Monday, 7 July 2014

World cup CLIL and teaching maths

Lots of things have been happening this (academic) year, which is why the CLIL reflections blog has been dormant. In September 2013 I started as an independent education consultant and have been giving CLIL courses in the Netherlands as well as in other countries, from  Denmark to Catalonia  and Kazakhstan. And I see to my shame that our last blog post was in May 2013.

My colleague Jason Skeet is also going to pastures new and will be returning to the UK to work at the Norwich City College. I will miss you, Jason! So I want to breathe some new life back into the CLIL reflections blog with a new background and a mid-year 2014 resolution to write something useful for my readers about CLIL every month.


CLIL and maths

As a pre-(northern hemisphere) summer topic, I have chosen the (southern hemisphere topic) world cup, or CLIL and teaching maths. Some maths teachers struggle with teaching the language of maths and often ask me questions like, “How can you do CLIL activities in maths?”, or “We can talk about Pythagoras in maths – but how can we bring more culture into the maths classroom?” Or they say, “There isn’t really any language in maths, is there?”. Of course in some ways, these maths teachers are right: it is much easier to create of CLIL activities in the more ‘text-heavy’ subjects like history, geography or biology, which provide readymade text material and language in their course books. But more and more maths teachers are catching on and creating great maths lessons which include language (the C of communication) and (the C of) culture.

Luis Suarez and probability

During the 2014 World Cup, I was giving a CLIL training course at Visser ‘t Hooft Lyceum in Leiden. Michiel Hendriks - a creative maths teacher - talked about his maths lesson. Our workshop was a couple of days after the football match in which Luis Suarez bit Giorgio Chiellini in his shoulder: food in itself for discussion with CLIL learners. Michiel spotted this video, entitled Suarez takes bite out of Swedish bookmaker. Apparently, a 24-year old Norwegian man, Richard Helmersen, bet 100 kroner (€12,50, £10 $16US) that striker Luis Suarez would bite someone during the World Cup. The Norwegian managed to win 17,000 kroner (about €2500, £2,000, $2,850 US): an online bookmaker had offered odds of 175/1 that Suarez would bite someone again during a game in Brazil.


Language in maths

Michiel just happened to be teaching the topic of probability in his CLIL maths lessons that week. And the title of the video, Suarez takes a bite out of Swedish bookmaker was a good excuse to teach the idiom take a bite out of something.
As a starter, Michiel asked his students to answer these questions, thus giving them a reason for viewing the video and working on their listening skills:
  1. How much money, in Swedish kroner, did the man win?
  2. How many kroner did he bet?
  3. How does this relate to the odds given?
  4. What is the man going to spend it on?
Michiel was aiming to teach this rule: The probability of an outcome equals the number of ways the outcome can happen, divide by the total number of possible outcomes.  And through the clever example of the bet on Suarez’ biting Chiellini, he could bring the topic to life, linking it to real life and make it relevant to the class, since probably all of his students were following the World Cup. Students could talk about how we work out the chance that something will happen in maths.
Michiel then showed his students (on 30 June) the odds of who might win the world cup:
He pointed out that the odds of Argentina winning the world cup are four to one. He told his students, “You, as a punter (a person who bets) could put money on Argentina winning. If that happens, the bookies will have to pay you four times the amount of money you put on Argentina winning. What the bookmaker means by this is that in four out of five situations Argentina will lose and in one out of five situations Argentina will win. This is called the chance. In the chase of Argentina, they have a one in five chance they will win."
Again, he checked understanding of this input through a few questions, clarifying the difference between the words odds and chance, which are important concepts here.
  1. The odds of Germany winning the world cup are___________
  2. This means the chance of Germany winning is about a ______________________
  3. What are the odds of Holland winning the world cup?
  4. What is the chance Holland will win the world cup?
  5. If you bet 25 euro’s on Holland winning, and they do, how much would you win? Remember to write down your calculations.
  6. Chances pop up everywhere. Try to think up 3 other examples. Give your examples in a sentence.

The language of probability in maths

Of course, maths uses numbers for describing probabilities, written as fractions, decimals or percentages. It also use percentage scales, starting at 0 (impossible) and ending at 1 (absolutely certain). We use phrases like, “It’s likely that it will rain tomorrow”, or “It is impossible to find a human being who is more than 3 metres tall,” or “It’s unlikely I’ll see her tomorrow. I think she’s on holiday in Brazil.” We use language to make judgments about how probable an event is, use the future tense with “will” and words like (very) likely, (extremely) unlikely, even chance. probably, possibly, impossible, maybe. And in order to talk about probability, Michiel’s students needed and used this language. And trawling the net, I found this PowerPoint slide on the Times Education Supplement site which encourages students to talk about probability scales, neatly demonstrating a lot of the language related to probability. 
Who says maths doesn’t use language? I leave you with two questions:
  1. How probable is it that you think a little differently about teaching language in maths after this blog entry?
  2. On the probability scale from 0 to 10, how probable is it that Michiel’s students will remember his lesson?