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Features: Faculty Insights


To celebrate National Numeracy Day in May 2024, the UK Government Office for Science (GO-Science) and Government Chief Scientific Adviser teamed up with our MMP outreach project for an Olympics-themed maths challenge.

National Numeracy Day is an annual initiative which aims to help everyone - adults and children - build their confidence and mathematical skills. For this year's event on 22 May 2024, Professor Dame Angela McLean FRS, the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, and the Government Office for Science (GO-Science) were keen to get involved by releasing a short maths challenge, and approached our MMP maths outreach project for help. 

GO-Science identified National Numeracy Day as a great opportunity to get people excited about maths and get them involved in the subject. The MMP's extensive experience in producing engaging, accessible resources for schools and the public (especially through their highly successful NRICH and Plus platforms) made them a perfect partner for the task. 

The challenge remit was to support the National Numeracy campaign's key aims - enabling everyone to understand how maths is used in the real world and develop the ability to apply maths to support decisions. As the National Numeracy website explains, this is as much about thinking and reasoning as about 'doing sums'. It means being able to interpret data, charts and diagrams; process information; solve problems; check answers; understand and explain solutions; and make decisions based on logical thinking and reasoning.

Reading stories from the mathematics of life

The challenge was released via GO-Science's social media channels, aimed at a wide audience of all ages from 11 to adult, and was shared further by organisations including the Science Museum.

Being comfortable with looking at graphs to read the information they present is a vital part of the mathematics of life. The activity the MMP prepared for the challenge builds on an accessible and popular real world context - the statistics of sport - and is designed to give everyone an engaging opportunity to build their confidence and skills in interpreting data.

Watch the video below for an introduction to the challenge from the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Dame Angela McLean. Can you work out what the four track and field athletics events are from the graphs of their Olympics records over time? (You can take a closer look at the graphs here.)



You can find the answers - and links to follow-on resources - here.

The National Numeracy Day challenge is based on an activity originally developed as part of the MMP's 'Maths and Sport: Countdown to the Games' resources to celebrate the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The 'Maths and Sport' initiative was a partner project in the London 2012 Get Set+ education programme, and was awarded the London 2012 Inspire Mark. The approach of the 2024 Paris Olympics provided a timely opportunity to update and adapt the idea - and the aims of the National Numeracy Day challenge became even more timely when the UK General Election, with its customary barrage of graphical presentations of data, was announced on the same day!

If you enjoyed the challenge, you can find the original longer Olympics Records resource (featuring different events) on our NRICH website, and discover articles, podcasts and videos on everything from the mathematics of sport to AI on Plus.

You can see the full challenge and take a closer look at the graphs on the MMP's GO-Science challenge page.