Hay Stack Maths

I was introduced to the concept of three act maths last year through the blog of Nick Hart http://thisismyclassroom.wordpress.com/2013/03/16/giraffe/. From there, I went on to read the blog of Dan Meyer http://blog.mrmeyer.com/?p=16301. Basically 3 act maths involves firstly giving the children a visual stimulus that will spark their interest, then using the picture or video clip to generate talk and questions before finally solving the problems that they have thought of. Well, that’s how I interpreted it anyway. I’m sure that there are lots of different ways of looking at the idea but basically it is providing a stimulus for problem solving that doesn’t involve the children reading a succession of word problems.

I was driving home from a course on Tuesday evening when I spotted a pyramid of haybales in a field. Sadly, it wasn’t possible to stop and take a photo then and there but I googled the idea later and found a picture that looked similar.


I thought that I could use this as my visual stimulus for solving measurement problems and just getting the children to think about problem solving generally. First of all, I had to try and find some basic measurements that I could use to give the children some basic information. That wasn’t as easy as I expected but I eventually managed to find some measurements for width, weight etc of the the individual bales.

Yesterday I displayed the picture for my maths class and asked them to talk to each other and generate as many mathematical questions as they could. Some children found this difficult at first but once we had a couple of examples, the questions came quickly. Sadly we had to eliminate such questions as how many different animals eat hay on the grounds that we couldn’t get the answers..

We collected the questions on the board and then voted on which ones we were going to solve. The children then had to decide what information they needed to be able to solve the problems. This included the details that I had found such as the diameter of each hay bale, its length and weight.

The question that they all wanted to answer was how heavy the pyramid would be. We estimated and the largest estimate was 100 kg. My googling had suggested than an average weight for each hay bale would be 350kg so the children quickly realised that their estimates were wildly inaccurate which led to an interesting discussion about how heavy things really are.

During the lesson the pupils found the weight, base area and perimeter and the cost of the haystack as well as engaging in lots of mathematical talk. It was a positive lesson in which all the children were engaged throughout. One of the best things is that the lesson didn’t require any reading ability at all. The children were able to use their mathematical skills without having to worry about decoding a problem first.