Engagement from the first minute – creative maths starters from integratemaths.org

I’ve worked in some very tricky comprehensive schools. With most classes, I find that at least one of the students in my class will have either a lack of motivation and/or a lack of understanding of key terms and topics.

My work as a fundraiser taught me the importance of grabbing attention early, and making sure students stay interested, understand the key concepts and know how and why they are used.

When I set out to plan my lessons, I want to make sure that in every lesson, before the students are shown the concept that they are to be learning / consolidating, they are shown something to fuel their imagination.

The principle of bringing the parts of the world that fascinate me into my lessons is one that I have been doing since I first started my training, but there was a particular incident that cemented my view of the importance of doing this.

I was speaking to a year 10 girl at the end of an after-school revision session and she asked me this:

“Mr Russell, do you believe in aliens?”

“It’s a fascinating question, and I could talk for hours about the Fermi Paradox, but what makes you ask?”

“Something today made me remember a youtube video. You might have seen, they zoom from an eye, out to the galaxies, then zooms in super small to show the full size of the universe. It’s just that the universe is so big, and we are so very small, surely it can’t all be empty”

I did know the video, I had shown it to her the previous year when I taught her standard form, the topic we had covered that session! It had clearly stuck with her and changed how she saw the world.

Being creative and engaging means students retain topics better.

Statistics is another topic that I often found students utterly lacking in understanding of. I created this way to explain what statistics are:

I start with this slide, with a blank top trump template, then when I have their attention I show my version of a card:


This starter is available here  (it actually doesn’t come up looking like that slide)

I have since created a video explaining how this all went down!

Using top trumps gives the students deeper understanding with meanings. My ambiguity and bias in the scales can lead to discussing the importance of many elements of statistics: specificity, units, subjectivity and more.

The aim is for the students to be easily able to remember what statistics are, before progressing into the content of the lesson. I strongly believe that this helps students categorise and store the content of the lesson.

Another example:  When tackling geometric proof, I start with a riddle, then my next slide asks this question:


The topic of proof is a difficult one. Without understanding the concept of “proof,” some students will struggle to understand mathematical process. Often, just defining the concept does not really help students understand it. A discussion based around this picture can lead a class to a conclusion that we can only trust information we know to be true, which will help when explaining that they need to prove using known mathematical concepts.

And sometimes it just pays to structure a maths question with a bit of silliness involved!


My full library of 50+ starters is available here!

Article first published on Integrate Maths under “What’s it all about” & My Goal, on a website I created while at a short placement where I felt supported enough to create and share

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