An ordinary pack of playing cards.

Why did I decide to do a micro-presentation about an ordinary pack of playing cards at the Never Stop Learning Hub Teach Meet last week? (which, if you missed it, was an amazing event!)  Well, similar to other educators, my motivation was a student.

A few years back, I had a student who was adamant that they could not multiply numbers (well, they said “I’m rubbish at Maths and I’m no good at timesing” which I occasionally hear…when did saying “times” become the norm? I digress…).  I wanted to find a way to help without the student feeling singled out AND I didn’t have loads of money to spend on resources.  An ordinary pack of playing cards was the solution.

An ordinary pack of playing cards
An ordinary pack of playing cards

I instructed the student to remove the aces, picture cards and all of the number tens.  Then we sat down in Maths Club and started practising…

  • 5 Hearts x 3 Clubs = 15
  • 9 Spades x 2 Diamonds = 18
  • 6 Clubs x 4 Spades = 24

…until we got through the pack of cards.  When we got to the end, we shuffled the cards and started again.  Not knowing what combination of cards would come up next, made both of us concentrate.  As we got through the pack of cards a third or fourth time, there was an immediate improvement; it worked!


Ever since that afternoon, I use playing cards with students who really struggle with multiplication (most households have a pack).  I tell them to practice at home with their families, in front of the TV with their friends or on their own.

Playing cards in lessons

At the Never Stop Learning Hub Teach Meet I made a quick demonstration of what I’ve discussed above, with some rather large playing cards and the help of two handsome assistants (the inspirational @MrOCallaghanEdu and the motivational @ActionJackson – thank you gents!).

As this was not a Maths event, I had to make sure that I had an Ace up my sleeve, some way of showing that playing cards could be used for more than arithmetic and probability in Mathematics lessons.  I showed the audience how they could use playing cards in MFL lessons…

from Teachers Pay Teachers
from Teachers Pay Teachers

…so, I say to the audience “…get the students to pick a card, for example, the 9 of Hearts and tell your student to say what they see or get them to make a sentence that includes that item.”  Easy!  It doesn’t take long to set up a grid like the one above, it’s just a matter of finding the right images.  The beauty of this is that you can use this grid across different subjects and key stages (e.g. Science, Psychology, Geography, Physical Education and so on)

So that was it.  That was my 5 minutes of fame…pow! amazing!

Don’t reinvent the wheel…Ideas for using playing cards in lessons

So instead of wasting time making lots of resources, adapt my blank grid, use one of the resources below or just search the internet.  Don’t bother buying new cards, just collect any old packs that you find; even if one or two cards are missing…it really doesn’t matter.

I hope you enjoy the resources and consider trying playing cards in your lessons this week.  If you find or make any resources for playing cards in lessons (any subject), please share this with me, via the comments below or on Twitter #PlayingCardLesson.  Thanks for reading.


There have been some great #Nuture1314 posts by English, PE and History teachers, but I’ve not seen many by the Mathematicians.  This is my second blog and I’m a Maths teacher and hopefully, this will be one of many.  I’ve got to say that it’s not been as easy as I thought.  Here it is…


  1. New Year – New school, students, colleagues, job role and responsibility.  Pow!  Hit the ground running?  Understatement.  I have been busy every day but it’s been rewarding.
  2. Students – Even though I have been one of many Maths teachers for most of my classes (since I started in January 2013), I have gained the trust of my students.   It’s been up and down at times but they know that I care, they know that I’m fair and best of all (as far as they are concerned), I’m prepared to have a sing and a laugh.
  3. Gaining accreditation as a Specialist Leader of Education (some of my colleagues laughed and thought I was mad to want to take a position of responsibility with no payment).  It has been hard work but I’ve enjoyed it.  There have been a lot of opportunities to work with teachers from other schools and in other subject areas – this has helped me grow as an individual and as a teacher.
  4. Starting a new job as a Lead Practitioner in Mathematics in a new school.  This was a little scary as I knew what was expected but was still struggling to get my head around what to do on day 1.  Having to hit the ground running and share ways of improving Teaching & Learning, has been a challenge.  I’m getting better but I can see where I need to improve.
  5. Working outside of my comfort zone (well, outside of the Cabot Learning Federation).  I was nervous, I didn’t know anyone but I ‘performed’ well.  I’ve run workshops before and since, but I’ve always presented to Secondary School Mathematics Teachers.  Researching and delivering a workshop on Behaviour for Learning to Primary & Secondary Teachers and across varied subject areas actually wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be.
  6. Workshops for the CLF – Led three different workshops in one day (with the support of my Principal, a Vice Principal and a Head of Science, I did it!)
  7. Getting involved in a research project.   At the back end of 2013 I got involved in a research project funded by the NCETM.   It’s been good finding out what differences there are between the teaching of Mathematics in Secondary Schools as opposed  to what my colleagues are currently doing in Primary.
  8. Never Stop Learning – @MrOCallaghanEdu asked me if I wanted to work with a team of Pedagogy Leaders and I said yes.  It’s his baby, his brand and a great idea.  I can’t wait for the Genius Cafe and the Teach Meet in 2014 @NSLHub.  Thanks for introducing me to Twitter and Blogging…
  9. Twitter – I kept saying that I’d look into it and I am glad I have.  It’s been good to share and obtain tips from other like minded individuals.  It has provided some great links to resources, blogs and more.
  10. Blogging – I can’t say that I had planned to do it but it has made me think carefully about my views, what I want to say and not what others think I should be saying.  I just want to keep writing…yup, I know, it doesn’t sound like a comment a Maths teacher would make.
  11. Coaching & Mentoring – Amidst the myriad of tasks, I am an NQT mentor and a coach for a PGCE student (via a Teaching School).  There have been tears, a firm word here and there and some advice that has been passed along but I think that my two young ladies are doing an amazing job (I’m just their sounding board and little tweaker).
  12. Smiling and saying hello – This has been a habit of mine for some time now but it’s not something that everyone does.  It’s been good bringing a little cheer to someone’s day and besides, most people can’t resist smiling back (try it!).
  13. Husband – Okay, so this is the one that is the most important.  He’s still here, still supportive and my best friend!  We can even talk Maths together and he’s not a Maths teacher…now that’s grand!

14 Hopes (including a few promises to myself)

  1. Husband – Spend more quality time with the chap…yes I know dear, just one more lesson to plan, just need to finish marking these tests then I’ll be ready…
  2. Weekends & Half Term – I must stop, gather my thoughts, breath and relax (must remember number 1!).
  3. Time ManagementThis is my first blog and pretty much covers what I’m thinking “How-much-time-do-you-need?“.
  4. Homework – Be consistent in setting it for all of my classes.  I must try #takeawayhomework with at least one of my classes.  This is one of the great #100ideas by @TeacherToolkit – still reading)
  5. Speaking – I know that I come across as calm, collected individual but I want (and need) to be a truly confident speaker…I was always a quiet child!
  6. Primary Schools – As part of the NCETM research project, I have been paired up with a primary school in Bristol and we will share teaching experiences as well as visit each other.
  7. Students – Continue helping/guiding them on their journey to being amazing.
  8. Read – I want to read more!
  9. TV – watch less of it.
  10. Bicycle – I have a beautiful bike, I love riding it and need to make sure I either get out on the roads or use that BKool Trainer that I bought last year.
  11. Teach Meet – Attend my first Teach Meet
  12. Twitter & Blogging – I must not give up.
  13. Paper – Make more shapes
  14. Christmas 2014 – Be prepared.

How much time do you need?

Yes, that’s right; How much time do you need?  Not how much time do you want or think you should have but how much time do you actually need?

I often hear colleagues talking about not having enough time to get the job done.  I’m guilty too!  Moan, nag, blah, blah…I have to do this…and they want me to do that…and…and… blaaaaah.   How many little jobs  could I have completed in the time it took me to stop and complain about a lack of time?

As I was saying… how much time do you need?  My time management skills need improving but I realise that I need a good work/life balance too.  Sometimes I think about what I do on a regular basis and how to best plan my time.  As a consequence, I can get bogged down…

  • attend one or two meetings of some description
  • conduct lesson observations
  • give feedback
  • mentor NQT’s
  • coach colleagues
  • ‘facilitate’ network nights
  • lead CPD
  • do a bit of shared planning
  • teach Mathematics
  • run workshops with fellow SLE’s (Specialist Leaders of Education)
  • work with students in the Maths Support Club after school
  • ‘chat’ with students in the corridors during break , lunch and after school (a very important part of my job!)
  • research and read up on Teaching &Learning literature as part of my role as a Lead Practitioner
  • and the usual bits and pieces that every teacher does

Once I’ve completed majority of the aforementioned tasks, it’s usually time to relax; have some dinner, maybe watch some escapist nonsense on the television.

So what’s the solution?  Get better at saying no?  Stop making lists that never get completed?  Don’t check emails?  This is not really feasible.  I don’t have the solution but here are a few ideas that might help you along the way.

Self Help Books; Get suggestions from colleagues, as you will find that quite a few of these publications are filled with what some would call “common sense”.  I recommend “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey.

Non-Contact Time;  If you have a heavy teaching timetable, use your non-contact time efficiently.  Book a meeting with yourself!  Make sure the meeting title states what you need to in that time (e.g. Write Y10 reports; observe PGCE student).  I know it seems obvious – “efficiently” I say.  I know that I could could cut down on the staffroom visits, general procrastination – you know what I mean.

Lunch time;  Fortunate enough to have a 40, 50 or even 60 minutes lunch break?  I would question whether you need the entire lunch break to socialise and eat your lunch (Okay, so I’m being harsh.  Some people need the entire lunch break).  If you are really short for time, why not use half of this time to prepare resources, write some praise postcards or even mark a few books.

Before or After school; You don’t have any meetings booked and there’s no CPD tonight.  Come in a little earlier or stay a little later (do not do both) so that you can schedule a bit of lesson planning, marking or simply read that thing that you have to read!

Other Peoples Time; Members of SLT, Heads of Department and individuals in similar positions have the luxury of delegating tasks if they so choose.  I would like to think that I can call on colleagues to help me out if I’m really struggling, however, I’m still pondering sideways and upward delegation…not sure how I feel about this.

At Home?!  Remember your Work/Life balance and the fact that you need to charge your batteries.  Let’s be realistic, all teachers work from home at some point in their career, on a regular basis and most likely every week or weekend.  If you have young children wait until they are in bed before you do any last minute work.  Don’t have kids?  Go out with friends or get a hobby (next term, I will take my own advice!)

Well, it seems as if I have actually taken my own advice and have found a new hobby.  Although I am old school, I still feel new to teaching and this is my first journey into/onto the “blogosphere”….this is the problem with being a Maths teacher; Sphere? I’m starting to think about round things and circles and that time I went to a Chinese restaurant where I had a square Nasi-Goreng Parcel on a circular plate and I wanted to set a question up for my students, so I…

I think I’ll save that one for another day!