‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ is the classic adage interpreted to mean that multiple ideas or concepts can be expressed often by a single image. Or that an image may be a better way of explaining or expressing a complex idea than using words (verbally). For me, a picture is worth a thousand lessons – and mathematics ones at that! Images are a wonderful way to launch a mathematics lesson, especially if they are full of intriguing or ‘explorable’ mathematical ideas. I often use pictures shared on Twitter from those implementing #numbertalks or #quickimages and I love using images from Daily Overview that can start mathematical discussions. But mainly, I use photos I take myself.
Even if you as a teacher don’t necessarily think you are mathematically minded, you may have pictures on your photo app on your phone or Tablet that make for a great lesson starter – all they need are some questions. You might have an image of a sunset or sunrise, these images often include horizontal lines, or shapes to explore. You might have images of buildings or playgrounds a rich source of shapes and objects; sports fields or rock pools – questions can be posed about length and area and capacity; flowers or birthday cakes – patterns appear in nature and in the layering of cakes as does symmetry and numbers. Each of these images has the potential to allow students to see that mathematics is everywhere.
As a mathematics nerd, I do intentionally take photos of things that I think have the potential to be a good source image for classroom discussions. Below are two photos I recently took while filling up my car with petrol (random I know!). I’ve shared for each image some questions you could use with students as a mathematics discussion starter. You might only explore one of the questions, or a few for a lesson launch.
- How big is the sign? How could you work it out?
- How tall is the sign? What did you use to estimate?
- What might be the dimensions of the sign?
- You’ve been asked to repaint the sign, research how much paint do you think you’ll need?
- You been asked to create a sign to advertise Bill’s Petrol Station
- how high will the letters be?
- Draw a plan for what the sign will look like
- What numbers do you notice?
- List all the different ways numbers are used in this image?
- Look at the total price paid for petrol, which petrol did I buy? How did you work it out?
- Is the Powerade special a ‘good deal’ if one bottle costs $4.50? Think of another deal you could make
- Did I fill my car up closer to 56 L or 57 L of petrol? Justify your thinking
- How are decimal points used in different ways in this image?
Visualisation and representation are important in mathematics for assisting students in understanding concepts and in answering common questions like “when will we use this?” or “is this relevant?” Having a range of images ready to go is also a great thing to have prepped if you are a casual teacher or if you have to take a class without notice. For further images, you can go to our Resources section on our website and search for ‘images’ or ‘noticing and wondering’ and you’ll find 4 powerpoint presentations with images you can freely use.