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It’s time for real-life maths

One aim of the primary maths curriculum is for pupils to solve problems by applying their mathematics to a variety of routine and non-routine problems. While we should incorporate this throughout the year, it can sometimes slide as teachers prepare for tests. If that’s the case, now is the perfect time to provide opportunities for pupils to apply their learning in a real-life context.

By this, I don’t mean pupils completing a sheet of word problems, rather using maths to create something or provide information that somebody needs.


Working on real-life applications often brings together different topics, so it is an effective way to embed learning. Also, pupils can be very enthusiastic and motivated when working on projects that incorporate maths including those who are not normally keen on the subject.


Sports Day

Let pupils organise Sports Day. To start, ask pupils to brainstorm all that Sports day entails. This should produce a list of questions. For example, how many races can a class perform in the timeframe? This prompts another question: how long will each race take? To answer this, pupils could use a sample of pupils in each age group and time how long they take to perform various tasks. They can then use this information to estimate how long the whole class would need to complete their events taking into account the time needed to set up each race.

Another question could be: how much will it cost to provide refreshments? First, they need to decide who will need refreshments and then estimate the number of supporters. Next, they need to agree on what proportion would like refreshments before they get to pricing the food and drink.

Other pupils could look at how long they need to set up the events including having all the equipment and chairs in the required places.

School Trips

Apart from the obvious tasks of costing how much a trip will cost by looking at entrance and transport, pupils could also create a timetable for the day. When doing this, pupils often forget about allowing travel time to get from one place to another, toilet breaks and checking that all pupils are present at various points in the day.

Also, have they added the cost of the extra adults needed for a safe staff to student ratio when costing the trip?

Class Parties and Picnics

If the cost of the party or picnic is coming from school funds, pupils can work out what they need to buy based on how much food and drink each child requires. You could provide a budget so they have to make choices about what to buy and quantities of each item.

Alternatively, if parents and carers are providing the food and drink, pupils could work out how much they need of each and divide this between students. This would help to avoid there being huge mounds of food leftover following the very generous contributions from some homes where children bring in enough items to feed the entire class.

Organising a Café

A popular activity in school is to create a café experience and invite family and friends to attend either to showcase a topic or as part of a larger event.

Pupils can work out how much the invitations would cost based on various types of paper or card and decorations. Once they have the number of people, they can work out how to arrange the tables and chairs so everyone can sit comfortably.

If they are creating refreshments, you could provide a budget to buy the ingredients, tea bags, coffee, milk and any other items they need. For younger pupils, the cost of the items could be rounded to appropriate numbers.


Many schools run gardening clubs which provides lots of opportunity for applying maths skills. If there isn’t a club, then now could be a good time to establish one.

If starting a new club, students could plan out how they will use the area, bearing in mind how much space the plants will need to grow and the height they will reach by using area and measuring. You could provide a budget and take pupils to a garden centre to purchase the plants and other items they will need.

Growing sunflowers and running a competition to estimate their heights each week is a popular activity that gets other students involved in the club's activities.

School Projects

​Are there any school projects being planned such as creating new spaces for sporting activities, planning the layout of the car park or creating a new library? These are all projects that could involve pupils applying their maths skills.

If there is a space that is being developed, pupils could plan out what could go there, and provide layout plans and estimated costs. You can link this to English by having them create a proposal in the form of a persuasive letter which they could write to the governing body of the school.

Fundraising Projects

Split pupils into groups and allocate an amount of money to each group. The aim is for pupils to create something to sell and donate the profits to charity.

Pupils could make cards, biscuits, jewellery, games, story books or anything they can realistically make and sell. Initially, they survey the parents or other pupils to get some idea of how much people will spend on the items and what they are looking for in a particular product.

Pupils have to buy all items needed for the product and the packaging from the supplier which can be you. You can incorporate percentages by offering discounts when they buy a certain amount. All groups need to provide a list of items they require before they begin to make the products. They cannot spend more than the money they have at the beginning but they can barter with other groups for needed items.

An added bonus with this type of project is the number of parents coming in to comment that their child has been enthusing about these challenges constantly while at home.

Themed Projects

If you have a theme per term, a project could be based around this. For example, when the theme was Africa, we created a museum workshop experience for the rest of the school to visit. Although this is not providing something that is actually needed, the hosting class are creating the workshops and allowing visitors to apply their maths skills.

Activities included asking pupils to predict how many times bigger a rhinoceros’ foot was than their own foot. An outline of the animal’s foot was then used to check. Younger pupils simply used their foot as a measurement. Another challenge asked pupils to see if they could run as fast as a cheetah by timing them running and working out their speed.

Visiting pupils could sort population figures for countries to see which country has the highest population and then compare this to other cities around the world. Images of the Ishango bone could be on display and pupils could be challenged to see what they notice. Does anyone spot prime numbers? Another activity could involve playing Mancala. If no boards are available, they can use egg boxes or even create holes in a sandpit and use small balls for the pieces.

Share Ideas

Hopefully, some of these ideas will be applicable for your class or have sparked some ideas of your own. It’s worth having a school focus on this and brainstorming ideas together to produce a range of projects that can be shared across the year groups so that the whole school can focus on real-life maths.

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