## Meaning making with manipulatives

This year I have an interesting year 11 class. Most of then are targeted 5 or 6, but only achieved 3 or below in their end of year 10 mocks. They had a poor diet of maths through their KS3 due to staffing issues and long term sicknesses they had some.non maths teachers and also extended periods of time with supply. They did have strong teaching in year 10, and some did in year 9, but they have massive gaps in their core skills and knowledge that I’m discovering and trying to close on the way through. For instance, today they did an assessment which included the question “round 7364 to 3 sf” 50% of them answered 736, and a further 20% had different wrong answers. They lack confidence in their own ability and some of them are turned off by the subject due to it. They are all capable of getting to grade 6 at least, but some of them don’t believe it so I’m working to try build that confidence as well as filling the gaps.

Last week we were looking at probability, venn diagrams had gone well and three diagrams were going very well, until we looked at a question that involved conditional probabilities. Cant remember the exact question, but it was along the lines of their being 8 red things and 3 blue things in a bag, someone takes 2 of them at random without replacement, what is the probability they get 2 the same colour.

They could see the first set of branches, but couldn’t get their heads round the second. I tried explaining it a few ways and nothing was working, so I pulled out the box of multi link cubes that lives in my cupboard and passed some round. They had 8 of one colour and we of another and we looked at what was going on.

This simple use of manipulatives really allowed the students to get their heads round the concept. Normally I think I would have resorted to drawings, because there is, at least in the back of my mind, a feeling that manipulatives are only useful for younger students or those with lower attainment levels. But recently I’ve been trying to build more manipulatives into my practice and many I’ve spoken to have told m how successful they can be with older and higher achieving students.

This use of them not only helped their understanding, but it built their confidence, and after trying a couple of times with the cubes they could answer the questions just aswell without them.

I think I will consider other places manipulatives will be helpful with this class as I move throughout the year, as I think it ca help them with meaning making and understanding, but obviously only where it fits and adds to the learning. I don’t want to b using things for the sake of it where it may detract from the learning taking place.

*I’d love to hear any places you use manipulatives and how you use them. If you’d llike to share, please so do in the comments or social media.*

## Symmetry and reflection

This week I’ve been working on symmetry and reflection with my year 9s. As part of this we looked at creating some Rangoli style patterns that had symmetries. After discussing how to reflect shapes in mirror lines and drawing some reflections I shower them some pictures of Rangoli patterns and gave out some squares of squared paper with various mirror lines on and some coloured pencils and gave them some time to get to work.

I was interested to see some of the different approaches. Most just used the squares to create patterns in the first instance. Of these there were two basic approaches, A – complete a pattern in one quarter and reflect into the other quadrants. B – each time they coloured a square they reflected it. I would have opted for option B I think, but watching the class work it seems those who used method A made less mistakes.

There were a couple of students who didn’t just colour squares, they created some triangles, trapeziums and other shapes in their patterns. They all took approach A.

*I’d be interested to hear how you would approach this.*

Once we had some patterns we looked at them as a class on the visualiser, discussing their approaches, what we liked about each one finding mistakes, looking at the reflective symmetries and also discussing rotational symmetry too.

Here are some of the patterns:

This student did a quadrant at a time then shaded what was left in blue when I told them time was nearly up.

This student was doing 4 squares at a time. I like the fact each quadrant is symmetrical too. (I know technically it’s not a symmetrical pattern, but it would.have been had we had a minute or 2 more!)

This student did a bit at a time and reflected each bit in the diagonal line.

I liked all three of these, and they gave rise to a good discussion as they had all gone for more than 2 lines of symmetry and all had rotational symmetry too. More than half of the students had done this, and I wonder if that’s because the Rangoli patterns I had shown them had also done this.

Unfortunately a lot of the others opted to take their work home and I didn’t think to take photos first as there were some awesome patterns.

## Primed

Recently I’ve seen a couple of things on twitter that I’ve thought quite interesting because they have got me thinking about the way I tackled them.the first was this:

It was shared by John Rowe (@MrJohnRowe) and posed a nice question looking at two cuboids that had the same volume asking for the side lengths. It said to use digits from 0-9 without repetition. My immediate thought was to consider prime factors:

2, 3, 2^2, 5, 2×3, 7, 2^3, 3^2

I only had one each of 5 and 7 so discounted them. And I had an odd number of 2s. This meant I’d need to discount either the 2 or the 8. Discounting the 2 left me with factors of 2^6 and 3^4 thus I needed 2^3 x 3^2. I had a 1 I could use too so I had 1x8x9 = 3x4x6. This seemed a nice solution. I also considered the case for discounting the 8. I’d be left with 2^4 and 3^4 so would need products of 2^2×3^2. 1x4x9 = 2×3×6. Also a nice solution.

Afterwards I wondered if John had meant I needed to use all the digits, I started thinking about how this could be done and realised there would be a vast amount of possibilities. I intend to give this version of the the problem more thought later.

The next thing I saw was this:

From La Salle Education (@LaSalleEd). Again it got me thinking. What would I need to get the product 84? The prime factors I’d need would be 2^2x3x7. This gave me only a few options to consider. 1 cant be a number as the sum will always be greater than 14 if 1 is a number. 7 has to be one of the numbers, as if its multipled by any of the other prime factors we have already got to or surpassed 14. So it could be 2,6,7 (sum 15) or 4,3,7 (sum 14) so this is our winner.

These problems both got me thinking about how useful prime factors can be, and they both have given me additional thoughts as to what else I could and should be including in my teaching of prime factors to give a deeper and richer experience.

Prime factors can crop up so many places, and I feel sometimes people let them get forgotten or taught in isolation with no links elsewhere. I always use them i lessons o surds and when factorising quadratics but know lots don’t do this.

*I will write more on prime factors later, but for now I’m tired and need sleep. If you have any thoughts on prime factors or any additional uses not mentioned here I would love to here them. Please let me k ow i the comments or on social media.*

N.b. The La Salle tweet includes this link which takes you to a page where they are offering some great free resources.

## Constructions

One topics I have never been a fan of teaching is constructions. I think that this is due to a few factors. Firstly, there is the practical nature of the lesson, you are making sure all students in the class have, essentially, a sharp tool that could be used to stab someone. I remember when I was at school a pair of compasses being used to stab a friend of mines leg and this is something I’m always wary of.

Secondly, the skill of constructing is one that I struggled to master myself. I was terrible at art, to the point where an art teacher kept me back after class in year 8 to ask why I was spoken about in the staffroom as the top of everyone else’s class but was firmly at the bottom of his. I explained that I just couldn’t do it, although it was something I really wished I could do. He was a lovely man and a good teacher and he offered to allow me to stay back every Monday after our lesson and have some one to one sessions. I was keen and did it, this lasted all through year 8 and although my art work never improved my homework grades did, as he now knew I was genuinely trying to get better. I have always assumed the reason I am poor at art is some unknown issue with my hand to eye coordination, and I have always blamed this same unknown reason for struggling sometimes with the technical skills involved in constructions. Since coming into teaching I have worked hard to improve at these skills, and I am certainly a lot lot better than I used to be, but I still feel I have a way to go to improve.

For these reasons I chose to go to Ed Southall’s (@solvemymaths) session “Yes, but constructions” at the recent #mathsconf19. Ed had some good advice about preparation and planning, but most of that was what I would already do:

*Ensure you have plenty of paper, enough equipment that is in good working order, a visualiser etc.*

*Plan plenty of time for students to become fluent with using a pair of compasses before moving on.*

He then moved on to showing us some geometric patterns he gets students to construct while becoming familiar with using the equipment. Some of these were ones I’d not considered and he showed us good talking points to pick out and some interesting polygons that arise. The one I liked best looked like this:

*This is my attempt at it, I used different coloured bic pens in order to outline some of the shapes under the visualiser.*

The lesson was successful, the class can now all use a pair of compasses and we managed to have some great discussions about how we knew that the shapes we had made were regular and other facts about them.

Next week we need to move on to looking at angle bisectors, perpendicular bisectors, equilateral triangles, and the such. I hope to get them constructing circumcircles of triangles, in circles of triangles and circles inscribed by squares etc.

Here are some more of my attempts at construction:

“Constructing an incircle” – I actually did this one in Ed’s session!

“A circumcircle” – I drew the triangle too big and the circle goes off the page. Interesting to note the centre is outside the triangle for this one.

“A circle inscribed within a square” – this is difficult. Constructing a square is difficult and that is only half way there if that. This is the closest I have got so far and two sides are not quite tangent.

“A flower” – nice practice using a pair of compasses and this flower took some bisectors too.

*If you have any ideas for cool things I can construct, and that I can get my students to construct, please let me know in the comments or on social media.*

## Area 48

Today I was looking at some of Ed Southall’s (@solvemymaths) puzzles on his website. I saw this one that I had not seen before:

I thought I’d give it a crack. You should too….. go on…. Did you get an answer? Well here is how I approached it:

First I did a little sketch, as I always tell my students to do:

I labelled the points with letters as this is normally quite a good way of keeping track of things.

I then decided to let AB = 1 (I chose that bit to be 1 as I knew a unit square would lead to lots of fractions, in hindsight this also let to fractions and AB = 2 would have been better.)

This gave me a few lengths straight off the bat, and I could find BD by Pythagoras’s Theorem and hence had the area of the larger square – which I need to answer the question.

I also noticed I had a RAT (ABD) and I knew the perpendicular sides, and therefore could work out the area.

I then looked at the triangle BCH. This looked like it would be similar to ABD but I took a couple of moments to justify it to myself before moving on, just in case….

If angle ABD is x then as DAB and BCH are both 90 and the angle sums of a triangle and on a straight line are both 180 then CBH and BDA must both equal 90 – x and CHB must equal x, hence they are similar.

They are similar and the scale factor is 2 (as BC is half of AD and they are corresponding sides).

Hence the Area scale factor is 4 and the area pf BCH is a quarter of the area ABD. As Area ABD = 1 then Area BCH = ¼.

From here I took the area of the two triangles away from the area of the square ACED to get the shaded area and put it over the area of the larger square. (Well, after momentarily putting it over the area of the smaller square like a fool!).

So here I had an answer, 11/20. I clicked on the comments on Ed’s website and saw some answers that were not what I had. This had me second guessing myself, so I thought about a different approach.

I went for a coordinate geometry approach (coordinate geometry seems to have taken over from trig as my brains go to method).

I chose the origin as the common corner of the two squares and called the point where the vertex meets the horizontal point B. This mean B’s coordinates were (1,2). I called this line l1 and could spot its equation was 2x. Part of the shaded area is the area under this curve between x = 0 and x = 1 so I calculated that area to be 1.

The perpendicular through B is the other line that bounds the top of our shaded region. I know the perpendicular gradiens multiply to -1 and I know it goes through point (1,2) so I could work out the equation of this line easy enough:

Then calculate the area below it between the values x = 1 and x = 2. This gave an area of 7/4.

So I had a total shaded area of 11/4 and could divide this by the area of the large square to get 11/20 again.

I felt happier now that I had the same answer though two different methods, and I stress to my students that this is what they should be doing with any extra time in exams. Doing different methods and seeing if they get the same answer!

*I hope you tried Ed’s puzzle, and if you did, please let me know how you approached it.*

## When will I use this?

Recently I read a rather interesting article from Daniel Willingham about whether there were people who just cant do maths. It was a very good read and I hope to write my thoughts on it later, when I’ve had more time to digest the material and form some coherent thoughts, but there was one part that set me off on a train of thought that I want to write about here.

The part in question was discussing physical manipulatives and real life examples. Willingham said that there is some use in them but that research suggests this can sometimes be overstated as many abstract concepts have no real life examples. He then spoke about analogies and how they can be very effective in maths of used well.

This got me thinking, earlier on the day a year 12 student had asked me “when am I ever going to use proof in real life?”. This type of question is one I get a lot about various maths topics, and my stock answer tends to be “that depends what career you end up in”. Many students, when asking this, seem to think real life doesn’t mean work. A short discussion about the various roles that would use it and that its possible they never will if they chose different roles but that the reasoning skills it builds are useful is usually enough and certainly was in this case.

It does beg the question though “why do they only ask maths teachers”? Last week when a y10 student asked about “real life” use of algebraic fractions I asked him if he asked his English teachers when he’d need to know hiw to analyse an unseen poem in real life. He said no. I asked if he thought he would. Again no.

So why ask in maths?

The Willingham article got me thinking about this. There has been, throughout my career, a strong steer towards contextualising every maths topics. Observers and trainers pushing “make it relate to them” at every turn. But some topics have no every day relatable context.Circle theorems, for instance, are something that are not going to be encountered outside of school by pretty much any of them. So maybe thats the issue. Maybe we are drilling them with real life contexts too much in earlier years, and this means when they encounter algebraic fractions, circle theorems or proof and don’t have a relatable context the question arises not from somewhere that is naturally in them, but from somewhere that has been built into them through the mathematics education we give them.

Maybe we should spend more time on abstract concepts, ratger than forcing real life contexts. Especially when some of those contexts are ridiculous – who looks at a garden and thinks “that side is x + 4, that side is x – 2, I wonder what the area is?” (See more pseudocontext here and here).

*What do you think? Do you think we should be spending more time lower down om the abstract contexts? Please let me know in comments or via social media.*

## Fun with Cusineire

This is the second post in what I hope will become a long series about using manipulatives in lessons.Last week I posted about how I was going to try and I corporate more manipulatives into my lessons, and that I’ve bought a set of Cusineire Rods for home to play with with my daughter. I’ve not manages to really do much in lessons since, the week has been disrupted by a couple of drop down days and sports day, and the lessons I’ve taught have mainly been around construction and loci, and symmetry and reflection.

I did, however, manage to have a play with some at home. My daughter was interested by the rods, and wanted me to show her some of their uses. First we looked at how they can be used to find number bonds to all different numbers, then we used this to look at adding and subtracting.

She uses Dienes base 10 blocks at school for similar so she started with just the 10 rods and the 1 cubes and showed be how she would use these at school. I then talked to her about how we could use our knowledge of number bonds to do the same thing but using all the rods. This was a fin discussion and allowed be to see some potential benefits to building number fluency with rods over dienes blocks.

She then showed me how she can use manipulatives to divide and to work out a fraction of something. The only fractions she really knew about were 1/2, 1/3, 1/3, 2/4 and 3/4. This led us to a discussion about the nature of fractions and their link to division. She knew that finding a quarter was the same as dividing by 4 and finding a half was dividing by 2 so I asked about finding other unit fractions showing her the notation and she made the link easily.

We then used rods to look at two of the fractions she knew. 1/2 and 2/4. She was surprised to see they always came out the same, and we used rods to investigate this and discussed the nature of equivalent fractions.

She then asked whether you could use the rods to multiply, I thought about it and came up with using them to create arrays:

This was 2 fives. Initially she was counting all the white blocks to get an answer, but after a bit when one of the numbers was one she could count in she started counting in those.

We looked at some where we were multiplying the same number together and I asked her if she noticed anything similar between these shapes and different to the ones we had done before and she picked out that these were squares and the others rectangles. This led to a good discussion as to why this was, linking to the basic properties of squares/rectangles and introducing the terminology square numbers and what that means.

I then looked at these two:

We had done 3 x 4 first then I said to do 4 x 3, she said “it will be the same because it doesn’t matter which way round they are”, so we did it anyway to check and talked about why that was. I tried to incorporate the cords congruent and commutative into the discussion, but I think they went over her head.

At this point her role changed to teacher and we had to teach all these things to her dolls…..

It was fun to play with Cusineire rods like this, and the mathematical discussion they provoked flowed very freely, so I can certainly see that thIs could be very helpful in lessons.

In other manipulative news: I had 20.minutes or so free earlier and spend it looking at Jonny Hall’s (@studymaths) excellentmathsbotwebsite. In particular his virtual manipulatives section. I found what I think to be some good ideas for algebra tiles and double sided counters and think that virtual manipulatives may be a very good way of getting these things into lessons.## Share this via:

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