Inspirational Starters

Having recently visited two high  achieving schools in Somerset and Dorset,  I have reaffirmed my belief that inspirational starters are a key cornerstone to achieving excellent exam results.  It has also reminded me of the saying that you never get a second chance to make a first impression  – very powerful words for our lives and for the lessons we teach.

Freeing up team meeting time to share learning and teaching ideas has been very fruitful for aspiring teams across the country.  There are some fantastic resources for starter activities for mathematics lessons and having a ‘Starter of the Day’ folder,  easily accessed by colleagues, can lead to even higher quality mathematics lessons for our students.  A request to the maths team to ‘bring a starter that has worked for you’ to the next meeting can lead to the sharing of very imaginative and innovative ideas.

Heads of Departments in a number of schools firmly believe that starters are especially effective if they take a journey through an array of mathematics concepts and not just related to the bespoke lesson objectives of the day.  I am piloting a ‘Quick Seven’ questions of the day using notepads or mini-whiteboards which are proving to be popular with both students and teachers – for example: (1) 4/5 as a decimal, (2) which is a better deal – 30% discount or a third off? (3) 0.7 times 0.8 (4) how many vertices does a tetrahedron have? (5) One half plus one third is not two fifths – what is it?  (6)  a circle has a radius of 10 m – find its area in terms of pi  (7)  divide £120 in the ratio 3:2.

One particularly successful starter with my top set year 11 group  at Frome Community College was just a little more zappy because a post-it note was stuck on the back of each whiteboard on the students desk.  There was an on-entry starter involving conditional probability and students raced to the front of the whiteboard when they had worked out a solution on the mini-whiteboard and shared their correct solutions – the challenge to get the correct the solution and then race to the front with a post-it note, ahead of other students, sets the scene for a very productive lesson.

I have just put together my favourite seventy seven starters with solutions from the excellent Transum resources which are definitely worth a look at   My favourites of these include the starter for January 22nd – A lamp and a bulb together costs £32.  The lamp costs £30 more than the bulb.  How much does the bulb cost?  Feedback on the site from other schools is also very helpful e.g., ‘What a beautiful question’ .  The ‘Estimate and Calculate’ starter for September 30th is a gem and I have seen this work very well in a lesson:  Estimate and Calculate – then arrange these five statements in order of size:  Population of the UK,  Number of seconds in a week, A thousand squared, Number of Calendar Days since 1st January 1500 AD, 99 x 99 x 99 x 99.  Another favourite is the starter for House Numbers  for January 26th – The numbers of 5 houses next to each other add up to 90.  What are those five numbers? Feedback on the Transum website included:  ‘What a great starter!  One of my groups was working on odd and even numbers and another one on algebra (for the same starter).  With some hints for learners who are not so far along on their maths journey, this starter works for everyone at all levels’.

You may also like to have a go at this starter before you teach the topic of ‘trial and improve’ in mathematics:   Two whole two digit numbers multiply together to give the emergency telephone number 999.  What are these two whole numbers? Calculators are allowed.   (hint – you may like to start with 33 times 33 and increase one number and decrease the other number).

Very best wishes for 2012!  What other job involves helping hundreds of people in a week where no two days are the same?

Christopher Curtis
Head of Mathematics
Frome Community College

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