Category Archives: Purposeful practise

Bus Stop Division

Here’s a big number:

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Try different single-digit divisors.  No remainders.

This is an example of purposeful practice – exposing the wonder of mathematics whilst providing a reason to practise lots of  of bus stop division.

You might want to start by asking pupils to come up with their own dividend “in the tens of millions” and try different divisors. (Here for a quick primer on the mathematical language.) Inevitably they will end up with remainders, which they may or may not carry into decimal places. Then let show them this “magic” number.

Questions to ask:

  • What divisors does this work for and why? (Purposeful practice)
  • What other dividends could I make like this? (Purposeful practice + reasoning)
  • What smaller dividends could I make like this? (reasoning)
  • What is the smallest dividend I could make that all numbers 1-9 will divide into without remainders? (reasoning)

Whilst I would want everyone in the class to understand the reasoning through a whole-class discussion, you may have some learners who need the practice on bus stop long division and spend most of their time doing this. Those that are confident with this technique can spend their time exploring deeper into the structure of the number.

Whilst we are on the subject of “Bus Stop”, maybe this technique actually has nothing to do with standing in line waiting for a bus:

Do you really understand addition and subtraction?

This was the question Mark McCourt was getting us to ponder in the first session of Maths Teacher Network.  He started off by running through the classic 1089 “trick” which I have written about before here.

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These types of activity are such a powerful way to get students to carry out repeated practice to build fluency. If you handed out a sheet with 20 column subtractions and 20 column additions, you would get groans and do no favours for the general popularity of maths as a subject.  If those repeated calculations have a purpose as they do here, the dynamic and energy in the classroom is completely different.

I’d used this before but had never given it the time that it deserves, nor had I extended it:

  • Try it with 4 digits, 5 digits, etc.
  • Go back to three digits and try it with a, b, c. In other words prove it algebraically.
  • Now try in a different base, e.g. Base 7!

I actually got a bit obsessed with this when I got home.  I do love a good spreadsheet challenge, so I attempted to build something that would provide an algebraic proof of different numbers of digits and bases. Here is the result…

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My reflection from this session was that even if I have “seen” something before, have I really investigated it deeply and could I use it more effectively with my classes? To which my answers were no and yes!

Fractions made of sequences

This is an update of the original post.  There were a couple of mistakes in the first one, which are now corrected.  And I’ve learned some new maths in the process. I’ve credited those below who helped me.  The power of Twitter – Thank you!

What happens when you take sequences of odd or even numbers and make fractions out of them?

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These investigations provide some low threshold, high ceiling (in some cases too high for me!) rich investigations. I have been playing with these and encourage you to do so too!

These tasks have lots of benefits in the classroom if used well:

  • Purposeful practise. In continuing the sequence and generating subsequent terms, students will repeatedly practice key skills. But rather than just working down a boring list of questions in a text book, they are practicing with a greater sense of purpose, i.e. to try to spot something else. There is a big range here from addition of consecutive numbers and cancelling down fractions to finding the nth term of a quadratic sequence (and harder).
  • At key points stop everyone and get a whole classroom discussion going.  Ask students to explain their “noticings”.  By verbalising their reasoning pupils can grow their individual mathematical confidence. And it builds a classroom culture where other pupils’ noticings are highly valued. Children realise that we can learn by collaborating and listening to each others’ ideas.
  • Always look for patterns and aim to generalise.  Ask why this happens, does it happen every time and can we build a proof?  This is hard. Sometimes what happens is that the students that aren’t ready to make this leap yet.  Often they just continue generating more examples.  This isn’t a problem as hopefully they are continuing to benefit from purposeful practice of an underlying mathematical skill.

I really encourage you to do some Mathematics and play with them before using them, but if time is short, here are some notes on each one.  I have put them in order of difficulty.

Sum of Odd Numbers

This is probably the most accessible of the four in terms of getting to a generalisation, although actually proving that algebraically is no mean feat!

Before we even get to the fractions, there is some good discussion to be had on mental methods for adding series of odd numbers and spotting that this generates square numbers:

1+3=4
1+3+5=9
1+3+5+7=8+8=16
1+3+5+7+9=10+10+5=25

To generalise this, we need to know that the nth odd number is (2n-1). Working from the last term backwards, we can write out the sequence as:

1, 3, 5, ..., 2n-5, 2n-3, 2n-1

By adopting the standard approach to find the sum of an arithmetic series, i.e. adding the first to last, second to second last, etc. we see that we get a whole bunch of “2n”s.  How many “2n”s? Well there are n numbers so there must be n/2 pairs. So:

2n × n/2 = n²

Now you can start examining the fractions themselves.  There is some good practice here of cancelling down fractions and students will realise quite quickly that they all cancel down to 1/3

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At this point you might ask some students to generalise whilst some might prefer to continue generating examples.

The generalisation for the denominator builds on the generalisation for numerator. This time we with start with the odd number after the nth odd number and then add a series of odd numbers. Again think about what the last term would be and work backwards.

2n+1, 2n+3, 2n+5, ..., 2n+(2n-5), 2n+(2n-3), 2n+(2n-1)

By combining first and last, second and second last, etc. we can see we now have pairs of “6n”. How many “6n”s? Again, n/2.  So the denominator becomes:

6n × n/2 = 3n²

and:

3n²/n² = 3

Sum of Even numbers

With this one, cancelling down the fractions doesn’t help.

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You end up with a pair of quadratic sequences (now corrected – thanks )

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Which neatly cancels down to:

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Product of Even Numbers

This one provides lots of practice in “cancelling down” of fractions. Each time you end up with a unitary fraction (i.e. a numerator of one). But does this always happen? And why?

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I made a mistake first time on this so I couldn’t find any pattern in the numbers that formed the denominators. Thanks to @mathforge and @wjhornby for pointing out by error.

So the sequence of denominators is 2, 6, 20, 70,…  That’s beyond my knowledge of Integer sequences (I did Engineering, you know, not pure Maths!).  But @mathsforge sent me this link to oeis.org. That’s another web-site I’ve learned about through this process!

If I had played around a bit longer with this and thought Factorials! then I might have eventually got here (thanks to @MrMattock for sending me this)

Product of Odd Numbers

This one again provides some cancelling down practice although you are going to be reaching for the calculator pretty quickly.

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I’m struggling to spot any pattern in here (no, the next term doesn’t have a 9 for its numerator…), but there must be something, right?

And this is no bad place to take a discussion with your class.

There must be something here to be found.  We haven’t found it today. Your maths teacher is finding this very hard.  Maybe nobody has ever found it. But if we start off with something so simple there must be a way of generalising it.  Surely…?

Postscript: Again, I got a helpful response from @MrMattock.  You can see it here, but don’t spoil it, have a go for yourself.  The clue is to look for factorials again and don’t express all fractions in their simplest form. Good luck, but I warn you – it’s not pretty!