Maths Magic

At an educational conference in Manchester, I was introduced to Creative Consultants,  a company specialising in teaching maths through magic. There were over a 100 stands at the event and Creative Consultants was the last stall that I arrived at.  As I drifted past  half glancing and what they had to offer, half wanting to rush off for lunch, one of their consultants jumped out in front me and offered me a fake million pound note. ‘You start off with a penny and each day double your amount how many days would it take for you to reach a £1,000,000?”. Intrigued  myself and my friend Kate set about working out the answer. After a few seconds we both revealed our guesses but we were wrong. The  actual answer is 28 days by which time you will have £1,342,177.28

The answer is worked out like this:

1 0.01
2 0.02
3 0.04
4 0.08
5 0.16
6 0.32
7 0.64
8 1.28
9 2.56
10 5.12
11 10.24
12 20.48
13 40.96
14 81.92
15 163.84
16 327.68
17 655.36
18 1310.72
19 2621.44
20 5242.88
21 10485.76
22 20971.52
23 41943.04
24 83886.08
25 167772.2
26 335544.3
27 671088.6
28 1342177

After this opener the magician continued to excite my friend and I with various maths related magic tricks including magic wands, card reveals and disappearing balls. We were amazed and felt slightly bad that we’d tried to by-pass such a fantastic stand. I started to thinking if magic can grab myself and Kate’s attention when we’re tired and ready to leave maybe it will have the same positive effects on students who often feel the same disinterest in maths?

Although I don’t have the skills to pull off intricate tricks there are lots of simple card related maths ideas that can be used by teachers. Below are a few ideas for using playing cards as a maths resource:

Steal the Card

In pairs  the students are given a house of cards. Without showing their partner one student removes a card from the house. The other student then has to  place the cards in sequence to find out which card is missing. This activity could help with counting as well as sequencing

Here’s a video of pair of primary school pupils playing the game but the idea could easily be used with low-level FE students:


Playing cards are a fantastic resource for teaching probability.

Heart Playing Cards

You could ask your students questions relating to individual numbers, suits or even the entire deck, to vary the questions you could keep the jokers in or remove them from tha pack.

Below are a few questions suitable  for intermediate level students:

There are 52 cards in a deck of playing cards pictures when the jokers have been removed.

1.If you shuffle the deck of cards, and choose one at random, what is the probability that you will choose the king of spades?

1 out of 52

2.If you shuffle the deck of cards and choose one at random, what is the probability that you will choose a club?

13 out of 52 or 1 out of 4

3.If you shuffle the deck of cards and choose one at random, what is the probability that you will choose a black card?

26 out of 52 or 1 out of 2

24 Hours in Pictures

Every day the Guardian newspaper run a feature called 24 hours in pictures. As part of this feature  they publish a collection of around fifteen recent images. This includes pictures from current global events, as well as other notable images.

24/03/2011 - Beijing, China: A man smokes in his car. China will ban smoking in all indoor public places from May

This feature is a fantastic resource and can be used in a variety of ways including:

  • As a discussion starter – Why do people smoke?
  • To spark debate – Should the United Nations be involved in the conflict in Libya?
  • As a way of discussing emotions – How would you feel if you were imprisoned for voicing your opinion
  • As a way of introducing politics into a lesson – What impact has the smoking ban had in England? Will the ban have the same effects in China?
  • As a guessing game – Print off all 15 pictures. In groups the students decide what month/year the photographs were taken and the news events that they are depicting
  • My favourite – Present the students with a selection of images. The students pick their favourite and discuss why they have picked that particular image.

Here’s a selection of the images published on the 7th April 2011.

Crooked Brains

Crooked Brain is a creative and funny photo based blog .

Previous posts include Artwork with Eggshells, Vegetable Art, 14 Creative and Cool Lampshade Designs and Cardboard Furniture.

Below are a few ideas for how you could use the photos with your class;

Unicorn Egg Art

*Some of the pictures could be used as a starting point for a story.

*Students could describe what happened next.










Sunrise Lampshade: "The 'Solarise' lampshade depicts a subtle image of the London skyline and mimics the effect of the sun rising. As the sky gets brighter, the skyline appears as one of the most attractive views and symbolic images of a city."

*Ask the students to imagine that they have to sell something shown in the photographs. How would they describe it? How would they persuade people to buy it?









*Ask your class to create their own versions of the objects.

Thinking on the Spot

I was recently introduced to this resource by a colleague.

The ‘Thinking on the Spot’ Power Point contains 22 weeks worth of lesson warmers which could also be used as fillers. Each week is split into ten questions which require the class to work as a team to answer each question before the 10 second timer runs out. Each question centres around the theme ‘name 5 things’ and includes topics such as words beginning with snow, things that are sharp and things considered to be Scottish.




Click on the title below to download the Power Point.

Thinking on the Spot

(Alternatively a copy of the PPT with  just the questions, without being divided into weeks, can be downloaded from the resources section of the  TES website)