Real Life Maths: Potions Lesson

This is a really good way of testing out practical measuring skills in Maths lessons.

I always teach measuring by incorporating a Harry Potter themed Potions lesson. Pupils follow potion recipes to create potions from the Harry Potter universe, e.g. Polyjuice Potion or Skele-gro. I have a mixture of powders (cornflour), plants (herbs) and potions (water with food colouring). I then have pipettes, a range of different containers with different scales for measuring liquids, scales for measuring the plants and powders, in addition to gloves for handling the ‘poisonous’ plants, a pestle and mortar for the plants and stopwatches for timing. This lesson incorporates so many areas of measuring and could be extended for higher ability (maybe include conversions) and differentiated for lower ability easily. Fortunately we have a great Science department at our school, who are always able to provide me with an interesting collection of glass containers. Additionally, I have test tubes in a test tube rack, a bowl and a wooden spoon per pair.

Pupils follow the instructions in the recipes, choosing appropriate equipment. They then pour their final potion into a test tube to be judged. Teachers and teaching assistants always dress up in their Hogwarts robes for this lesson and pupils’ potions are then judged on ‘appearance’ and ‘aroma’. To continue the Harry Potter theme, we judge them as if they are O.W.L.s (Ordinary Wizarding Levels) where pass grades are O (Outstanding), E (Exceeds Expectations), and A (Acceptable) with fail grades being P (Poor), D (Dreadful), and T (Troll). This continues the theme and provides the lesson with a clear structure. In the past I have also ‘sorted’ pupils into houses and then awarded house points, so there are many ways in which this can be extended.

The advantage of this kind of activity is that not only does it allow pupils the opportunity to test out skills they need to be able to apply, but it provides a memorable activity that engages even the most disengaged children and leaves them with an experience they will remember.