Teaching Numeracy Without Numbers…

Well yesterday was an interesting day from both a pedagogy and an understanding point of view.  As a trainee it is all new to me so nothing has become boring or old hat yet.  I get a feeling of surprise in most lessons at what the children do or don’t get.

Yesterday’s numeracy lesson was Probability and Chance.  This is the first time I have attempted to teach any numeracy that did not have any numbers in and also possibly the most rewarding lesson I have taught to date.

Confusion reigned in the classroom – taking such an abstract concept as probability and trying to teach it to a high-achieving, logically minded Year 5 class was a challenge.  Could the children understand that we can use probability and chance to predict futures? This posed a challenge to their logical minds.  Used to performing calculations with a high degree of difficulty is was a challenge to understand the mathematical principles that underpin probability and chance.  Children could agree that there was a chance of certain things happening (roll of a dice, flip of a coin etc) but struggled to see that maths connection with the chances of something happening.  This then prompted an impromptu philosophical discussion on the likelihood of certain things happening.  Linking this to what the children could already comprehend was paramount – children could understand that there was a sliding scale of chance that events could happen but then could not apply this in a real-life context.  In the context of the new National Curriculum this is a vital skill, as we try to enhance the problem-solving skills of our children.  

This is where I took a different tack and linked the learning to something we had looked at in the previous literacy lesson.  The question then became “What do I want to be when I am older?”  By hypothesising about this we were able to look at how we can use mathematical principles to predict futures.  The default 10 year old boy answer of “Professional Footballer” could be dissected as we looked at how seemingly random events can change the path we tread.  Plodding carefully so as not to crush the dreams of the boys, we were able to look at how we use chance in every day life, from supermarkets stocking their shelves to planners building new towns.  Of great humour to the children was the fact that they may live for longer than me!

The real proof of the understanding came in their independent work.  Children were able to order events in terms of chance and look at how the chance of one thing happening could then effect the chances of something else.  After an initial struggle at the lack of number in the work it was amazing to sit back and watch the discussion unfold.

One interesting topic thrown up was time travel, I may have to invite Prof Cox into school to explain that one although looking at whether you would change age as you travel through time was a rabbit hole that I declined to go down on this occasion…

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