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Maths Cafe

IM Pei Pyramid at The Louvre Paris

I don’t know if you have been to The Louvre but if you have you would know about the beautiful pyramid entrance structure built by the world famous Chinese American architect IM Pei. There is one large pyramid and three small ones in the main courtyard. It opened in 1989 to much controversy – an ultra modern structure next to the traditional French palace structure.

Made entirely of clear glass and metal poles, it is 21.6 m high with a 34 m square base. The surface area is 1000 square metres. The volume is about 9050 cubic metres. There are 603 rhombus shapes and 70 triangular shapes.



The Great Pyramid of Egypt, the Cheops Pyramid, is 138.8 m high now but was originally thought to be 146.5 m high – 280 Egyptian cubits. Each base side was 230.4 m long but with erosion the sides are now 230.24 m long. The total volume is 2 583 283 cubic metres.



Sbahle Zwane – 10 year old maths whizz

Sbahle Zwane is a 10 year old boy in Johannesburg South Africa who has been wooing everyone with his maths thinking – solving problems in his head without the use of a calculator. His mother says that “he only wants to talk about numbers.” She realised when he was a preschooler that he had an ability to work with numbers beyond his age expectations. Sbahle claims he sees all the numbers inside his head. He is using mental maths strategies to calculate. Do you have students in your class who show extraordinary maths skills beyond their age expectation? If so, how are you providing for their thinking?

You can see him calculating here. When he grows up he would like to be a pilot.

Happy 2019 – a free subscription for everyone

Happy 2019.

We now offer a free subscription for everyone all over the world. We wish you all a brilliant lifetime of fun creating effective maths sessions for your students using all our resources. We will continue to provide you with the highest quality maths activities, photographs and graphics, all carefully sorted into both age and curriculum substrands.

Real Life Maths Examples

Area is one of the most difficult Measurement sub-strands for your students to understand. We use spatial visualisation skills to estimate areas large or small.  Areas include surface areas which can be curved and squiggly and difficult to think about. Area calculations also require skills iusing decimal operations (+ – x ÷). And when we talk about Area with our students, we need to use real life examples so that our students deepen their concepts of how area works in the world around them. It can’t be taught as just conversion facts and figures (e.g. How many square metres in a 2 x 12 rectangle?)

This old photo shows a man painting the Eiffel Tower. The total area of metal struts and surfaces that need to be painted regularly is about 250000 square meters. One litre of paint covers about 16 square metres. If the maintenance team need to give the Eiffel Tower 2 coats, how many litres do they need? How many tonnes of paint is that? If bulk paint works out at $5 per litre, how much does just the paint cost? The whole upkeep must be so expensive.

Photographs are a great way to springboard your lesson into real life.

2018 Year 3 NAPLAN NUMERACY NSW Results Analysis

In an effective NAPLAN Numeracy test, we should expect 100% of any Core Stage 1 questions to be answered correctly by 80% or more Year 3 students. This result would show that the majority of Year 3 students demonstrated an understanding of Core Stage 1 content. In this NAPLAN test only 4 out of 15 Core Stage 1 questions were answered correctly by 80% or more Year 3 students. Does this shock you?

That means that our Year 3 students do not demonstrate a solid understanding of basic Stage 1 mathematics content. Call it basic, core whatever, these questions are the ones that should be easy to handle, easy to demonstrate for 4 out of 5 students. That still allows for a small group of 20% or 1 in 5 students to not demonstrate an understanding. We think this is a very reasonable assumption.


Question 14 is a good example.

Students had to select two digits that could be rearranged to make the largest number – 75. Only 62% of Year 3 students did this correctly. As this was a free response question, perhaps the others wrote the largest number that could be made from all 3 digits – 754. If so, this would indicate a strong understanding of place value, just a poor interpretation of the actual instructions. As a general comment, 40% of all 10 free response questions in this year’s paper scored  ≤ 50%.

This question was repeated in the Year 5 paper. Still only 76% of Year 5 students answered correctly. And in all 11 Year 3 questions that were repeated in Year 5, only one scored ≥ 80%.



Question 31 was about Area.

Students had to analyse 4 shapes and find two shapes with an identical area. This requires adding square units and understanding that two half units add to make one square unit. The number of square units in each shape was 9 or less. Yes this task requires students to persevere but the task itself was simple. Only 30% of Year 3 students could work out the correct answer. This makes me want to tear my hair out. We need our students to be able to tackle more that just a one step problem. We need them to persevere on a task and not give up too easily. We need them to think logically, eliminate ones that don’t work. What are we doing to help them succeed at problem solving in general?




Question 31 was about time – how to read a calendar.

It was straight forward and did not involve having to imagine the month before or the month after. Why on earth could only 34% of our Year 3 students work this out correctly?

The low results indicate Year 3 students are inexperienced at reading a calendar. The text tells them they are looking for the 3rd Saturday. This should be obvious. It is a pity we can’t access deeper data to show the most common errors. Did most students select 3 October? Or 18 October?

If I were you, I would interview a selection of my Year 3 students to identify what it was that they misunderstood. And you can practice these ideas with your students using our  Time Activities – Calendar 1-step S1 Mental Warmups



Year 3 NSW State Results 2018 NAPLAN Numeracy:      

67% were Stage 1 questions (24 out of 36 questions)

42% were Core Stage 1 questions (15 out of 36 questions)

73% of these Core Stage 1 questions scored ≤ 80% correct (11 out of 15 questions)

13% of these Core Stage 1 questions scored ≤ 50% correct (2 out of 15 questions)

See the complete analysis in Whole School Planning – Mathematics Improvement Plans – Terms 3/4


Position Numbers and the Calendar

Position terms can be quite subtle for many of our students. For example nine and ninth. One word refers to a finite quantity of 9 objects, the other to the position of an object in a line that starts at 1 and continues to at least 9 places. There are 8 objects before or in front of it and perhaps there are objects behind it too. It is a relationship to other objects not a quantity in itself.

The calendar is packed with position language. Days, weeks and months fit together in a continuous cycle. Nine can be the 9th day of a particular month, the ninth month of a particular year or the ninth year of a particular group of years.

And did you know that in the ninth month 26 September is the only day of the year that is written the same as its position number – 26/9 – 269th day – but not in a leap year (the next leap year is 2020). Amazing.

Victor Vasarely Museum Aix-en-Provence France

Have you visited the Vasarely Museum in Aix-en-Provence France? Victor Vasarely was a famous Hungarian mathematical artist who created amazing, gigantic Op Art tapestries and artworks from the 1940s to the 1980s. I love his black and white linework zebra. Op Art links beautifully to 2D line discussions and the creative power of mathematical thinking. Lots of inspiring images for our Stage 2 and 3 students.



Chance – Crazy Coin Contests

Our website contains a huge variety of maths activities, graphics and photographs. It is easy to get overwhelmed, especially if you are a new subscriber.

When you are preparing your ideas for a particular maths substrand, take a look at what we offer to see if there is something that matches your content needs. For example, Chance and Data. For Stage 2 students, Grades 3/4, there are some wonderful activities for whole class events.

I particularly like Crazy Coin Contests, Y34 ACMSP094. There are 4 activities for your students to work on in teams of 2:

Millimetre Match

Robot Race

Kilogram Capers

Litre Beater

In Millimetre Match you toss a coin with your partner. One person is Heads, the other is Tails. Whoever wins draws a 10 mm line on their “head”. You are trying to be the first to draw 10 lines, but only by experiencing the power of a chance outcome. Plus you are linking to length and drawing 10 mm lines. Millimetre Mike is also available for you to design your own activity in Graphics – People Graphics. Have fun.



Squillons and squillions …

“Squillion” is a made-up word to describe a very large number … but so is “googol”. Milton Sirotta was the 9 year old nephew of US mathematician Edward Kasner. Kasner needed a word for 10 to the 100th in decimal notation. That’s a 1 followed by one hundred 0s, or 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. So Milton suggested “googol” and it stuck. When Google created their company, they thought they were naming it after the mathematical term but they misspelt it.

A google is so large that it is larger than all the atoms in the universe.



Australia’s population reaches 25 million

Today is 7 August 2018 and at 11:00 pm this evening Australia’s population will officially reach 25 million.


The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates:

  • one birth every 1 minute and 42 seconds
  • one death every 3 minutes and 16 seconds
  • one person arriving to live in Australia every 1 minute and 1 second
  • one Australian resident leaving Australia to live overseas every 1 minute and 51 seconds, leading to
  • an overall total population increase of one person every 1 minute and 23 seconds.

Australia reached:

  • 24 million in January 2016
  • 23 million in February 2013
  • 22 million in May 2010
  • 21 million in December 2007
  • 20 million in October 2004
  • 15 million in October 1981
  • 12.5 million in 1970 (half of 25 million)
  • 10 million in 1959
  • 5 million in 1918.

Australia is expected to reach 26 million in the next 3 years.

Imagine all the amazing discussions you can have with your Stage 2 and 3 students thinking about this data and then researching similar data from different countries around the world. Remember there is also a World Population Clock too. This tells your students the estimated population of the whole world at any one point in time.


More maths jokes

Don’t forget to encourage your students to collect, share and discuss examples of maths jokes. There are so many online sites now that include ones suitable for primary students. Here are some of my latest favourite jokes.


Why is this one so clever? What do you need to know to understand this joke? What are the key aspects of a russian doll that you need to understand before this joke makes any sense?


What is this white shape? What does it represent? What are the key aspects of pi you need to know to understand why this joke works?

A brand new geometric shape – the scutoid

How astounding. In 2018, scientists have found a completely new geometric shape existing in our body. It tessellates. It is compact. It is quite beautiful. It’s called a scutoid. That’s pronounced SCOO TOY D.

The scutoid shape was named after this top-down view of a beetle’s scutellum.

The shape let’s things pack together in the most efficient way. We;ll find out more once scientists conduct further research.

Causes of death in Country Songs

I know this is probably too gruesome for your students to see .. but isnt this a fascinating graph. I wonder what sort of data your students could collect about their favourite songs. What criteria could they look out for? How would they record their data? Will they demonstrate their findings using a column graph, a pie chart or some other sort of graph? Could they talk about their discoveries at the next school assembly?


Maths and knitting

Knitting involves the creation of mathematical patterns and design using ‘wool” and thick needles. You create a type of knot, so it could also be called “knotting”.


As a child, I grew up in the era of “french” knitting, where you hammered small nails along the top edge of an empty cotton reel and used your fingers to create a long knitted ‘rope”.


And now people use very thick wool and just their fingers to create similar ropes. The longest finger knitting is 19 369.5 m long, achieved by Ida Sofie Myking Veseth from Norway on 4 March 2016. Ida lost her sight due to a degenerative disease, which meant that she wanted to find new hobbies.


You might like to try some finger knitting with your students. e.g. Follow these instructions on youtube to create a beanie,



Problem solving is the key to mathematical success

Your students need to be able to apply their maths knowledge to a wide variety of problems.  And most problems we meet in real life are quite complicated. They have more than one step to their solution. Yet in school we regularly give students problems that require only one step to answer. Challenge your students to accept this challenge. If they give up at the slightest hint of being unable to solve a problem immediately then they won’t be prepared to accept similar challenges as they grow into adulthood.

My latest book, Blake’s Guide to Maths Problem Solving has over 120 problems with detailed suggested solution strategies to help students get started in their thinking. And it spotlights 7 famous problem solvers to inspire your students to take on a problem solving mentality.

It is available in most newsagents and educational bookstores. Great for use with students in Years 4 – 6.

The largest creatures on earth

Did you know that African Bush Elephants are the largest living terrestrial animal? The largest can stand up to 4 m tall, have a length of up to 7.5 m and a mass of up to 6800 kg – that’s 6.8 tonnes.

The Blue Whale is of course the largest living creature in the sea. In fact the blue whale is the largest creature that has ever lived on Planet Earth. Duffy has drawn these beautiful graphics to enhance your class discussion about size.

You can find plenty more at:…/mat…/creatures-graphics/


Creating your own class book about Geometry

The English mathematician Grace Chisholm Young was born on 15 March 1868. She received a 1st class degree in mathematics from Cambridge Uni and was the first woman to sit for and then outperform all the male students at Oxford Uni. Grace studied under the famous mathematician Felix Klein at Gottingham Uni in Germany, one of the most prestigious universities at that time. Later, with her husband, Grace wrote “A First Book of Geometry” on paper folding for children (1905). Together with her husband she wrote 220 articles about mathematics. They wanted to share their mathematical ideas with as many people as possible.

What if your students created their own book about geometry? What topics would they select? How would they illustrate it? Would they work on one book for the whole class or perhaps create a book in pairs? How many pages would it have?

Part of working mathematically is recording what you know and presenting it in a way that other people can read about your ideas.

Try to create at least one class book about mathematical concepts each term. You could lend your class book to other classes in the school and ask them for feedback too.

Making a Von Koch Snowflake

Niels Helge Von Koch, a Swedish mathematician who was born on 25 January 1970 and died on 11 March 1924, was famous for creating a special pattern from repeated equilateral triangles called the Von Koch Snowflake. And it is easy for your students to replicate his pattern.


Start with two identical size large equilateral triangles and place one upside down on top of the other. You might like to glue these together.You now have a 6 pointed star and the points are 6 smaller equilateral triangles.

Cut out 6 more triangles to fit these 6 smaller outer triangles and place them upside down on top of each one. Now you have created 18 tiny equilateral triangles.

Cut out 18 identical small triangles and place these upside down on each small triangle. Got the idea?

Stop whenever you feel the triangles are getting too fiddly to manage.

You have now created one of the most famous FRACTALS, the Von Koch Snowflake.

Bottlenose Dolphins

We love to holiday at Hawks Nest and frequently see dolphins in the surf off Bennett’s Beach, in the Myall River and in the bay at Jimmy’s Beach. Did you know that this area, Port Stephens, is home to 120 bottlenose dolphins, one of the largest pods in the world?

Some interesting mathematical facts about dolphins:

– they are a type of “toothed whale”
– they grow up to 4 m in length
– they can swim for up to 100 km each day
– they get fresh water from their food (squid, fish)
– they can close down one half of their brain to “sleep” for 8 hours a day
– they can travel up to 35 km per hour and breathe through their blowhole
– this breath can help them dive for up to 4 minutes
– they can also hold their breath for up to 20 minutes
– they live for up to 40 years

Imagine all the wonderful classroom discussions with your students about these maths facts.What else can your students discover? Encourage your students to work in pairs to create a mathematical challenge based on these facts.

TEACHING FRACTIONS – and how to remove blockages

Blockages to maths understanding are everywhere. Your role as a teacher is not to teach but to unblock as many students each day as you can. Blockages underpin so-called abilities. Your so-called low ability student is one who has multiple blockages. If you can remove these then your student is better able to understand.

Remember it is vital to talk about what something ISN’T as much as about what it is. I just saw this ABC online video clip about Quarters. Everything there was fine. Cute female child’s voice over, clear graphics. All good. BUT … the biggest problem your students have in fractions is understanding far more than that, far more than just one explanation. What is NOT a quarter, what is NOT an equal part? What happens if there are only 3 equal parts? What happens if there are now five equal parts? Talking about “positive” things is only part of the solution. Talking about ‘negative’ things is also a vital component.

This video clip will be a fantastic starting point for a discussion with your class. Try to generate as many alternative questions that need answering. Get your students to explain to a partner what is and is not a quarter. Get them to draw pictures of what they think represents quarters and non-quarters. Try to spot misunderstandings that can then be shared with the whole class.

For more targeted fraction activities click here.

For more targeted fraction photographs click here.

For more targeted fraction graphics click here.