22 September 2014

Open Evening

Open Evening season is underway. In this post I want to share a few ideas for activities that a Maths Department can run. Before I do so, it's helpful to think about the purpose of Open Evenings.

According to the Good Schools Guide, this is why a parent should attend an Open Evening: "They may not truly reflect day to day life at a school (this will be school at its best) but they'll give you a flavour of what's happening and allow you to soak-up or repel the atmosphere. They are your chance to have the upper-hand, get a feel for the school and chat with pupils and staff. Do visit more than one school, it’s useful to compare and contrast. Remember it's not just schools that select and choose pupils, parents select and choose schools too; so seize the night!".

Amongst the advice that the Good Schools Guide gives to parents about what to do on the night, we have the following:
  • Quiz youngsters about how much help they get from teachers, whether lessons are fun, noisy, long... Are they allowed to talk in class? What happens if someone is being a nuisance? 
  • Is outstanding work rewarded? Is homework set (and marked)? 
  • What happens if they don’t understand the work or find it too easy?
  • If children are undertaking activities particularly in the core subjects such as maths, enquire if this is usual fodder. The way a child responds (or teacher flaps) may be more telling than the responses they give.
In my experience, it's rare for parents to ask questions like these. Nevertheless, it's worth telling staff and students that this is the kind of thing they may be asked.

I was really interested in what Mel (@Just_Maths) recently wrote about her school's Open Week in which parents can tour the school while lessons are being taught. This transparent approach sends a strong message to parents of 'we know our school is good and we have nothing to hide'. It also suggests that this school's leadership team trusts their teaching staff to consistently teach to a high standard. This is the sort of school I'd want my children to go to.

Preparing for Open Evening
As well as organising the logistical side, there are three main aspects that a Maths Department needs to get sorted: 
  • Information. So they are able to answer questions consistently, teaching staff should be briefed on key points relating to results, setting, curriculum, support, policies, facilities, resources and enrichment opportunities. Bear in mind that some parents won't know what questions to ask, so animated slides running on a loop on the interactive whiteboard are a good way of presenting key information. This way, parents can soak up the information while their children take part in activities. Ensure these slides are concise and easy to understand (avoid acronyms). Parents also like to flick through exercise books to see the sort of work students have done and the feedback they've received.
  • Displays. Get your displays sorted so that classrooms and corridors are presentable. If you're looking for ideas for teacher-made displays for your classroom, then try these fantastic resources from Clarissa Grandi. Make sure you also showcase examples of students' work. Tessellation displays always look nice. For one Open Evening I put up posters that my Year 7s had made about Fibonacci - in the rush to get ready I put up the most presentable posters without checking the content in detail. One parent pulled me to one side during Open Evening to point out every mistake he could find. It wasn't just spelling mistakes, a couple of students had got the sequence wrong. Serves me right for not checking.
  • Activities. Set up some fun activities that children can participate in. This is where you'll need a reliable and well-briefed team of student helpers. More on this in a minute. You could also have a table of Key Stage 3 students actually doing some maths in pairs (perhaps a series of rich tasks like the examples below). Have a teacher sit with them to issue the tasks and give them guidance if needed. Parents will be interested to see both how the students work on the tasks and how the teacher interacts with them. 
Shared by @fmaths42

Source: Don Steward
Interactive Activities
Run a handful of interactive activities for the visiting children. Choose activities that:
  • Are quick and easy to prepare
  • Are engaging and accessible to 10 year olds
  • Can be run by unsupervised Key Stage 3 students
  • Can be completed in a short space of time with minimal instruction, while parents look at facilities and chat to teaching staff.
This is an early opportunity to instil a good 'mathitude'. Even better, it may be an opportunity for children to learn something new. You want them to look forward to coming to your school and be eager to get started in secondary school mathematics.

Here's five ideas to get you thinking. For all activities, have sweets or stickers available to reward good work.

1. Design a Maths Clock
Print some blank clock templates and offer children the opportunity to design a maths clock. You could have a big empty display board available so they can pin up their designs.
2. Four Fours
Write the following on a whiteboard or flipchart for the numbers 1 - 20:
4 4 4 4 = 0
4 4 4 4 = 1
4 4 4 4 = 2
4 4 4 4 = 3

Have a student helper issue board pens and instructions. Children have a go at filling in the operations. They find this quite challenging. Parents enjoy it too.
Possible solution - @edfromo
3. Estimation Games
As I mentioned in my most recent gems post, estimation develops number sense and problem solving skills. Children could estimate the weight of a large pumpkin, the value of money in a jar or the number of sweets in a bowl. Alternatively, bring in an assortment of circles or rings (plates, saucers, large hula hoops, polo mints) and ask children to estimate, then measure, the circumferences.

Speaking of circles, children could try to draw a circle freehand, with your student helpers judging their accuracy. This is actually a good learning opportunity for your students because the
judging involves circle theorems, so you could have GCSE students do the judging as an extension to their circle theorem lessons.

4. Shapes
@sxpmaths suggests a fun game of human quadrilaterals. In pairs, children have to form various quadrilaterals with their arms/legs/bodies. 

If you have access to an interactive whiteboard, how about the great game 'Shape Shoot' from flashmaths.co.uk?

Another shape game involves children writing down the name of a shape on a post-it and sticking it to the head of a student helper, who then has to guess what the shape is using up to ten yes/no questions.

5. Lowest Number Competition
My school holds a 'Lowest Number Competition' which always goes down well. Each child completes the slip below and puts it in a sealed box. The next day we sort though the responses - there's always lots of 'ones' from children who have missed the point (or perhaps they've tried to be clever and assumed that no-one else would give such an obvious answer! Worth a try!). The winning number is normally in the late teens or early 20s. The Maths Department can also do a sweepstake on what the winning number will be.

Read this Twitter discussion for more open evening activity ideas.

There's lots more you could do - tangrams, code-breaking, giant magic squares... I'm sure readers of this post will have great ideas to share - if you do, please leave a comment. 

Sign by Blackpool Sixth Mathematics Department @BSMathsDept


  1. Dice/probability investigations are always good. I also have a 'find the middle of the triangle' challenge where I leave out sets of mathematical equipment - tends to draw in older parents/grandparents keen to show off their geometrical skills!

    1. Great ideas, thank you. Good to let the parents show off - makes them happy!

  2. Include the sweets in the activity:
    Make a Geodesic Dome with mini marshmallows and toothpicks - I made a post for an open day: http://mathslinks.net/faculty/make-a-geodesic-dome

    and a toothpick puzzle http://mathslinks.net/faculty/toothpick-puzzle

  3. I think I might just try some of this stuff generally in classroom, seems a waste just for an open day.

  4. More Open Evening ideas at the end of this post: http://www.resourceaholic.com/2016/07/gems59.html