut the time consuming practical sessions and simply complete an instantly available computerised version?


Perhaps some schools have recognised this

In discussion, it may be that colleagues in your school have recognised that this is a problem – let me say again not from an actual teaching point of view but simply from an available time standpoint.

We all know how vital practical activities are in maths teaching but yet frustratingly there is so little time….just what do we do?

Some schools have looked at this:-

  • Practical maths week….here’s a brief report from one school

“This week pupils took part in practical Maths lessons to extend their learning in the shape, space and measure aspects of Maths.

As the weather was so lovely, many pupils had the opportunity to measure and draw outdoors, while others developed their team work skills by creating board games and devising challenging questions based on shape properties. There were problem solving activities using pentominoes.”

Here’s another:

4J Practical Maths Week

“We’ve had a great time during our practical maths week. First we began learning about money and how to calculate using pounds and pence. To test our skills we went to Asda to buy the ingredients to make 60 rolls! We learnt how to use weighing scales to measure in grams and kilograms, and then we followed a recipe to make the rolls. Well done to everyone, I’m told they were delicious. We had such a fun time I’m sure we’ll all be cooking again soon.”

These 2 schools are combining 2 or more units of work into a combined practical week which gives the children a full week of fun maths which both illustrates what they have been learning but also puts it into a practical context

  • Visiting show / company

I am going to mention 1 company that I know about,  but as is always said on TV …other companies are available!

The Problem Solving Company can organise either  practical maths days or even a week to suit the requirements of the school. Its a great way of getting children involved in fun practical maths and to be honest is great fun and educational for staff as well!

Here is a short video to illustrate what can be done.

You may have read to this point  and now can reply that you have no problem in including practical maths activities in your maths teaching. If that’s the case then it’s brilliant news and I am really happy to hear it. However the purpose of this article was to raise the issue and to get colleagues thinking.

If in discussion and reflection you find that practical activities are not being included as much as you may wish or even hardly at all; then perhaps its time for a bit of a re-think.

Practical maths needs to be at the core of all our maths teaching because as we all know, USING maths is more important than just knowing about it!




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *