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Is Christmas maths a problem in your classroom?

As Christmas approaches, it can be one of the busiest times of the year (at the end of a very long term), and it can therefore be tempting at times to keep pupils busy and occupied with festive maths activities that consist of seasonally decorated consolidation activities. However, while consolidation is useful at any time of the year, Christmas maths activities can be much more engaging for your pupils without endless hours of planning and preparation.

One way to achieve this is to facilitate a practical maths challenge. An ongoing project can absorb pupils and develop group work while incorporating reasoning and the interweaving of several strands of maths. An option for this is to split the class (or several classes) into teams of four and then challenge each team to make the most profit from designing and selling a particular product, such as Christmas cards, present tags or festive biscuits.

The first task is to find out what features people would expect in a product and how much they would be prepared to pay, so groups need to design a short survey which has the added benefit of focusing their thoughts and ideas. This can be achieved easily by allowing some time for groups to develop survey questions and then pooling ideas to create one survey that everyone takes home. Examples of questions created for a tags project undertaken by one class included asking how many tags they would expect in a pack and which of the following would affect their decision to buy tags: eco-friendly card, glitter decorations, interesting shapes and the colour of the tags.

Once the teams have the survey results, they then have to decide what materials they need to purchase from the store (you being the storekeeper) out of the team budget that they are given at the start; we gave all groups a budget of £5. Some rules need to be set here, such as no refunds being allowed so that they have to think carefully before making any purchases. It is fascinating to see how this encourages them to focus on realistic estimates and the checking of calculations. All decisions need to be agreed by the group which leads to team members having to justify and explain their ideas and reasoning to the rest of the team. Accurate measuring also becomes important since products are presented for sale in some sort of packaging and waste needs to be avoided in order to increase profits.

When it comes to selling the products, it is worth trying to avoid teams selling their items to their own parents in order to avoid bias and parents feeling under pressure to pay far too much for an item simply because it was made by their offspring. Having said that, it was interesting to see one pupil's consternation when one brave father declared that the biscuits he was buying were far more appealing than those offered by his son's group because the father's choice had been designed with a clear window in the packaging that allowed him to see what he was buying. Overall, however, allowing parents to browse and buy without any teams present is a far better approach so that the products are bought purely on their own merit as would happen in a real shop.

This type of project has always generated a huge amount of positive feedback from pupils and parents, who have described their children talking incessantly about the project at home and wanting to discuss how best to approach challenges that the team are facing at the time. Allowing pupils to evaluate their experience of the project at the end is also a useful assessment tool since pupils highlight areas in which they struggled.

Of course, there may not be time to undertake a project of this type, but reasoning and problem solving do not have to be sacrificed when working on shorter activities. Pupils could investigate what numbers of baubles could be split equally between certain numbers of pupils when decorating a Christmas tree. This can be adapted for all ages by varying the number of baubles and the number of pupils. If you are holding a class Christmas party or event, the pupils could plan it themselves including deciding what to buy within a given budget and producing a timetable of the activities that will take place. To incorporate statistics, they could vote on their most wanted Christmas present and then investigate the best way to present the results, depending on the data collected. For an activity with a religious theme, pupils could be presented with a map of the area covered in the Christmas story in order to estimate how long it would have taken Mary and Joseph to travel on the journeys they undertook, bearing in mind that they would have been travelling by donkey. For those who are completely snowed under and very short of time, Mathsmoves has prepared reasoning resources for five to eleven-year-old pupils: see

So have a think about how you can enthuse and engage your pupils through Christmas maths problems right up until the end of term and your well-deserved break from school. Happy Christmaths!

Click on the images to find examples of the

Tags Survey and Product Packaging documents.

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