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Making maths relevant for students

To some, numbers are one of the most intriguing topics out there while to others they’re the stuff of nightmares. You only need to watch one random episode of 8 out of 10 Cats Does Countdown to see the full spectrum of feelings on the numbers round.

Modern thinking suggests that a maths teacher's job is not to teach their students the subject, but to teach them how to learn the subject. An important factor in that is relevance.

As with any subject, getting a class of students to listen, engage and learn isn’t a simple task, however it’s one that can be made easier by relating what you’re teaching to real world scenarios. From sport to music to politics, maths infiltrates every aspect of our daily lives and maths teachers have a plethora of ways to find out what appeals to their classroom.

Here are a few strategies you can apply as a maths teacher, all of which could cover algebra, probability and statistics:

Money Maths

This is probably the easiest to introduce and one that will be close to the hearts (and pockets) of those you’re talking to. How should you split a bill when one person wasn't drinking wine and another only had a main course? How should the bills in a shared flat be proportioned when the bedrooms are all vastly different sizes? Is it more cost effective to own or lease a car? What about the difference between electric, hybrid and petrol vehicles? And when it comes to mobile phones is it better to get a contract with regular upgrades or to buy the handset outright and get a SIM only deal?

Taxes, salaries and savings aren’t exactly the most ‘fun’ themes you can use, but the higher up the education ladder you climb, the more important it will become. If what you suggest to your students can have a direct impact on their disposable income, you're sure to have their ear.

Current Event Maths

Every day the news is full of surveys, polls, research data and statistics, each of which can be a source of inspiration for a maths lesson that really gets the mind racing. Much of the raw data behind this is publicly available and websites such as or do an excellent job of bringing this to life.

Data isn’t always exactly as it appears on the tin, and it can be incredibly satisfying to confirm or debunk a news story by digging into the data and using maths to see the story in its true light. Bestselling book Freakonomics is perhaps the best example of this, explaining such topics as the socioeconomic patterns of naming children (via nominative determinism).

Sport and Entertainment Maths

On paper, Wayne Rooney is the top goalscorer of all time for the England national football team, however pundits constantly debate the ‘value’ of his goals (many of which were scored in inconsequential games) versus someone like Gary Lineker who has a higher proportion scored at major tournaments against higher calibre opposition. A task to figure this out and put an end to the debate one and for all would be a surefire way of appealing to the football fans in the room.

The same kind of conundrum could be found around the subjects of Harry Potter books, Take That singles sales, or Simpsons episodes - the list is only as endless as your imagination. By talking to your students about what they’re up to at the weekend, you’ll get a better idea of the types of approach that might appeal to them on Monday morning.

A quick Google of any of these will provide plenty of lesson plan templates, activity sheet downloads and comments from other teachers who have faced the same uphill struggle to make maths relevant. The overwhelming message from these resources is that often it’s the most tenuous of links that gets the best reaction from pupils.

The next step

If you're looking for maths teaching vacancies, take a look at Capita Education's latest jobs here.
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