De-mystifying teaching children maths and statistics

Posted by iChild, January 13, 2021 10:43 AM

By Alison Hopper
Primary Mathematics Specialist, MEI (Mathematics in Education and Industry)

Too much information!

The current situation means that we are constantly being presented with data in the form of graphs, colourful maps, tables of figures and percentages. Making sense of them is important in helping us to understand why the world has to be the way it is at the moment and to judge how we should behave in the circumstances. This is not a normal year by any means and being able to understand the information presented to us is all the more important in helping us to make decisions.

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2021 is a Census year when all households in England and Wales will be asked for information about the people who live there and their lifestyles. The information is so important because it allows central and local government, businesses and charities to plan for the country’s vital services such as schools, housing, transport and healthcare.

Counting

How can we help our children to develop the skills needed to understand and interpret data and statistics? Fundamental to it all is counting. The census is a described as giving a picture of people across England and Wales – by counting all the survey responses. Counting with your child, whether it be singing counting songs, counting toys in a box, the steps in your stairs or ducks on the pond is the start of understanding and interpreting data.

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What are we counting?

It is important to know what we are counting. Counting money is a good way of introducing the fact that, whilst we might have the same number of 1p and 10p coins, the value is different. Five 10p coins are worth more than five 1p coins. Understanding what we are counting is as important as getting the order of the numbers right when we count. It can also be a way into counting in different sized steps – 2’s 5’s and 10’s are particularly useful steps to count.

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Representing counting

Statistics is really the development of counting and the ways that we represent what we count. We start to represent the counts as pictures in pictograms and then as blocks in a block graph before the addition of a scale into more sophisticated graphs. You can create pictograms or block charts to record everyday things such as encouraging children to eat their 5-a-day by using stickers or drawing a picture to represent what they have eaten.

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(This is image from the Let's Count! Primary School Education Programme on behalf of the Office for National Statistics)

Reading scales and times tables

As children move into Year 3 and Key Stage 2, graphs start to include a scale and block graphs turn into bar charts and other data is represented using line graphs. Reading scales is a really important skill for children to develop. You can support this by encouraging children to get involved in measuring – weighing ingredients on scales and in measuring jugs, helping to measure up for DIY tasks using tape measures. Do they have access to tape measures and jugs with scales in their play? Bath time is a great opportunity to play with measuring jugs and water as you are meant to be wet! Knowing what the scale is showing us and being able to work out both the marked and unmarked divisions is vital. We ask them to count in steps of different sizes and this links to their times tables. The more fluent they are with their times tables, the more skilled they will be at reading scales.

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Fractions and percentages

Towards the end of Key Stage 2, other areas of maths become part of statistics as percentages and pie charts are added to the ways that we count and represent data. Times tables continue to be important and you can also support your child by making sure that they are confident in spotting common fractions such as 1/2, 1/3, 1/4, 1/5  and 1/10. They also need to know the decimal and percentage equivalents of these fractions. Being fluent with these facts will support children in making sense of data presented in this way and therefore being able to answer questions. Statistics and data are ways of making sense of the world and being able to understand this information and use it to inform our choices is a key life skill. At its heart though is counting – first in ones, then in other steps which finally include fractions so Let’s Count together!

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By Alison Hopper
Primary Mathematics Specialist, MEI (Mathematics in Education and Industry)
Alison Hopper advised on the Let's Count! primary school educational programme developed by iChild on behalf of the Office for National Statistics (registration is still open!)

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