Physical Mathematics…

I often sit on a Thursday evening about 2000hrs and watch the ukedchat hashtag. This week it was about physical education. Although this is not one of my strong subjects in teaching (or even in real life) I was interested in the first question which asked how physical education could be related to literacy and/or mathematics. Just like a GSCE multiple choice essay question I chose to answer how it could be related to mathematics. You can see the full tweet chat conversation here – but I thought I would expand my response in this week’s waffle.

Using trundle wheels to measure the different sports courts

Using trundle wheels to measure the different sports courts

Mathematics needs to be related to real life situations in order for children to see the relevance of the subject and how we use it to interact with the ‘real world’. Physical Education (PE) provides the opportunity for using mathematics in a real life context. Like any cross curriculum approach however, it is important that there exists a clear initial focus on which subject you are addressing. Remember it is absolutely fine to get the children into their PE kits and go to the hall for a mathematics lesson – you don’t have to take up PE time to teach them maths

Remember it is absolutely fine to get the children into their PE kits and go to the hall for a mathematics lesson – you don’t have to take up PE time to teach them maths

  • PE starters– Remember I am not a PE specialist but I am aware that there is a warm up starter within the session. Mathematics can be used here in order to get the children running about and getting their hearts a-beating! Running around and then asking them to get into groups according to specific numbers – for example the next even number after 4? the prime number before 5 or even any group number as long as it a multiple of 3 or a factor of 12. Also, remember the party game called ‘Corners’? After you have placed numbers on pieces of paper in various parts of the hall, the children could run around the hall and then go to a corner. Then instead of giving the number give a property of that number – for example the number that has seven in the tens column. Just be careful which numbers you chose to be the ‘corners’ – remember you don’t just have to have four.

  • Timing and estimating-One PE activity I always used to dread was circuits! Go to a ‘station’ suffer a period of time of sweating and pain, and then move on to the next – unless you managed to perfect the trick of acting as if you are working hard while the teacher was watching and then resting when they looked away – I was a master! But the timing of activities can actually support the children’s concept of time. Ask them to estimate how many of the activity they can complete within the time slot or – the reverse of that – how long will it take to do 10 or 20 of the activity. (just be careful – 20 of anything would have taken the whole PE lesson for me!)

  • Measuring and more timing– As summer approaches, PE is often taken out into the open fields where shade is limited and grass pollen abounds – oh joy! However the area of athletics has a number of applications for mathematics. Timing running times and calculating increases and/or decreases in times as well as calculating durations – e.g. how long did it take from the starting time to the finishing time. Also running times are often calculated to tenths of seconds – and these are often averaged when lap times are involved. These can always be recorded and plotted onto graphs to show overall improvements. In a similar way, the throwing of various objects, from Frisbees to tennis balls, allow for the recording of measurements. As well as the calculations similar to the times for running, for older children there is the possibility of converting between metric and imperial units – to compare and contrast between their own attempts to those of the past – previous olympians or teachers of my era.

  • Perimeter and lines of courts– If I was ever actually picked for a team my chances of being on the actual court/playing field was slight. Unless of course a particularly violent opposition took out most of the players and there was no-one else available! During the times on the ‘bench’ I was always fascinated by the court markings. These always appeared to be a complex of coloured lines and I would use the time to trace these in my head and estimate what the total length of each court was. Using this children can estimate which court they think is the biggest before actually measuring them, choosing the most suitable instrument and comparing between the sports. Looking at the actual court can also allow the children to recognise lines of symmetry which can impact on the way they measure and calculate the lines leading to effective planning relating to the previous using and applying mathematics and the 2014 aims of the mathematics curriculum.

  • I do see the benefits of PE and despite what you are probably thinking at the moment, I did attempt to participate fully in all the lesson. Unfortunately my body has always been designed more for typing rather than sport.

    There are probably other activities which can be incorporated into PE and if you have any suggestions or ideas then I look forward to hearing your comments. Please add them in the comments below or send me them to be via twitter(@iwilsonysj), Facebook, google+ or email.

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    Have fun, engage and I’ll catch you later


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    2. Hi Ian, great post! I definitely think that more cross curricular teaching like this needs to happen. I thought that was supposed to be the legacy of the last NC but sadly not! I love the idea of physical mathematics happening all the time rather than just during specially planned units of work. Do you work closely with the PE department?

      • Thanks for your comment Andy, and pleased you enjoyed the waffle.
        Within university we have a module called thematic approach to learning and within all our subject specific modules we make reference to cross curriculum links, including IT.
        Do you do any physical mathematics in your school?

        • Hi Ian
          No physical maths at present but I am a PE teacher and I am now teaching Maths full time so I am really interested in this whole concept especially if it can be an on going “lesson” within a lesson and not just a special one off collaboration between departments. Any advice you can offer would be great!


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