Primary – Numeracy Activities for the Titanic

Activity One – Comparing Numbers
Year 4 to Year 6

When you look at the story of the Titanic, much of it is about numbers, there’s the number on board, the number who died, proportions of men to women who died and so on. You can use a lot of the information in comparisons and investigations.

The early 20th century was the time of opulence and with ships it meant bigger, faster, more elegant and more expensive. There were several big ships notable at the time; the Titanic, the Mauretania, the Olympic, the Britannic, the Campania and the Lusitania. In recent times we have also seen the building of large cruise ships such as the Queen Victoria, The Allure of the Seas, The Oceana, The Liberty of the Seas and the Fantasia.
Interpreting data in maths often means looking at abstract data from maths books, no matter how closely the authors try to relate it to children’s lives. In this activity the information is related to the task and the interpretative questions have relevance too. Ask the children to research and compare numerical information on these and other ships making the comparison between ships of today and those of a hundred years ago. Use the chart provided here or make up one of your own for different data. Once the information has been collected ask questions such as:

How have the passenger numbers changed over the century? Why do you think this has happened?
How have the sizes of the ships changed over the century? Does this make them more or less environmentally friendly?

The ships’ power affects its speed but what else affects how fast the ship can travel.
Use proportion to compare the number of spaces on a lifeboat to the number of passengers. Why do you think the capacity isn’t exactly the same as the passenger numbers?
You can choose more questions of your own that test relationships between the pieces of information they have collected.

Activity Two – Time Distance and Speed
Year 4 to Year 6

In the early days of cruising, the idea was to win the Blue Riband for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic but the focus on cruising has changed today. Using the speeds of the various ships you have investigated in Activity One, find out the distance between New York and Southampton and work out which one would have arrived first. Try to calculate to the nearest hour or minute, the times they would have taken to do the crossing.
Now ask the children to investigate and answer this question:

What is the focus of cruise travel today and how does the speed of a cruise liner help it to perform its job well.

Extension activities may well come from the children. Doing a similar task with my class I was asked, “How long would it have taken the Titanic to have reached Australia?” That’s another maths question and you can set it as an extension, adding other destinations such as ‘How long to travel around the world?’

Activity Three – Problem Solving
Year 4 to Year 6

A lot of the questions asked about the sinking of the Titanic involved maths and even today they make for interesting problem solving.
These examples show what you can do with the information and turn an answer to a mathematical problem into a discussion on the data.

The Titanic had 1,517 passengers on board yet only room for 1,178 passengers in its lifeboats. How many people would have had no spaces on the lifeboat? You can extend this into a debate by asking what did the ship builders expect them to do?

Only 20% of the men on board survived whilst 75% of the women did. There were 424 women and 1690 men on board. How many of each survived? A good point to discuss on this is why was the percentage so different and yet the numbers similar?

The Titanic had pumps that could clear water from inside the ship at 1700 tons an hour. The pumps worked for only ten minutes before being overcome with water. How much had they pumped out? Ask the children where they think the pumps were placed and how could they have been positioned differently to have worked longer?

Dave Lewis
Primary teacher

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