A fight between an apple and a potato. A lesson for teaching reading scales, mean average, range and bar charts.

Having just started my first full time teaching post I was lucky enough to spend last week observing my new colleagues teach. During this time I met a really inspirational maths teacher who was using the guise of a fight between an apple and a potato as a way of teaching reading scales, interpreting information from diagrams, calculating mean and range and producing bar charts. As I’m going to be teaching Functional Skills to disaffected 16-18 year olds I predicted that this lesson will go down a storm with my own learners so I decided to ‘steal’ this lesson idea and share with my readers.

  • The lesson starts off by showing the students an apple and a potato. Ask the students who they think would win in a fight and get them to brainstorm their ideas then discuss their answers.
  • Introduce today’s lesson objectives.
  • Draw various scale faces on the board with arrows to different weights. Ellicit answers from the students in order to check their knowledge.
  • Students then complete scales worksheet 
  • Tell the students that they are going to calculate who would win the fight between the apple and potato by weighing them. Whichever is the heaviest wins the fight. Discuss results.


  • In pairs give the students a selection of apples and potatoes to weigh. The weights should be recorded to use later.
  • Ask the students to look at their data and decide who they think would have won the war.
  • Introduce and explain mean average. Then ask the students to work out the mean weight of the apples and then the potatoes. Which group was heaviest? Which group would have won?
  • Introduce range. Students work out the range of their results.
  • Then the students complete Skillswise worksheet on mean averages.
  • Imtroduce bar charts.
  • Show the students a large bar chart about activities that a group of people are doing on a bus. Ellicit infomaton from the students to check their knowledge e.g where is the y axis, what should all bar charts have so we can identify what they’re about, what is missing from the bar chart. Graph – activities that people are doing on the bus
  • Ask questions that require them to interpret and compare infomation e.g how many more passengers are staring into space compared to picking their nose
  • Give each student a copy of the zombie attack worksheet. Zombie attack bar chart worksheet
  • Students then create their own questionnaire to ask their classmates.
  • Students question their class mates and make a bar chart from the results. They then create a series of questions regarding their bar charts and swap these with their neighbour. They then swap the sheets back inorder to mark the answers.

Extension and fillers

As a group – most scales use markers of 25 – throw a ball around randomly, whoever the ball lands on shouts the number out.  Use this as a way of getting the students to count up and down to 300 using multiples of 25.

Individual or small groups – show the students five objects and 5 pre-marked scale faces. The students match the objects to the corresponding weight.

An iPod based maths lesson. (Including work on 2d and 3d shapes, measurements, area, perimeter and nets)

This lesson has been created for a level 1 Functional Skills maths class.

The following ideas are for a design based lesson that uses pretend iPod headphone packaging as a tool for reinforcing learning on shapes, measurements, area and perimeter. The lesson involves students measuring various shaped packaging, recording the data and then designing and creating their own packaging.

For this lesson you will need:

1 pyramid box, 1 cuboid box and 1 hexagon box for every two students.
Pens and pencils
Nets for pyramid, cuboid and hexagon boxes
Various logos (suitable for iPhone headphone packaging)
Worksheets (iPod Worksheet 1, iPod Worksheet 2, iPod Worksheet 3)

  1. Start the lesson by revising the names of 2d and 3d shapes and the definitions and formulas for working out length, width, perimeter and area.
  2. Reveal the different shaped packaging and illicit ideas from the students with regards to the lesson objective.
  3. Either introduce the lesson objectives yourself or alternatively a fun way to introduce the lesson would be via an ‘Apprentice’ style video clip. For the extra wow factor you might want to collaborate with one of your colleagues and film them playing the Alan Sugar style presenter.                                                                                                                                                    Using one of the groups other teachers can add an extra wow factor and make the lesson a lot more interesting for the students.
  4. Once the students have been introduced to the task present them with worksheet 1.               
    Tip: To add a competitive element to the lesson you could hold a competition for the best packaging with the learners voting for the winning entries. 
  5. Once the students have completed the worksheet and packaging it is now time to move on to worksheet 2. Worksheet  2 is designed to test the student’s knowledge.
  6. Worksheet 3 is an evaluation sheets where the students comment on what went well, what was difficult and what they’d do differently in the future.

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