Thursday, 22 March 2012

Handling Spanish data

Two weeks ago I reached the "weather" section of my Olympics scheme of work with Year 5 and Year 6, having already done a lot of work on sports and sporting equipment.  We learned ten weather phrases and a song (with actions!) to help us to remember them.  Last week I gave the children an outline map of Spain and a copy of the weather symbols.  They had to cut out the symbols, stick them onto the map and then write the corresponding weather-forecasting sentences like "En el norte hace sol."  While Year 6 were finishing theirs, their teacher came in to the room, and saw what we were doing.  He said that with last year's Year 6 he had done some data handling using a table of information about Spain, and would it be possible for me to something similar, as some of the class are still struggling with reading information from tables.  We did a very quick brainstorm and I finished the class with the next lesson pretty much planned in my head.

I spent most of last Friday researching, preparing and planning the lesson.  I found this site particularly useful for finding the data that I needed.  

Here's what we did:

  1. Revised our weather phrases and song
  2. Revised and practised further our points of the compass and how to put them together with the weather phrases.
  3. Looked at the Spanish weather map from  I pointed out the days of the week along the top and we practised saying what the weather is like, again using the compass points and the weather phrases.
  4. Looked at another map of Spain, this time showing the regions.  I explained how the Balearic Islands are a region despite being in the middle of the Mediterranean, and we talked about why the Canary Islands were shown in a box on the map.  I also showed them a larger-scale map showing Ceuta and Melilla.
  5. Gave the children an outline copy of the map of the Spanish regions with 8 questions to answer.  The idea was that they worked in pairs, using the map and their prior knowledge of countries and weather, to predict the answers to the questions such as "Which region do you think is the largest?" and "Which region do you think is the warmest?"
  6. Gave the children a copy of the table of regional data and they set about using it to find the real answers to the questions. 
  7. Gave the children a list of 24 questions to answer using the table, in order to practise further reading information from a table.

Afterwards I showed the Year 6 teacher what I had been doing, and he was very supportive and thought that it had hit the right note.  I mentioned that some pupils who are in the middle ability range of the class for Spanish were particularly responsive, as the Spanish work as being couched in mathematical terms, something that they are a lot more comfortable with.  It's always good to find a way of reaching those children for whom a language isn't the easiest thing.

I was also particularly pleased with the significant intercultural input of the lesson.  As well as the obvious aspect of getting to know Spain and its regions and weather, I was able to draw attention to the uses of commas and decimal points when writing numbers in Spanish.  

I said to my Year 6 colleague that I am aware that it is very important that I use the correct mathematical vocabulary when teaching this kind of lesson, and he said that yes, this needs to happen to ensure consistency across the curriculum.  A lack of consistency of this kind is something that Ofsted would pick up on.  I now have a copy of the Mathematical Vocabulary Book for KS1 and KS2 so that I can swot up on my maths before "teaching" it!

I enjoyed teaching this lesson, especially as it was truly cross-curricular. It brings to mind this recent news report about learning maths by using it for real purposes, and echoes my school's philosophy of getting maths into as many areas of the curriculum as possible.  It shows that maths is not a discrete subject but that it can be useful in all areas, and it adds validity to the learning of another language by making the link with maths.  I think it's vital that, given the new Ofsted framework and its emphasis on numeracy across the curriculum, MFL teachers know which aspects of numeracy are already embedded in their schemes of work and that they have a repertoire of ideas and resources that they can use to highlight maths in their lessons.  I have started to compile a collection of such resources and ideas here

My Year 6 colleague said today that his class also need more practice with pie charts and percentages.  Trying to figure out how I'll be able to fit that one in.....!

Friday, 9 March 2012


A few months ago, Dominic McGladdery blogged about the BBC4 quiz show Only Connect and its potential usefulness in the MFL classroom.  I wrote in a comment at the time that my 8 year old daughter and I were just getting into the BBC1 quiz show Pointless and that it too could perhaps be useful.

Well my daughter and I are now obsessed with Pointless (5.15pm BBC1 each weekday, celebrity special on Saturdays) and it turns out (following many tweets during Saturday evening's celebrity special starring Brian Blessed) that many of the #MFLTwitterati love it too. 

If you haven't seen Pointless before, here's how it works.  Usually, with quiz shows, the idea is to rack up as many points as possible in order to win.  In Pointless, however, the lowest score wins.  With the scores being based on a survey of 100 people, it's a bit like backwards Family Fortunes.  Each game comprises four rounds and the first round begins with four pairs of players.  (My daughter and I decided that we would apply to be contestants, but I found out that you have to be 18, so she is disappointed.)  

First round:  Players are given a category, such as "Songs featured in We Will Rock You" and they have to give the answers that they think are the most obscure and will therefore score the fewest points.  Each pair gets to answer twice.  If any answer is wrong, the pair is awarded the maximum 100 points.  The highest-scoring pair at the end of this round is eliminated.

Second round:  A category is chosen, such as "Volcanoes and their countries".  The contestants are shown the names of 6 volcanoes (for example) and have to name the countries that go with them, always trying to predict which one has the lowest score, or, hopefully, a pointless (or zero) score.  Each pair answers once, then 6 more volcanoes (in this case) are revealed and each pair answers again.  The highest-scoring pair at the end of this round is eliminated.

Third round:  Two pairs are now left for the head-to-head, which is a "best of three" round.  The first question is a picture question.  The contestants are shown 5 pictures of, for example, "Film Directors".  Each pair names correctly the one that they think will have the lowest score, and the pair that chooses the lowest-scoring picture wins one point.  For the next question, contestants are shown a category, such as "Cities with airports named after famous people", and the initials of the famous people are given.  Again they have to choose and identify correctly the one that they think will have the lowest score, and the pair that chooses the lowest-scoring answer wins one point.  If a third question is needed, 5 facts about a famous person or something like wine are presented to the contestants.  They have to choose and answer correctly the question that they think will have the lowest score.  The pair that chooses the lowest-scoring question wins the final point.

Fourth round:  The final round is for the final pair left.  They are presented with a question and have one minute to come up with 3 answers.  Their aim is to find a pointless (zero points) answer, without which they will not win the prize money.

So I'd been thinking about how to make it work for the classroom when I read a tweet from Paul Collins, currently doing GTP Maths, who has been making Pointless work in Maths.  We exchanged tweets and he gave me some useful advice (thanks Paul!)

Last Saturday I set up a 10-question survey on SurveyMonkey, and asked Twitter to help me to compile 100 responses.  Less than 12 hours later, the survey was complete.  Because I am too stingy to fork out for the Survey Monkey upgrade, I had to count all the responses myself, which turned out to take a long time!  Then I typed them up in Word and, if necessary, found some more answers so that there would be some pointless answers.  For the famous person, author and artists questions there are many more possible pointless answers.

I don't think you could get a whole lesson out of playing Pointless, but it would certainly make for some good starter activities, and would oblige students to think a bit harder than usual as they will have to find the most unusual, potentially pointless, answer.  The first seven of my questions are in English and have an intercultural focus. These would be good as "first round" questions and perhaps "third round" questions if you used photos or initials.  Questions 8, 9 and 10 are about months, days and numbers, and don't have any pointless answers.  A good twist could be to get students to make the lowest-scoring date using the months, days and numbers.

What I can't think of is the best way to present this in class.  Below you'll find the answers to the 10 questions in low-tech Word form - please feel free to download and use.  

I'd be really interested to hear your thoughts and any ideas for other questions that could be useful.

Pointless 1

Pointless 2

Pointless 3

Pointless 4

Pointless 5

Pointless 6

Pointless 7

Pointless 8