9 July 2014

End of term!

The summer holidays are fast approaching. Although I'm a believer in teaching maths right up to the end of term, it can be hard to teach a topic properly when lessons are being interrupted by sports day, assemblies, school trips etc. But if we don't deliver worthwhile lessons until the last day of term, then we can't complain when parents want to take their children on holiday during term-time.

I'm not against the idea of watching a video or playing games in maths lesson, but let's make sure our students are either learning something new or becoming more engaged and excited by mathematics.

My school has a standard set of challenges, games, projects and investigations that we use every year, but here's a few of my alternative suggestions for end of term activities:

Fermat's Last Theorem and Pythagoras
Have you read The Simpsons and their Mathematical Secrets by Simon Singh? It's a brilliant book. A nice end of term lesson could involve you explaining Fermat's Last Theorem (or use this BBC video to explain it for you) and showing your class how it features in the Simpsons (it's really rather clever that Homer seems to have disproved it - in fact it's a 'near miss' solution - as explained by Simon Singh in this video from Numberphile).

In this lesson your pupils could do some research into Fermat, or perhaps other famous mathematicians - they could produce a poster as suggested in this lovely activity from Interactive Maths.  Alternatively, they could look at related Pythagorean problems, such as proving Pythagoras' Theorem (which can be done with Origami!), finding Pythagorean triples or investigating Pythagoras with other polygons.

BBC iPlayer is currently showing the Fermat's Last Theorem episode of Horizon - although the maths is rather advanced (it made my brain hurt!), it's an interesting episode and gives an insight into the work of mathematicians.
If you like these Fermat lesson ideas, you might also like my post on teaching binary which features more ideas from Simon Singh's book.

Pascal Investigations
Pascal's Triangle contains lots of amazing patterns and you can easily fill a lesson exploring them. Teachit Maths has a great PowerPoint and activity sheet for this lesson. In this short video a maths teacher briefly explains this history of the triangle. For older students you could also introduce 'choose' notation and link the triangle to binomial expansions.

Pi week
My colleague once had a Pi themed last week of term with one of his classes. The students all brought in cakes and pies, they watched Life of Pi (a lovely film but not mathematical!) and they did Pi-based activities including a Pi recital competition, a freehand circle drawing competition and making a giant Pi paperchain (a different colour per digit).

If you have any other creative ideas for end of term lessons, I'd love to hear them.

I was very lucky to see Simon Singh speak at the Maths in Action lectures in London last year. My school took 20 Year 12s to the event but this year we plan to take 40 because it was such a brilliant day of lectures. I came away feeling inspired. I really recommend these lectures, which are for both A level and GCSE students.

Do you know what makes the numbers on this jumbotron interesting?  Find out in this article.

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