Targeting content to individual skills

In this series of articles related to teaching maths in context, I have attempted to map out a staged process on how you can plan to teach where the maths is embedded in the real world.

The previous articles discussed the challenges and processes of meeting the needs and interests of students in order to engage them, and in this article I address how to go through the crucial underpinning task of identifying the maths skills and content to be targeted.

This stage involves two processes:

  • brainstorming the mathematics content;
  • mapping against the curriculum.

Brainstorming the mathematics content

It is important from a teaching perspective to identify the mathematics that is embedded within the chosen topic and that underpin being able to undertake the task or the investigation. This requires further investigation and research into the chosen theme and question.

This is often best done via a more detailed brainstorm of the specific topic or by listing the possible areas of maths that arise out of the question. This requires the teacher to first understand the mathematical possibilities and skill requirements that might arise, and then use this as a mechanism for planning what teaching activities and resources will be needed to support the learners to undertake the task.

You need to plan for what might arise, remembering that the range of skills and abilities of the group is likely to be very wide. Not all students will need the same level of support, so you need to be prepared.

It is important to remember that part of this teaching approach is to allow the process to operate in the reverse order to the traditional way we do this in school maths classrooms; practice some maths then apply that maths through a word problem—where the maths skills have already been identified and formulated for the student.

The process in the real world requires a set of different skills undertaken in the reverse order – starting with the initial ability to identify the maths in the context and formulate it as a mathematical problem. Then, the second step is to do the maths, and employ maths skills and knowledge. This was described more fully in Mathematical concepts - context is key.

What you want to occur is that the students begin the task and, as they progress, the need to understand, use and apply their maths skills will arise naturally as part of that process.

That is when the teacher interferes and provides the required teaching and support. Your preparation and planning regarding the maths content is then at your fingertips to use.

One of the important aspects to remember is that students will most likely not be good at identifying and excavating the maths out of the context. You will need to support them to do this. Pose further questions to them - get the learners to problem solve - to engage with the messiness of maths in context.

For some learners, you will need to be more directive and provide a more structured and supportive approach, whilst other more capable and independent learners will proceed with little need for the teacher to interfere. In the next article we will look further at approaches that help enable all this to happen.

Map against the curriculum

The next stage to help identify and address the required maths skills, and to meet specific curriculum outcomes, is to map the maths content against the relevant curriculum.

This needs to be done at this stage in the process - not necessarily first as we often do. Using the analysis from the above stage, map the mathematics identified against the curriculum learning outcomes or descriptions. This will help you to cover and describe the range of maths skills required.

As a start, it is always worth considering the three main content areas of the curriculum (in these examples the Australian Curriculum) and identifying the key areas underpinning the task:

  • Number and Algebra;
  • Measurement and Geometry;
  • Statistics and Probability.

During this process you may identify some possible gaps in the task and, if possible, refine the question/task so that these maths gaps can be addressed. Sometimes this is an easy thing to do, if it fits in naturally with what has already been decided, and it may simply require the teacher to pose an extra stimulus question to target students' activities and work. However, if it does not fit in naturally to the task or investigation being planned, it is best to leave it aside and wait for a more natural topic to cover the mathematics skills.

Together, the above two processes should provide the teacher with a detailed list of what maths skills are required to undertake the task and to use that plan to have the necessary resources and activities at hand when the maths content needs to be explicitly taught.

In the next article we will look at further processes that specifically support the teaching and learning - how you can structure the activities in the classroom.


Tout, D., Motteram, G. (2006). Foundation numeracy in context. Melbourne: Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER). Camberwell, Vic.

Do you use classroom activities that reflect real-life situations outside school?

What processes do you use for planning how to use a problem solving approach in your classroom?

When lesson planning, are you mapping against the curriculum?