18 February 2015
Short articles

Planning for context-based teaching

In Mathematical concepts – context is key I argued that context can provide the challenge, the motivation and the purpose for understanding and using mathematics, and that one approach was to use a problem solving, investigative, open-ended approach—one which uses real materials and situations, and identifies the connections between maths and the real world.

However, teaching mathematics using a problem solving approach, especially one that is based around making connections with the real world, can be demanding—certainly harder than teaching out of a textbook. It requires more planning and preparation in advance if it is going to work successfully.

So, how can you plan what to do and how to link maths with the real world? And what can you do in the classroom and out?

The following flow chart maps out one possible process to use for negotiating and planning what to teach that supports this approach. This process is often best done in collaboration with other teachers – it makes it more creative and you can share the development time. 

Planning for context-based teaching.

The first and crucial task is to decide what the theme or context is that will be the topic for students to investigate and work on.

Importantly, it should be of interest to the students. It could be a current popular topic, or an issue of concern. It might be about sports, food, travel, cars, holidays, fashion or music. However, it is important to remember that one topic may not be of interest to all students in the group, so a few different options can help.

It can also help if students are involved in the decision making process, so that they can feel ownership in some way. There are several ways to involve students: discussing ideas with them, suggesting topics, brainstorming with them, working in small groups to develop ideas, getting them to write down ideas on cards, and much more.

It can also help if students are involved in the decision making process.

Image © Shutterstock/Monkey Business Images

Talking with other teachers who teach the same group of students will give you an idea of what the students might be working on in their other classes.  If topics are chosen that are related to what students are learning in their other subjects, this provides a cross-curricular approach to teaching and the curriculum.

As teachers, we need to remember that negotiation is a two way process—not just one way from the students’ perspective. The teacher is there as an educational leader and has a vital role to play with their knowledge and expertise about what topics are appropriate, what investigations are achievable and manageable, and what mathematics needs to be covered to meet curriculum guidelines.  

Stay tuned: In following articles I will illustrate the different stages of the planning process in more detail with examples.

References

Tout, D. and Motteram, G. (2006). Foundation numeracy in context. Melbourne: Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER)


Do you use classroom activities that reflect the real-life situations that your students are likely to face beyond the school gates?

What processes do you use for planning how to use a problem solving approach in your classroom?

Dave Tout

Dave Tout is Manager, Vocational, Adult and Workplace Education Services and Senior Research Fellow in Numeracy and Mathematics at the Australian Council for Educational Research.

Dave is an experienced numeracy educator who is particularly interested in making mathematics relevant, interesting and fun for all students, especially those who are disengaged from mathematics. He has worked in schools, TAFEs and community providers (university and industry). Dave has written a number of teaching, curriculum, assessment and PD resources, and has presented on a wide range of topics at local, regional, national and international events. Dave was involved in the development of the maths components of both PIAAC and PISA 2012.


COMMENTS

  • Hi Dave,
    I teach Mathematics for Grade 8 In UAE, and working nowadays on a project which I called physical mathematics, where I teach some mathematical concepts in sport hall. I really finished teaching only two geometrical points (types of angles and types of triangles), it was very hard to plan for the lesson and was harder to design the game or the activity.
    I read your article and I appreciate your flowchart for planning to the activity and that I really did with my students with some changes according to the environment here.
    May you help me, how do I design an activity to apply in sport hall for some topics in algebra like solving equations or graphing straight lines for example? Thank you in advance.

    25 February 2015
    • Hi Wagih,
      The issue of what maths content arises from which context is a crucial part of the planning process (Stages 1 through to 4). Sometimes it is not possible to get all the maths that needs to be covered out of the one context (in your case it seems this was the sports hall).

      The Brainstorm should help to establish what areas/topics/issues might arise. So, in your context of a sports hall, obviously shape is one that you have identified and used, but others that quickly come to mind would be dimension and measurement esp for different activities that can be played indoors - the dimensions of different playing surfaces/areas etc; construction design (more shape and space incl scale drawings), costs of construction (lots of maths including rates which could incorporate linear equations with fixed and variable costs); the rules and scoring of different indoor games played (basketball is a good example with different points for different shots); and probably more.

      But the idea is to do the brainstorm and then focus on a few of the areas that arise that match the maths you need to cover - stages 4 and 5 in the planning process. So you may then need to find alternative contexts to develop further maths skills - and this adds variety to the program from both the students perspective but also from your perspective as the teacher.

      I hope this helps explain the process - and maybe others could suggest other ways to cover linear equations or graphing straight lines - I certainly used to use sport scores (Australian Rules football has a nice scoring system that uses the formula P = 6g + b) and contexts where there were fixed and variable charges such as taxi fares and work contexts where there are fixed and variable rates of payments.

      Cheers
      Dave

      Hi Dave,
      I teach Mathematics for Grade 8 In UAE, and working nowadays on a project which I called physical mathematics, where I teach some mathematical concepts in sport hall. I really finished teaching only two geometrical points (types of angles and types of triangles), it was very hard to plan for the lesson and was harder to design the game or the activity.
      I read your article and I appreciate your flowchart for planning to the activity and that I really did with my students with some changes according to the environment here.
      May you help me, how do I design an activity to apply in sport hall for some topics in algebra like solving equations or graphing straight lines for example? Thank you in advance.

      - Originally posted by Wagih ; UAE

       

      View comment

      02 March 2015
    • Hi Wagih
      You could perhaps do some anthropometrics by having students measure height, arm span, length of long bones in arms or legs then plot the values for the different pairwise comparisons. There will be trends evident in some of the scatterplots, to which they could add lines of best fit either ‘by eye’ or using a spreadsheet. The equation of the line can be found by formal methods (gradient etc) and used to make comparisons and predictions. Forensic science applications come to mind. Have a look at: http://forensics.rice.edu/en/materials/activity_nine.pdf or similar materials from a Google search
      Hope this helps
      Jim

      Hi Dave,
      I teach Mathematics for Grade 8 In UAE, and working nowadays on a project which I called physical mathematics, where I teach some mathematical concepts in sport hall. I really finished teaching only two geometrical points (types of angles and types of triangles), it was very hard to plan for the lesson and was harder to design the game or the activity.
      I read your article and I appreciate your flowchart for planning to the activity and that I really did with my students with some changes according to the environment here.
      May you help me, how do I design an activity to apply in sport hall for some topics in algebra like solving equations or graphing straight lines for example? Thank you in advance.

      - Originally posted by Wagih ; UAE

       

      View comment

      03 March 2015

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