Primary Primary Maths

Primary Maths – Pompeii

The burying of the city of Pompeii by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius throws up lots of numerical information; the length of time the ash fell for, the depth of ash, the numbers killed etc. This information can be used not only for a number of investigative activities in maths but can also be linked to geography and history.

Activity One – Which was the worst volcanic eruption in history?

LO: Be able to compare numbers saying which is bigger
Be able to order numerical information and recognise which is better or worse in context

Read the children the Collins Big Cat book on Pompeii and use the questions at the back to reinforce their understanding of the events.

Ask them now to collect information on the top five worst volcanic eruptions; Mount Tambora 1816; Mount Pelee 1902; Krakatoa 1883; and Mount Unzen 1792. The children should collect information on deaths, damage, explosive power and volume of material expelled. Ask them to compare the numbers and decide which they consider to be the worst eruption and to say why. Encourage them to present the information in a table and then as a bar chart.

If you have time, you could ask the children to present all their findings in a PowerPoint including some of the eye witness accounts of the time. Finally, as an extension activity, ask the children to plot the events on a world map.

Talking Point: Do the children notice anything about the location of the volcanic eruptions?
Draw a red line on the map showing the fault lines that cause volcanoes.

At Home: Volcanoes are still erupting today. Ask the children to find out the names of the ones that are currently erupting and which countries they are in. Plot these on your volcano map.

Activity Two – Problem Solving

LO: Be able to use pictures to help understand problems
Accurately label Picture sums to show their understanding of a problem and how they solved it

You can formulate a number of questions for the children to problem solve using the information about Pompeii. Ask them to use the information they have to answer questions such as…

1. How many metres of ash fell per hour on Pompeii?
2. Use the formula x9 then ÷5 and add 32 to change the temperature of the hot air flows to Fahrenheit.
3. If the population of Pompeii was 20,000 and you could fit 300 people on a Roman ship, how many would be needed to rescue the population?
4. If the Romans had only 17 ships, how many people could they have rescued and how many would have died?
5. Records show that the goods found by the archaeologists included dried fruit, sealed wine jars and dried grain. What time of year do you think the eruption took place? Explain your answer.
6. Do you think the main eruption took place at night or during the day? How do you know? How would it have affected the number of people who died if the eruption had been 12 hours later?

These are just a selection of problems you could ask but to help the children solve them you need to encourage them to draw the problem to visualise it. In this way, maths becomes an art lesson and you can display their visual working out on the wall as proudly as you would any piece of art. Encourage them to label their pictures so you know their train of thought.

At Home: Children can get a greater understanding of problem solving if they are allowed to make up some of their own. Ask them to write a volcano related problem and have an answer for it. The next time you do maths, write some of them on the board for the children to solve.

Activity Three – Roman Money

LO: Convert between different currencies using a calculator
Be able to calculate change from an amount by subtraction or adding on

At the time of the eruption of Vesuvius, The Roman Empire used nine coins as shown in this chart:

You can use this information to ask the children which Roman coins they would use to pay for everyday items today.
You can use the ideas below or make up some of your own…

At Home: Ask the children to imagine they were given a sestertius for their pocket money. What could they buy with it? Ask them to calculate the change in Roman coins that they would get.

Dave Lewis
Primary Teacher

Take a look at Collins Big Cat: Pompeii The Lost City.


    • Hi Milly, That’s excellent. We’re really excited to find out more about the exhibition. We’ll definitely make a note to mention it next year. Thanks!

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