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

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