Spoons Dropping on a Table: The Sound of Maths - By Shane Steele 

Shane SteeleI have always enjoyed maths, rarely finding a lesson at school boring, even when we just worked from a textbook. However, as I’ve started my training, I have learnt that this is definitely not the case for most students. One of the targets my mentor has given me a couple times is to ensure I make my lessons fun for the students who don’t necessarily enjoy maths; for someone who naturally enjoys maths, this was a difficult task, but I know when it gets to those period 5 and 6 lessons keeping students engaged is tricky at the best of times. 

As I started the new topic of probability with my year 8 class, however, I saw the perfect opportunity. I feel like one reason lots of students enjoy science is because they get to take part in practical’s, so I decided statistics could be like this as well. Experimental probability has the word in its name, experiment, so I decided to get students to do their own experiments to find some relative probabilities. 

There were a few experiments the students could choose from: flipping a coin; rolling a dice or my personal favourite, dropping a spoon. These experiments may not sound that fun, and I don’t think my year 8’s were as excited as I was when I told them, but I persevered anyway. As they started, however, they all seemed to find it quite funny, whether it was just because they were able to stand up and move or just the idea of people around them intensely watching spoons drop to the floor, but either way they seemed to be engaging with the maths.  

As I circulated the room, I got students to predict what the probabilities would be and asked questions about fairness of the test. This meant as well as having fun the students really were thinking about what they were actually doing. We spoke about applications, like predicting who would do their homework and students then all calculated their relative probabilities. We discussed the results with the class and filled in a spreadsheet to combine their results and through a graphical representation I could show them that as we got more data our estimated probability seemed to be closing in on a value. 

This lesson was great because it taught the students all that I had planned in a way that hopefully they will remember and showed them that the sound of maths isn’t just pencil on paper but spoons dropping on a table. Plus, it made for an interesting conversation when a year 7 later in the day asked why I had 10 plastic spoons in my top pocket. 

By Shane Steele