A real historical context can add to the excitement of problem-solving. Peter
On Trafalgar Day last year (October 21), I turned up at the Mountbatten School
in Romsey dressed as a seaman from 1805, to teach my pupils about how maths
helped the mariners of that period. This work More… has been extended from a one-hour
lesson to Royal Institution Mathematics Masterclasses of two-and-a-half hours
for Year 9 and Year 5 pupils, and has been adapted for undergraduates and
teachers of maths. The materials have been expanded for use in key stages 2 and
3 by Madeleine Shiers, an undergraduate at University College, Winchester, and
Mountbatten's Jo Lees, one of Hampshire's leading maths teachers.
Madeleine is enthusiastic: "This has really helped me see how cross-curricular
materials can put life into maths and how work between the key stages can help
the transition from primary to secondary. It appeals to kinaesthetic learners
because there are many things to make and move around. Auditory learners
receive plenty of verbal instruction, and the sea shanties engage pupils who
like singing. It is also very visual with the pictures of HMS Victory and
At the Westgate School, Winchester, head of maths Deb Sutch, who organised the
masterclass, says: "This was a marvellous experience for everyone. We learnt
about the battle of Trafalgar, we could touch cannon balls from the time, and
we used algebra to find formulas for calculating the numbers of different kinds
of shot piled into pyramids.
"Then we saw the damage a 24-pounder shot could do to a plank of wood. We used
data-handling skills to compare the fleets and worked out the probability of
winning at Crown and Anchor, a popular dice game of the time. We tasted ship's
biscuits and passed round coins of the period, and also did some relevant
calculations with the money. This is our second year hosting the masterclasses
and we hope a sponsor will help fund them in the future."
Dr Katie Chicot, Clothworkers' Fellow in maths at the Royal Institution, adds:
"The masterclasses are designed to introduce students to aspects of maths
outside of the curriculum, and to develop reasoning and problem-solving skills
through the excitement of mathematical investigation. Their perception of maths
is changed as they see its creative aspect in real-world problem-solving. The
classes take place all over the country and involve local educators. Westgate
came into the scheme last year and has had a great variety of sessions."
As well as working with cannon balls and dice, participants use card to model a
pair of parallel rulers (a wooden device used in the 18th century with sea
charts to calculate the ship's bearings). The resulting instruments are
remarkably accurate, with pupils being able to find a position on a chart to
within one degree.