## The Importance Of Times Tables

As much as children may hate them, times tables are one of the key foundation stones of good maths ability. Even when you get to GCSE level, knowledge of times tables is very important: it helps with factors and multiples, it makes long multiplication and long division considerably quicker and easier and times tables will crop up in practically every maths topic in one way or another.

For many children, learning times tables is hard and can be frustrating. But learning them is simply a case of practice makes perfect; the more you do them, the easier it will be to remember them!

But, it’s not just a case of learning the times tables in order. A large number of children will be able to learn their times tables when they are saying them all in the correct order, but will they be able to answer 6 x 5 without having to go through 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30? Being able to recall the times tables facts without having to think too much about it will be a great advantage for future maths work, so it’s worth putting in the effort to learn them that way.

Here’s something to try:
As an example, say that your child needs to know their 4 times tables. Start by making sure they can say them in order quickly and without having to think about it. To get to that stage, each day get them to say them all the way through, perhaps when they are having breakfast or before bedtime. Once they have mastered that, start calling out random 4 times tables questions for them to answer. Do 2 or 3 at a time and, for each one they get right, give them a star. Rewards make times tables considerably less tedious!

## The Wonderful World of Chocolate and Maths!

It’s chocolate week this week – a time when you actually have an excuse for indulging!

And at the same time, Ireland are enjoying maths week . . . maybe a less pleasurable experience for most people!

So, let’s mix it together and take a look at the importance of maths in chocolate.

We are all used to seeing the percentages on the front of more high-end chocolate bars, saying for example “70% cocoa”. But what does that actually mean?

The percentages on the front of chocolate bars refer to weight: they refer to how much of the total weight of the chocolate bar is made up of actual cocoa bean products. By cocoa bean products, we mean cocoa butter and cocoa solids. So, “70% cocoa” means that 70% of the weight of the chocolate bar is made up of cocoa bean products, while the rest is mostly sugar (yikes!) with a touch of vanilla, lecithin (this makes it smooth and creamy) and milk solids if it’s milk chocolate or white chocolate.

A typical cocoa bean is made up of 54 percent cocoa butter and 46 percent cocoa solids (the solids are often ground down and used to make cocoa powder). Different amounts of the cocoa butter and cocoa solids will be used depending on what type of chocolate you eat. White chocolate, for instance, contains cocoa butter without the cocoa solids.

So, as you sit back and tuck in to a chocolate-y treat, spare a thought for those clever chocolatiers who have mixed the right percentages together to make it!

## New National Curriculum for Maths

The new curriculum came into force this month for everyone except Years 2 and 6. Although it may seem a little daunting, the new maths curriculum is nothing to be afraid of! It seems much harder than the previous curriculum, but in reality, they are just learning topics at a slightly earlier age so that they can build on that knowledge for a longer period of time. In maths, some topics have actually been removed from the Key Stage 2 curriculum, such as probability.

By starting the teaching earlier, the theory is that they can then go into much more detail and ensure that children are able to get to the stage where they understand the methods and can solve problems rather than just perform calculations.

Take a look at our Year 1 Maths page to see the topics Year 1 students will be covering. And don’t forget to try our brand new Year 1 Fractions test!

## The Murky World of BODMAS!

Recently a parent asked me about a question they had come across in one of their 11 Plus practice papers. Their child had put E as the answer and his Mum was sure this was correct, but the answer book said it should have been A.

The answer came down to BODMAS (or BIDMAS). It’s one of those awkward little things that no one ever remembers! But, it’s something that rears its head in 11 Plus, SATs and GCSE exams.
BODMAS is basically the order in which we complete a complex sum. It stands for:

Brackets
Orders (or Indices)
Division
Multiplication
Subtraction

It reminds us that when dealing with a sum, we have to do whatever is in the brackets first, then deal with any indices (e.g. square numbers or cube numbers), then we can do divisions and multiplications, then finally additions and subtractions.

We must be careful, though, because all is not as it seems when it comes to BODMAS!

Although Addition comes before Subtraction, this does not mean that all the additions have to be done before the subtractions. For instance, 6 – 3 + 1 is done from left to right, so the answer is 4. If you were to do the adding first, you would get an answer of 2, but this is not correct. So, really, BODMAS should be read as:

Brackets first
Orders or Indices next
Then any Divisions and Multiplications in order from left to right
Then any Additions and Subtractions in order from left to right

Basically, BODMAS sounds better than BOMDSA! It’s just a reminder to do your multiplications and divisions before moving on to your additions and subtractions.

So, that brings us to the question the parent raised. The question was:

Which of the following gives the same answer as 6 x 2 + 12?
A. 48 – 8 x 3     B. 3 + 11 x 2     C. 3 x 7     D. 24 ÷ 2 – 1     E. 2 + 4 x 4

Using the rules of BODMAS, 6 x 2 + 12 = 12 + 12 = 24
A. 48 – 8 x 3 = 48 – 24 = 24
B. 3 + 11 x 2 = 3 + 22 = 25
C. 3 x 7 = 21
D. 24 ÷ 2 – 1 = 12 – 1 = 11
E. 2 + 4 x 4 = 2 + 16 = 18

And that is why the answer is A, not E!

## Maths Star’s brand new Level 5 Mathematics Pack is now available to download!

The level 5 maths pack covers 36 all-important topics aimed at students in Years 5 and 6 at school. The 36 topics have been chosen to relate to the 11 Plus maths topics, so they are a perfect revision aid for the exams. They also build important SATs skills and help to revise all the different areas of maths that are likely to appear in Year 6 SATs tests.

Each topic has a full and detailed explanation with exam reminders, followed by a series of practice questions. At the end of the pack are 7 revision sheets that students can use during their final week before the exam to brush up on their skills.

You can choose to have the pack emailed to you or you can pay extra to have it printed and posted to you. Emailed versions will be attached to your confirmation email. Posted versions will be with you within 5 working days. If you have any questions or have problems with your order, please contact us at mathsstaruk@gmail.com

## Brightspark Education Review 2 – The Lessons!

February 5, 2011 § 1 Comment

Online lessons can cause some controversy – the idea of learning online makes people very skeptical. But . . . you don’t know unless you try! So, I gave it a go and had 2 lessons with Brightspark Education.

SOFTWARE and SETUP
I have worked with the idea of online teaching for a few years now and I know how difficult it can be getting it set up. Unfortunately, no matter how good your software is, it can’t account for parents that are not too good with a computer! But, I must admit that Brightspark’s set up was very easy to use. I did not have any problems with the sound (it was very easy to adjust the audio settings) and the writing tools were easy to use. I’m sure that most children would not have any problem using them. Attending a session was also very easy. I just made sure I had Flash installed, logged in to my account and clicked a button! The instruction manual I received when I booked made it all very hassle-free.
Overall: 9 out of 10!

THE TEACHERS
I had two different teachers in my two lessons. My first teacher was “Jack”. As you may know, all of Brightspark’s tutors are in India, so Jack had an Indian accent! He was, however, very easy to understand. He was fun to learn from and made sure I was confident in the topic. My lesson was mean, median and mode, but when I said I wasn’t too good at division, he opened up a new whiteboard and went over it with me, then we continued with the lesson. He was full of praise and was always putting up fun pictures of smiley faces and clapping hands when I got things right – just what children want and need. My second teacher was a little less inspiring (I can’t even remember her name!) but that could have been the topic (we’ll get on to that in a minute!). She was, however, clear and easy to understand.
Overall: 8 out of 10 (10 out of 10 for Jack!)

THE CONTENT
First Lesson: Mean, Median, Mode and Range. This was great. There were presentations to teach the different parts of the lesson, followed by lots of different example questions I could try.
Second Lesson: Congruent Figures. This was a bit boring! The problem here seemed to be a lack of material, as after about 10 minutes, we had exhausted the resources and the teacher spent the rest of the time making up questions . . . that were all the same and very boring! It certainly wouldn’t have captured a 10 year old’s imagination! This is an issue that can be easily fixed though and I am sure that if a child was having a real problem with the topic, it would take longer.
Overall: 5 out of 10

All in all, I was very impressed. Of course, I only saw a small amount of what they can do, as they cover a wide range of ages and topics. However, from what I did see, it would definitely be worthwhile for children that need a more interesting tuition method! Watch this space for my third and final review – coming soon!

## Fascinating Fibonacci Flowers!

January 29, 2011 § 1 Comment

Have you ever seen a girl in the playground picking petals off of a flower one by one – “he loves me, he loves me not”?!

At that age, you don’t think about how amazing nature is and the tiny details that make it perfectly designed. Even nature conforms to mathematics; in fact, mathematics came from nature first! Flowers, shells and, believe it or not, pineapples were using the Fibonacci sequence way before Fibonacci was even born!

Take a close look at a sunflower head. Have you noticed that the seeds are arranged in a spiral pattern. Notice, too, that they are REALLY tightly packed! Plants grow new bits from a central point called the meristem. Every new growth comes out of the centre at an angle with the previous growth. However, only with a VERY specific angle can the plant make the most economical use of the space. This angle is called the Golden Angle and is approximately 137.5 degrees. If they didn’t grow at this angle, the plant would form its growths (seeds, petals, etc) in rows rather than spirals and you would end up with gaps. Amazing stuff!

So, now that you are baffled with science, here comes the mathsy bit! The Fibonacci Sequence is made up of 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, etc (each number is equal to the sum of the previous two). The number of spirals that form from plants using the Golden Angle is a number from the Fibonacci Sequence. For example, buttercups have 5 petals, asters have 21, Michealmas daisies have 55 or 89.

The Golden Angle appears in shells, too, so the number of spirals in a shell will be part of the Fibonacci Sequence. Pine cones will have a Fibonacci number of spirals coming from the centre. And, yes, pineapples follow the sequence too! Look closely and you will see that there are three distinct sets of spirals, usually a set of 8, a set of 5 and a set of 13.

In fact, you will find the Fibonacci Sequence in most fruits and vegetables, even your cauliflower! So, remember, it’s not mathematicians that create the maths; they are just the ones that find it. Your pineapple is more than just a fruit – it is a marvel of mathematics.

It’s a shame it doesn’t make cauliflowers any more exciting!

## What To Do With The Kids When It Snows – Build a Snowman!

December 1, 2010 § 2 Comments

Are you snowed in with snowhere to go?! Me too!

The worst part about it is if you have children. There is only so much time they can spend splattering you with snowballs, building countless snowmen and throwing themselves off of a sledge at high speeds! (Okay, yes I enjoy all that too!) It can be all-too-tempting to plonk them in front of the telly with a stack of Disney films while you try and get on with things, but why not get them to spend some of their time on some educational games? (You don’t even have to mention the educational bit!)

Try Primary Resources for some lovely festive learning tools, cleverly disguised as drawing and colouring activities! Or if you fancy something a bit more maths-based, why not visit Maths Star’s site for all sorts of free maths worksheets.

And the best game I found today was building a snowman without having to go out in the cold!!! – Build a snowman

Have fun everyone!

## Brightspark Education Review 1 – Is it a Bright Idea?!

Brightspark Education are a company specialising in online maths tuition. There have been mixed reviews . . . especially because of their maths tutors being in India.

However, I like to keep an open mind about these things. Although I am a traditionalist and hold very much to the idea of the ‘good old days’ of marks for spelling and punctuation and learning from textbooks, I firmly believe that we need to move with the times and provide varied teaching methods that will engage the students. And nothing engages students more these days than a computer screen!!

So, I was very excited when I was approached by Brightspark and given the opportunity to try out their tuition process. I haven’t actually had any lessons yet . . . that bit is coming soon! However, I am already very impressed by the resources that they make available for their students. With Brightspark, you don’t just get tuition lessons; you get a whole range of resources and mini tests that you can utilise! This means that the students have work they can do at home before or after their sessions to consolidate their learning.

There is an easy-to-use booking system and they provide you with a very detailed and helpful manual to make it as easy as possible for their clients. Not to mention that there are reduced rates for brothers and sisters!

Helping children with their maths is not just about doing a tuition lesson every now and then. They need to then practice what they have learnt in order to fix it firmly in their minds. So the provisions that Brightspark make are invaluable.

So far, so good! Coming soon: I will be trying out their lessons and the review will follow!

## What Do National Curriculum Levels Mean?

Here in the UK, the educational system is managed by a series of national curriculum levels. Unfortunately, they can often be very confusing, with numbers and letters all over the place! However, it is important to have an understanding of them in order to judge your child’s progress. There are 8 main levels, then they are followed by the letters a, b or c. But what do the letters in national curriculum levels mean?

c – this is to show that a child has only just started to work at this level, so has yet to grasp all of the concepts contained within that level
b – this means that a child is working comfortably within the level
a – this indicates that a child has reached the top of the level and is ready to move on to the next level

The next question is how to know when a child is working at the correct level. Often, parents know their child’s levels but they don’t know whether this means they are average, above average or below average. The basic rules in the Key Stage 2 National Curriculum Levels are:

By the end of Year 2 – A child should be at a level 2 in order to be in the average band
By the end of Year 3 – A child should be working somewhere between level 2a and 3b in order to be in the average band
By the end of Year 4 – A child should be working at a level 3 in order to be in the average band
By the end of Year 5 – A child should be somewhere between level 3b and 4c in order to be average
By the end of Year 6 – A child should be working at level 4 in order to be in the average band
A child who gets a level 7 at the end of Year 9 is often projected to get a Grade C in their GCSEs, but of course this will vary.

How many levels should a child be progressing by each year? Well, the target set is to go up a whole level every 2 years, so each year your child should be progressing by 1.5 sublevels.

When it comes to maths, the national curriculum is separated into different teaching attainments:

Attainment 2: This is the section called Number & Algebra, which covers operations and problem solving
Attainment 3: This section is Shape, Space and Measure, which covers topics such as area, volume and time
Attainment 4: This section starts at Key Stage 2 and is called Handling Data. It includes graphs and charts

For further information on maths curriculum levels, go to: National Curriculum Website

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