Stick stacking maths challenge

26 May 2012 · 2 comments

in Maths Outdoors

The fractions, decimals and percentages sticks continue to get well-used. Each time I bring them to a class I see something unique and creative demonstrated by children.

This week I had the pleasure of working with a P4 (Year 3) class who have been working very hard on developing their mental maths skills. We started with the usual stick tapping and passing and then moved onto the FDP sticks.

Working in trios the children were allocated a 1m stick, 2 x 50cm sticks, 4x25cm sticks and 10x10cm sticks. They were asked discuss what they could do with their set.

The children did work out that when organised carefully, it was possible to make a fraction wall. One group enjoyed stacking the sticks which led onto a rather delightful challenge. This was to investigate the tallest stack that was possible to make.

This worked really well for several reasons. Firstly, there is no ifs or buts – you have to work cooperatively to complete this task.

Second, the children have to calculate the height of each attempt mentally. Adding up 10cm, 25cm and 50cm parts is a very good natural reinforcement of these quantities. I had written the quantities at either end of each stick, e.g. 25cm and 0.25m which was helpful for quick identification of the quantities.

Finally there was a real problem solving element to the task. Initially the children were building stacks around 2m high. After some trial and error, many groups worked out that having the metre stick as the highest worked most effectively for adding height. The best result came in at 3m 20cm.

I also really enjoyed watching the children chose a place where to work. Neither myself nor the class teacher gave any advice about this aspect of the task, but immediately the children found positions which gave them extra height. In the photo above, this is one of the lowest benches yet due to the order of the sticks stacked, the group managed to create the highest stack. Again, another focus for some interesting discussions.

Long live sticks! They make maths fanta-stick!

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Mrs. West May 27, 2012 at 10:55

Just goes to show that children can learn many important skills with very few (and free!) resources. Brilliant idea to get them outside to enjoy the fleeting nice weather in Scotland!


Juliet Robertson May 28, 2012 at 04:45

Thanks Mrs West

I think what I’m finding is that we have yet to truly tap into the potential of very simple outdoor activities. This particular one came from the children which made it special and also the level of engagement was great to observe.


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