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Giant Aspirations, Monumental Maths

This page has been archived. The content was correct at the time of original publication, but is no longer updated.
Created on 04 May 2007 by ncetm_administrator
Updated on 10 September 2007 by ncetm_administrator
Giant Aspirations, Monumental Maths - Programme

Teacher Quotes
The whole project from start to finish has excited and motivated the children. They just did’t realize how much ‘maths’ they’ve been doing. When we evaluated the project they could see the relevance of the activities outside of a school context and that yes, maths IS fun!’ Anita Dunnage Y3 teacher.

‘The children explored the notion of scale and had great fun with the story of the Eves and the Shoemaker. Watching the building of the Giant shoe and using it as part of the learning environment was a real bonus. The mathematical language used by the children definitely improved!’ Jane Bland

‘It was great to get out into the landscape and use the resources we could find without being restricted to workbooks and worksheets. I loved it! At first I wasn’t convinced we’d cover all the objectives for the units of work we needed to study, but I needn’t have worried.’ Emma Loader NQT

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Every class in school from Nursery to Year 4 was involved in this Creative Partnership project to teach mathematics in an active and exciting way. The specific learning objectives all linked to the measurement strands of the new Primary strategy for maths.

Each year group began with a baseline assessment to ascertain children’s prior knowledge. Assessment were carried out ‘cold’ with no related teaching input and then used again at the end of the three-week creative project.

The results across the board were most impressive.

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Year Four
Year Four children began their project with a visit to Newcastle and Gateshead to view some examples of public art along with guide, sculptor Richard Broderick.

On an extremely windy day in January children visited The Angel of the North, Vulcan, the giant hand entitled ‘Reaching for the stars’ alongside the older monuments of ‘The Mucky Angel’ in the Haymarket and Greys monument in the centre of the city.



Children were asked to estimate and measure using a variety of equipment, circumferences, and perimeters and to attempt to calculate the heights of the various edifices. They were encouraged to have a go and come up with their own solutions as to the best way, working in teams to solve the different challenges.

 Video Clip 'Sculpture with Richard Broderick'

In the Laing Art gallery they were introduced to an interesting painting where a sculpture is seen to break through the roof of a gallery space . Children were asked to create their own pieces of public art and to calculate the space that would be needed to properly exhibit them.
Once back in the classroom children were visited by civil engineer John Loader who had been part of the team responsible for making the Angel of the North stand firm against the stern North Eastern elements.

He challenged the children to make the tallest structure they could using only spaghetti and marshmallows.

 Video Clip 'Building Towers with John Loader'

Lots of discussion and debate took place to establish the properties of the strongest and most successful building. John showed the children slides and footage of the erection of huge buildings and bridges and the importance of the application of mathematics in this process.

He brought a maquette of the Vulcan which was exactly one fifth the size of the finished sculpture by famous artist Paolozzi. The children were asked to calculate from the model the actual sizes.

Throughout the project children were introduced to a range of equipment including clinometers and trundle wheels and were set many varied and stimulating tasks. Work on scale and ratio to enable children to build models two, five and ten times as big as initial maquettes proved extremely successful with children engrossed in tasks which they didn’t even perceive as ‘work’ and certainly not maths! An iron man was constructed in the classroom with children collaborating in groups to ensure that all pieces connected and were of the appropriate size.

The final assessment showed enormous strides in the children’s understanding and application of measurement. Their ability to select appropriate equipment for a task and to judge and estimate distances and measurements accurately improved astonishingly.

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Year Three
Year Three began their project with a trip to the Prudhoe ‘Badger’. This sometimes controversial site-specific artwork was created by artist Gary Power who met the children and explained to them how the badger was made. They walked its perimeter, estimated its area, saw it from a variety of viewpoints exploring ideas of perspective and distance and came back to school with drawings, sketches and measurements and tried to accurately reproduce the form on squared paper as near as they could to scale.
 Video Clip 'Badger Project with Gary Power'
Gary took them through the mathematical process of scaling up an image and then invited all the children to choose their own creature to draw as the starting point for their own sculpture in the landscape of our school grounds.


In groups, pupils created a variety of animals which were drawn onto squared paper and using a grid that they pegged out in the ground, were then enlarged to an enormous size and emulsion painted on the grass. Throughout the process children needed to make and record elaborate measurements using a variety of equipment to enable the groups to return to work accurately each day.

One of the most successful enlargements was chosen to become a permanent feature of our grounds using stone and cement in the same way that the badger was created.

Children were involved in the whole process, digging trenches into the mud to house the carefully selected pieces of stone.

The finished product, of which the children are extremely proud, sits like an ancient Neolithic monument in the side of a grassy bank.
Running alongside this sculptural project, the class teachers were immersing the children in the need for accurate measuring skills in the construction of a huge Chinese dragon to be part of a performance to celebrate Chinese New Year. Children marked out and measured huge swathes of material to decorate and stitch and composed their own dance movements to accompany the 15 metre creature on its journey around the school hall.
 Video Clip 'Two teachers discuss the value of the Badger Project''

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Year Two
Year two children were comparing and contrasting natural and man-made giants.

They learned about volcanoes and volcanic eruptions, planning and building their own models to specific sizes and working in teams. They studied the strength and stability of a variety of structures experimenting with different shapes and components and found out about how the tallest skyscrapers in the world had been constructed.

 Video Clip 'Children discuss their model of a sky-scraper'


They went on a wild and windy visit to Hadrian’s Wall where they were met by a member of the National Trust who explained the complexity of the structure and how it was built in three widths for strength. Children estimated and measured individual sections and stones, searching for the biggest, tallest smallest etc.

 Video Clip 'Hadrian's Wall 1'
 Video Clip 'Hadrian's Wall 2'
They called in to witness a man-made giant of an event, a controlled explosion at Barrasford quarry on the way back home. Everyone had to wear hard hats and stand well back!

Over the next few days, children were issued with a number of mathematical challenges and were visited by a team from The National Park who demonstrated how to build a dry stone wall.

 Video Clip 'Stone Walling with David Taseel'
Assessments at the end of the period showed a remarkable improvement in understanding of units of measurement and one of the best quotes from the children has to be one from this class “ When are we going to do some maths …we haven’t done any for ages!”

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Year One
Year one children went to the seaside on the windiest day of the year to start off their measurement-based topic. A trip to Collingwood’s Monument at Tynemouth armed with tape measures, trundle wheels, rulers and string set pupils off on a exploration of size and standard and non-standard measures.

 Video Clip 'Coastal Monuments with Richard Broderick' 
Giant footsteps measured the way along the lower promenade to Kristians Fish and Chip Restaurant for lunch and then a tour of the art works of sculptor Richard Broderick. The giant fish built into the North Shields quayside were marched around and ‘measured’ and finally a bus ride to the giant sandcastles at Whitley Bay allowed children the excuse they needed to go down onto the sand and build and dig.

Estimating how many of their small buckets would be needed to fill one of the giants got children filling and digging and building a huge array of different castles, all the time with backs to the wind to stop the sand blowing in faces.


Back in school a number of versions of Jack and the Beanstalk were read and discussed as a giant beanstalk grew in the classroom one metre each day. Real beans were planted and watched with interest and measured in centimetres.
Metres were equated with giant footsteps and centimetres with fingernails.
Following on from Richard’s site specific sandcastle sculptures children were encouraged to discuss which season was represented and to design their own sculptural forms for each season to be placed in our garden.

Children drew and planned out ideas and together with Richard created four cast panels, which are a permanent reminder of a fantastic project.
Assessments showed children making considered and plausible estimates in both metres and centimetres with a good percentage being able to record accurately using abbreviations m and cm.

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Reception Class children were visited by storyteller Chris Bostock who delighted with a series of stories and dramas around a giant theme. Children made giant books and transformed the role-play area into a shoe shop for the elves and the shoemaker. Tiny shoe shaped books were also made with delicate drawing and lettering.

Jo and Austin Winstanley constructed an enormous giants shoe from a framework of wood and willow and partially covered with leather, which became a play den for children to escape inside once they’d completed the structure with woven ribbon.
 Video Clip 'Big Boot'  

The language of scale and measurement was in constant use over the period and children were introduced to a variety of measuring equipment, each for its own purpose.

Children now confidently describe and compare objects in terms of order and size.

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Nursery children experienced the joy of a brilliantly told tale from Chris Bostock too and went on to create giant sized paintings under the supervision of artist Claudia Rankin and made miniature models in match boxes.
Once again the language of measurement was in constant use and children’s confidence and understanding grew as the project continued.

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Evaluation Summary of ‘Monumental Maths”
A very successful project engaging all staff and children in the school. Three weeks of intensive activity involved field trips and partnerships with creative professionals — artists, crafts people, engineers, builders. In addition there were a number of practical, hands on projects undertaken by the children, including making a number of “monuments” that will outlive the children’s time at the school.
The aims of the project were:
• to enhance the confidence of teachers in adopting new, creative approaches to teaching maths within the context of the primary school strategy
• to make links between maths in school and its usefulness in the wider world- research based approach, use of the environment: monuments, public art, building sites
• to share our aims with other schools

The teachers were generally very positive about the project. They enjoyed the more open ended and less prescriptive way of working and in particular the practical nature of most activities. They saw increased motivation on the part of pupils as well as actual learning taking place. They realised that the children benefited from having a real purpose to their work. The reception teacher would have liked her children to have been able to be more involved in the practical making as they were the one group that had something made for them rather than by them.

Some teachers noted that the intensive nature of the project with 3 weeks off a normal routine was maybe too long for some of children and that in the final week there had been failings out amongst peers and tears.

The staff also felt it was positive for the children to have so many men working with them as there is only one male teacher in the school.

There is evidence to show that all the children, but particularly the older ones gained considerable insight into how maths is used in many areas of life outside school — engineering, public art and sculpture, building etc.

They overwhelmingly appreciated the possibilities this project gave them to work on a large scale both inside and outside the classroom. They were all motivated by the opportunities they were given to measure at a macro level. The physical nature of the task for year 3 children, working outside with a variety of materials, tools and elements developed their self confidence, enthusiasm for practical activities and motor skills. The year 4 children also gained considerable confidence in using real tools. All the children enjoyed having opportunities to do outdoor activities in the winter time when they would normally spend most time indoors.

The younger children were also very enthusiastic about the different activities they were engaged in but were less aware of the actual maths they had been doing. At the same time they had been hugely engaged in the project and the assessment shows that they had learned far more than they realised.

As well as the stated aims we also found that children developed skills and confidence in estimating measurements and realised that this is very useful skill for life.

“If you don’t estimate accurately you won’t get paid properly!” (David Tasseel, drystone waIler)
At the same time the children also discovered that accurate measurement is often a key to success in making and building things.

Although all classes clearly gained enormously from the project, the group that seemed to have most all round success was the year 3. It was the project that probably had the clearest and simplest focus from beginning to end and yet at the same time allowed for the children to use their own creativity in making their own designs and then realise them on a grand scale.
Overall the parents noticed increased enthusiasm for school and more interest than usual from their child talking about what they had been doing. This wasn’t always specifically related to maths as a subject. - “Erin has made models at home and at kids club, linked to the Iron Giant, she explained the role of the triangle in structures, described ratios and scaling.”
Some of the Creative Partners had not enjoyed maths at school and had found it hard. Through their working lives they had discovered the use and sometimes the joy of maths.

A number noted that estimation was an important skill for them in their work and this was a key element that emerged from the project for the children.

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Baseline Assessments
The children were assessed on their skills and knowledge of measurement before and at the end of the project. It was very clear that they had all made huge progress!

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