How to run a successful maths club.
Running any extra-curricular club takes time and commitment often within an already frenetic day. So you want to make sure that your time is spent well and pupils benefit from attending an extra-curricular activity.
The following questions can help you clarify your thoughts before starting a maths club.
Why run a maths club?
Pupils in primary school already spend a significant amount of time learning maths so surely extra-curricular activities should exclude this core subject?
We do spend a large portion of time teaching maths but there is a large curriculum to cover and little time for diversions. A maths club allows students to explore and enjoy maths outside the curriculum in a relaxed environment without being assessed.
Pupils can follow their interests and you have the freedom to follow those tangents when you are not tightly focused on covering the next objective.
Longer activities and investigations can be carried out over several weeks which helps pupils to build perseverance and confidence when faced with longer challenges.
Less confident pupils may discover a talent for an area of maths they haven’t previously tried.
Who should attend?
Invitation to maths club should ideally be open to all pupils, regardless of their ability as defined by tests. If pupils are not used to working in mixed ability groups, this can be a great opportunity to build pupils’ confidence.
However, it is worthwhile thinking about the range of ages within a maths club. Too wide a range can cause problems but combining two different year groups works well since you can provide tasks all pupils can attempt.
Each term, you could cover a different age range so that the whole school gets access to the maths club within a school year.
What type of activities should I use in a maths club?
This is the fun part.
When running maths clubs, I like to include a range of topics and give pupils a choice about whether they would like to take it further. This may involve only a couple of pupils but that’s okay.
Everyone doesn’t have to be working on the same activity at the same time. However, some activities benefit from the input of several pupils, such as the building of a geodesic dome.
Pupils generally love this activity and the fact that a dome can be constructed from geometric shapes fascinates them.
A search on YouTube for geodesic domes provides lots of information but the video provided by Science Online focuses on how to build a dome using card. If you do not want pupils to construct the triangles, templates are available at Hilaroad.com which is linked to the video.
Pupils can take several weeks to create their dome and then they can present it to the whole school during maths assembly.
If pupils are interested, they can look at how structures such as the domes used in The Eden Project in Cornwall were built using mathematical shapes.
While the mathematics of topology is beyond primary students, it is always worthwhile introducing pupils to areas of maths they are unlikely to meet in the classroom.
You can create normal paper loops approximately 2cm wide and ask pupils to draw a line along the centre until they reach the start. They will draw only on the inside or outside. Then tell pupils you can create a loop where you can draw continuously and cover the entire surface of the loop. Let them think about it and then show them how to create a Moebius strip. What happens when they draw a line along the centre of this strip?
They can cut along the line drawn on the original loop. What do they think will happen when they cut along the drawn line on their Moebius strip?
An internet search will provide more details about Moebius strips. One example can be found here.
Pupils will probably have seen tessellating patterns but they can now explore how to make these patterns.
Provide pupils with 2D shapes and let them investigate which will fit together with no gaps. Challenge older pupils to work out which shapes will tessellate by exploring their interior angles.
Pupils could create tessellating patterns as borders to decorate a wall within the school or create a gallery as part of a maths wall near the entrance. They could also use QR codes so that pupils and visitors could listen to an explanation recorded by students about how they designed the tessellations.
Often pupils come to maths club with little awareness of origami and leave as avid fans. Some parents have even reported that they are choosing origami over time on the computer!
You need not be an origami expert to lead a session: there are some excellent resources on the internet including videos such as this one that leads you through how to make a hat. As pupils are following this, you could discuss the types of triangles created as you fold as well as other shapes, such as a trapezium.
For a discussion of some real-life applications involving the folding of geometric shapes, see here.
Modular origami allows you to create geometrical 3D shapes by using several sheets of paper to create modules that are then joined together. See here for a video and book suggestions.
Lots of activities can be based around the twelve pentominoes that we can make by joining five squares together side-to-side. Pupils can find all the pentominoes using squared paper. 2cm squared paper is ideal for younger pupils since it is easier to handle the shapes.
These can then fit together to create a rectangle of 60 (12 x 5) square centimetres. This can have different dimensions. Can pupils explain which rectangles covering an area of 60 square centimetres are not possible and why? (1 x 60 and 2 x 30). Pupils could then move on to creating the pentomino layout for the 3 x 20, 4 x 15, 5 x 12 and 6 x 10 rectangles.
It is often best to allow pupils to choose a topic for this kind of project although initially, they may need a selection of topics to choose from. The selection could include questions that genuinely need answering such as how to best redesign a part of the playground. One project we looked at was how to design the layout and shelving of the new library space.
Pupils can work on different projects as long as they are working in a group unless a large project needs everyone involved.
Brainstorming questions that intrigue the pupils in the maths club is a good place to start.
Projects could also be based around something popular such as smarties. Students could survey their peers to find out the most popular colour of smarties and then investigate the distribution of colours in smarties packets to see whether this aligns with preferences. They can then write to the manufacturer with their findings if wished. Healthier data options could involve how much fruit and vegetables they eat each week or how much time they spend using their screens.
Whatever data is collected, pupils can discuss the most suitable form in which to communicate their findings.
Playing mathematical board games in maths club allows pupils to discuss efficient ways to calculate mentally and helpful strategies for playing the game.
It is worth having a whole school sort-out of classroom cupboards for maths resources since maths board games that previous teachers have purchased often end up buried at the bottom of a cupboard so no one is aware that they even exist!
Just ensure that the game is suitable for the age range you are working with and be clear about the maths that is being used.
I am a huge fan of maths games; for reasons see this blog post.
Playing games in maths club engages pupils and there is more time to get the full benefit of the game compared to when it is used as a resource within maths lessons.
Simple card games such as twenty-one (where players need to get a total equal to or as close to twenty-one as possible) are ideal for younger players to practise addition. However, the game can also be easily adapted for older pupils by changing the total and allowing other operations as well.
You could introduce additional rules such as one card has to be a prime number or a multiple of a particular number. It's interesting to allow pupils to create the rules themselves. Some rules may not be practical such as a number being an even prime number since only the number two satisfies this rule.
Playing cards can be used to practise multiplication and division facts with the benefit of being able to discuss how to use known facts or the patterns in the multiplication tables and the commutative rule. Multiplication grids showing the patterns can be downloaded here.
Pupils may well be familiar with using loop cards but in maths club, they could create their own loop cards. These take the format of a card that is split into two halves. The left half provides an answer to a question on another card in the form: ‘I have a pentagon’ where there is a picture of a pentagon. The right half asks the question in the form: ‘Who has an isosceles trapezium?’
Decide on a focus topic and suggest that pupils sketch out the loop questions and answers (so they can check for accuracy and ensure that there are not two answers that are the same) before transferring to cards. Many topics can be covered such as arithmetic operations, fractions (for example equivalent fractions or mixed numbers and improper fractions) and even shape, as above.
Dice are wonderful for creating digits for activities such as Digit Games. Click here for an interactive PowerPoint presentation that demonstrates some examples of this game. It makes pupils think by allowing them to place digits in other players’ boxes as well as their own so it is not dependent purely on chance since placement involves decisions. Playing in pairs enhances the game since they will need to discuss their options which allows them to clarify ideas and justify their choices.
These can be absorbing activities that require little preparation. Teams should comprise a minimum of two players who have to provide a range within which their estimate sits. The winning team is the one with the narrowest range that includes the actual measurement.
Numerous websites can be found that provide maths puzzles. However, these are best tackled offline so that pupils have a chance to discuss their ideas and work together rather than individually at a screen.
Ask around for donations of wooden puzzles that are often bought as presents and then never used. It is worth trying these puzzles yourself beforehand so that you can offer hints and assistance if pupils are getting frustrated trying to find the solution. However, try not to jump in too quickly since maths puzzles are great for building perseverance and resilience.
NRICH is a wonderful website that provides numerous interesting maths problems for all ages. Solutions are provided by pupils themselves and each month they post new problems. This is a great opportunity for pupils to work on a maths problem and potentially get their ideas published. Visit NRICH here.
Pupils often think that maths books are only found in textbook form so providing a maths book library can introduce pupils to other aspects of maths. Hopefully, these types of books will exist in the normal school library but maths club allows pupils more time to explore what’s on offer.
The I Hate Mathematics Book Marilyn Burns
Think of a Number Johnny Ball
The Murderous Maths of Everything, The Magic of Maths and The Secrets of Sums Kjartan Poskitt
Numbers facts, figures and fiction Richard Phillips
Pupils can use facts from this book, together with other clues, to design puzzles or posters such as ‘Guess my Number’ where pupils have to work out the hidden number.
In the busy world of teaching, it's difficult to find time to plan extra-curricular clubs. However, to make the most of the sessions, it is best to decide at the start of term what you will cover each week rather than suddenly panicking at the start of lunchtime when you remember that you are running maths club that day. The ideas above can help you get started and you will soon discover what works best for you and your pupils as well as different age groups.
Above all, if you enjoy maths club, pupils will feed off this enthusiasm and keep coming back while telling their friends they should also join. You may quickly need to find a larger venue to hold the club!