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A dedication..................................................3 An apology.....................................................4 Introduction................................................5 Motivating your class.........................6 Activities : Ministry Training........................7 You're in the Ministry!............8 Don't Panic!........................................9 Design a poster...............................9 Explaining your working....10 Photocopiables..........................................11

This is a sample of ‘The M Files’. You are welcome to use it in your classroom as it is, although obviously the full version is much better! Please share it with your friends, Tweet about it and whatever else you can do to stop these devious people in their tracks. © Sparky Teaching 2012 All rights reserved.

In 2010, the following question appeared on a test paper for 11 year-olds in the U.K.

Write these prices in order, starting with the smallest. 72p £2.70 £0.27 £7.20 £2.07 The questioner’s choice of numbers got us thinking. What sort of crafty individual might use the old ‘unnecessarily repetitive digit’ ruse in a test question? And what if they were employed by an organisation to write questions purely to catch children out? Something must be done! So this resource is dedicated to the unintentionally inspiring writer of that question and his/her apparent love of the digits 2, 7 and 0.

The aim of this resource is to encourage your pupils to read questions in Maths more carefully, particularly the sort of questions found in Maths tests. The way that we’ve gone about this is to imagine that the people who write questions are cunning individuals, out to trick your pupils. Our most popular resource is called ‘We Have A Problem’. Its aim is to get pupils thinking about how word problems are constructed. One of its printable sheets is an imaginary letter from D. Seevor (the inventor of the word problem), telling teachers how he plans to catch pupils out by doing dastardly deeds like changing the units of measurement or giving them two operations to do. D. Seevor’s letter has received so many positive comments we thought we’d develop the idea of crafty question writers further. Our brainstorming ended up with the Ministry of Maths (a cunning organisation whose only aim is to catch out children with carefully worded questions) and ‘The M Files’ (the top secret documents you are currently reading - direct from our man on the inside). The idea behind this is that if your pupils are on the lookout for the various ruses these devious individuals are up to, they’ll read the questions more carefully. That’s the theory. Of course, it could all backfire and we may be developing a belief that all examiners are out to get them. In which case, we would like to apologise for any classroom paranoia we may have inadvertently caused! But, look on the bright side... At least they’ll be reading the questions carefully!

‘The M Files’ are all about getting your pupils to read maths problems more carefully in order to avoid some of the more common mistakes. By maths problems, we mean the broad range of question types that we give our pupils. The sort of thing found in text books, assessment materials, mental maths and SATs tests. Often word-based, but not always real-life problems. For a closer look at dissecting real-life problems (understanding key words, investigating which operation to use etc.) you might like to take a peek at the companion resource ‘We Have A Problem’ here : ‘We Have A Problem’ is about question comprehension. ‘The M Files’ is about wising up to specific question types and answering strategies. If you set your class a collection of maths questions, perhaps as an end-of-year assessment, how many of the mistakes they make are due to not reading the questions carefully enough? If they don’t know how to answer a question, that’s another matter, but this resource is all about trying to prevent the preventable. Other than going hoarse, reminding your class to read the questions more carefully, what can you do? It’s our hope that if your pupils are put on their guard for potential ‘traps’, they’ll pay a little more attention to the questions they’re being asked. It is our belief that the effectiveness of teaching of word problems in Maths is based on two factors : the activities you provide for your students and the classroom discourse you have around them. The suggested activities here were designed to be stimulating and lively. The classroom discourse you have around them will hopefully be the same. By ‘discourse’, we mean all the task-related thinking, talking, arguing, agreeing, questioning and explaining that goes on in a lesson. There’s a fine line between ‘teaching to the test’ and giving your class the skills to answer certain types of word problem. ‘The M Files’ was never intended purely as a test preparation resource and we hope that this resource encourages you to steer a course towards the second option, not the first. Your resource zip file should contain the following files and folders: - TheMFiles.pdf : this 30-page PDF eBook - a Videos folder : with 2 presentations TheMFiles_Intro and TheMFiles_Posters - an Images folder : this contains a handful of images you may like to use to make your own resources or displays - a copy of ‘Sites for sore eyes’ (a 40-page PDF full of ideas to use internet tools creatively in your classroom)

This is a sample of ‘The M Files’. It should give you some idea of the rest of the contents of this 32-page PDF eBook.

The following activities involve a variety of teaching and learning styles (e.g. speaking and listening tasks, Think-Pair-Share, creative thinking). They’ve been chosen to reflect a variety of thinking skills None of the activities involves a teacher at the front of the class explaining how to answer a question. It’s our hope that this variety will make the potentially uninteresting topic of question-answering strategies slightly more palatable! N.B. Where activities involve printable worksheets, the relevant page numbers in this PDF are given.

1 - MINISTRY TRAINING (TRICKS AND EXAMPLES) Objectives: to identify question types and learn how to answer them. to revise ordering numbers, reading and labelling number lines and working backwards to find an answer. You will need: Ordering Numbers Trick Sheet (p.12-13) and Examples Sheet (p.14) Number Lines Trick Sheet (p. 15-16) and Examples Sheet (p. 17) Missing Numbers Trick Sheet (p.18-19) and Examples Sheet (p.20) This activity involves introducing pupils to some potential mistakes in word problems (e.g. misreading numbers and units of measurement, labelling and reading scales wrongly). The Ministry Training activity covers the following question types : Ordering Numbers, Number Lines and Missing Numbers. For each topic we’ve produced two photocopiables (a Tricks Sheet and an Examples Sheet). Tricks Sheet Each Tricks Sheet is a document leaked straight from the Ministry of Maths. It takes a subject (for instance, ordering numbers in sequence) and introduces your pupils to some of the methods that the Ministry of Maths employ to try to catch them out. Several of these sheets are two-sided. On each Tricks Sheet are a handful of examples, which you can use to demonstrate each tip. These sheets are not specifically intended for independent class work. To get the best from them, and to build up that classroom discourse we mentioned earlier, pupils could use them as part of a shared activity (e.g. preparing presentations on the tricks for the rest of the class). Examples Sheets The Examples Sheets that follow are for individual practice. As their title suggests, they contain several examples for pupils to revisit the skills they’ve learned.

ORDERING NUMBERS At the Ministry of Maths this is one of our favourite tricks. Pupils have to order a group of numbers from smallest to largest. There are four main tricks we use to make sure they don’t! TRICK 1 - SAME DIGITS, DIFFERENT ORDER. When writing the question, use lots of the same digits to confuse the misguided child. They'll read the numbers quickly and make needless mistakes. For example:

Write these numbers in order from smallest to largest. 219 921 1092 910 291

TRICK 2 - CHANGE THE UNITS OF MEASUREMENT This trick is a beauty. If the question is about money, put one amount in pence and the rest in pounds. If it's about weight, put one measurement in grams and the rest in kilograms. Lots of pupils won't spot the odd one out! For example:

Write these weights in order from lightest to heaviest. 5.3kg 5.1kg 5200g 5.7kg 5.4kg

TRICK 3 - DAZE THEM WITH DECIMALS For some reason, some pupils think that a number with one digit after the decimal point (like 0.4) is always smaller than one with two digits (like 0.19). Give them a mixture of numbers to one decimal place and numbers to two decimal places and they won't know what's hit them.

ORDERING NUMBERS - EXAMPLES At the Ministry of Maths, we pride ourselves on writing questions that will confuse children. Here are some of our finest examples : 1. Write these amounts of money in order from smallest to largest. £6.30





2. Write these numbers in order from smallest to largest. 410





3. Write these lengths in order from shortest to longest. 8.4m





4. Write these fractions in order from smallest to largest.






5. James weighs five rocks. Write their weights in order from lightest to heaviest. 2.6kg




2 1/2 kg

6. Here are five amounts of water. Put them in order from least to most water. 9.3 l

9400 ml

9 1/4 l

9200 ml

9800 ml

7. Write these times in order from shortest to longest. 60 seconds 6 hours 60 minutes 6 minutes 1/2 minute

Š Sparky Teaching 2012

Š Sparky Teaching 2012

Thanks for supporting us in what we try to do. We hope that The M Files helps you continue to spark enthusiasm and interest in your maths lessons.

You can follow us on Twitter @SparkyTeaching You can e-mail us at And you’d be welcome to join us at If you’re a publisher and would like to see this resource in print (as we do), please get in touch.

The M Files - a sample  

This is a sample of a Sparky Teaching resource aimed at helping your pupils with maths problems.

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