Maths and History - Cross Curricular Case Study

Case Study

By Faye Kalloniatis , published 16th February 2010

Maths and Museums: Norwich Castle Museum Working with Key Stage 3 Maths

Faye Kalloniatis (Museum Education Manager, Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service)

The project, ‘Storming the Castle, challenged the idea that museums are not places where schools can extend their students' maths skills. On the contrary, the project demonstrated that museums can offer inspiring buildings, wonderful collections and lots of hands-on, interactive experience - all of which can inspire and stimulate maths-related enquiry.

The idea grew from the desire of Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery to extend its provision for schools - provision which is largely based on using the collections for history and art. The maths potential had yet to be unlocked but, following an approach by museum education staff to teachers at a maths training day, maths advisors and lead teachers were keen to become involved. The joint involvement of museum and secondary maths teachers was an essential ingredient to the planning and success of the event.

A small working group (of museum educator, maths advisor and lead maths teachers) was formed to plan and pilot the project, using students from the secondary schools of the teachers in the working group. Broadly, the aims of the pilot were to provide a maths-related event which would inspire and motivate students, which would develop their maths problem-solving and thinking skills, and which would actively use the Castle as a focus of ‘applied', hands-on activity.

As a start, and by way of getting everyone to think about how best to use the museum, which is a wonderful medieval Castle, the working group was given a tour of the building. This had the desired effect of inspiring the group and the idea developed of creating an event based on attacking and defending the Castle. After this, many of the activities which the students would participate in,  became clear, and so the planning, over several months, of the one-day event, began.

The event was able to accommodate 120 students and was structured so that all participated in the same activities. However, some were assigned roles as defenders and others as attackers of the Castle, a mixture which created opportunities for lively debate within the groups. The day was based on an actual siege of the Castle which had taken place in 1215, thus giving the event historical authenticity.

When students arrived, the scene was set by costumed characters (in medieval dress), and the students were given the challenge of thinking about the best ways to defend or attack the Castle. They were then divided into four, smaller, groups, each led by one of the costumed characters. There were four activities and each group participated in all of them over the course of the day. Activities were based on the Castle building and its collections, and had a clear maths focus. They were also designed as interactive sessions. In all, the learning experience for the students was quite different from what they might expect in the classroom or as part of their maths learning; but, importantly, they were related to the curriculum and so where relevant to their studies.   

One activity was based on weapons and armour. Using a collection of weaponry and armour, students explored how effective these could be for attacking or defending. For instance, how many arrows could a soldier fire in a minute using a longbow as opposed to a crossbow? Which weapons would be better for attacking and which for defending? Using a ‘chain mail' shirt, students estimated its weight and also how many individual links it took to construct it. They were also able to try on some armour, estimate its weight and work out the ratio of weight of ‘soldier': to weight of soldier's ‘kit'.

Students also looked at coinage. As attackers and defenders, all were given lists of costs for different equipment and resources (such as food and drink and soldiers' wages and armour). They were also given a budget to spend as effectively as possible and so had to make decisions about what they could afford and what they would do without. They also had a go at coin striking to produce their own coins.

In the Castle basement, which in medieval times had been the area for storage of food and the place where the well was located, students focused on food storage, water and a tactical game. They were given a plomb line to measure the depth of the well and to decide how much water it would hold (and therefore how long the inhabitants could withstand a siege). They handled authentic medieval objects to see what kind of storage capacity these represented and they played the game ‘Fox and Geese', a medieval game of attacking and defending.

The activity in the Castle Keep gave students the chance to collect data for follow-up work at school: the data included many measurements of the Castle (and the scale model of it), such as the height of the windows. Back at school, work would be done on maths ideas such as angles, trajectories of arrows, and ratios relating to different parts of the building.

After participating in all four activities, students came together as one, large group to share what they had learnt and voice their views of how best to attack or defend the Castle. And finally, the costumed characters were there to end the day by telling the students what the actual outcome of the siege had been in 1215.

For the students, the day had been about purposeful and engaging activity related to problem-solving; they had had the chance to explore the Castle and its collections in a way that enabled them to think about the maths required to develop a strategy to either withhold a siege or to mount an attack of a fortified building - an experience students would not normally have in a maths class.

The event now forms part of the regular school events' programme. The project has shown that, with some imagination and commitment of both museum and secondary maths teachers, the museum provides a valuable and stimulating resource for students to develop their maths problem-solving and thinking skills.

(Members of the working group: Faye Kalloniatis (Museum Education Manager, Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service); Andy Edmonds (Maths Advisor, Norfolk); Jonathan Atkin (Thorpe St Andrew High School, Norfolk); Clare Rollison (Rosemary Musker High School, Norfolk); Ian Rollison (City of Norwich High School, Norfolk); Alice Neal (Long Stratton High School, Norfolk); Simon Hart (Kirkley High School, Suffolk).