5 Ways to magically embed maths across your school with Purple Mash

Oct. 8, 2018

Whether you’re looking at minibeasts, trying to solve a problem or simply wanting some mentally stimulating entertainment, maths is at the heart of it. As the Programme of Study for maths says:

“A high-quality mathematics education … provides a foundation for understanding the world…”.

As you’d expect, there are plenty of tools in Purple Mash to help you teach the different aspects of the maths curriculum, such as number bonds, fractions and so on. And there are also tools that you can use to help children think mathematically right across the curriculum. Those are the ones we’ll focus on here.

If you’re new to Purple Mash, you’ll be pleased to learn that you don’t have to go hunting all over the place for the applications mentioned here. Just type the name of it in the search box in the top right hand corner, and you’ll be taken straight to it.


Created with the Foundation level in mind, Maths City 1 focuses on number and calculation, data handling and using and applying maths. It’s very visual, and makes counting interesting.

The start screen (right) shows five different scenarios, such as a farm, a rocket and motor racing.

If we click on the farm screen, we’re presented with several options.

Purple Mash-Maths City 1 home screen
Maths City 1 - a world of mathematical adventure for younger learners to explore

For example, if we click on the top left picture, we see a short video which is, in effect, a slide show consisting of a number of photographs and a voice-over. You can use this to hear from someone who works on a farm, and also to talk to the children about the names of the animals shown, and how many there are.

Clicking on the picture in the centre of the top row calls up a game in which the children have to match the animals shown at the bottom of the screen to the ‘cut-out’ shapes in the main picture. The next level up requires the children to do the same sort of thing, but more than once, according the number of cut-outs shown. The final level involves doing that without the aid of the cut-outs, but going by a number that’s presented instead.

There are helpful suggestions provided about lessons and projects you could build around these resources. For example, you might be able to arrange for someone to come in and talk to the children about what life on a farm is like. Or perhaps near your school is a child-friendly farm the class could visit.

A more sophisticated approach to learning about counting is to use a spreadsheet. Enter 2Calculate (pictured below), which enables you to introduce the children to spreadsheets without scaring them off.

It manages to do so by making it possible to count images rather than only numbers.

Purple Mash-Using 2Calculate
2Calculate is a great way to introduce children to spreadsheets without intimidating them.

Counting money, for instance, is made simple by the fact that the pictures of coins have their value assigned to them.

Another option would be to assign the number 1 to each item. Then you can add up the items even though it doesn’t look like any numbers are involved.

Creating formulae is made accessible by the simple expedient of providing a step by step procedure to create them. But for older children there is also the option of just selecting the function required.

Shaping up

As you may have gathered from the name of Maths City 1, there is also a Maths City 2.

Purple Mash-Estimating size in Maths City 2
Estimating size in Maths City 2

This is more concerned with shape and space than measuring and counting. As with Maths City 1, there are enjoyable sound effects for the children, and useful guides for the teacher. It’s a great way of introducing the children to different shapes and sizes. For example, in the birthday party activity, the children are holding different sized presents. For Foundation age children, this application is ideal.

It’s also worth noting that shape can also be introduced in a tool we’ve already seen: 2Calculate. You’ll find all the information you need about how to do so in the Making Patterns section.

Understanding different kinds of shape and being able to recognise them in a variety of contexts is a very useful skill - and a firm basis for understanding the 3D work we’ll look at in a moment.

Also explore…

The 2Logo programming application may seem a bit basic compared to the much more sophisticated 2Code, but it’s great for teaching children about making shapes and measuring lengths by drawing lines via simple commands. Well worth a look.

Which way is up?

At Key Stage 1, pupils have to learn about directions, and there’s no better place to start than with 2Go.

This is a simpler version of 2Logo, and covers measurement and estimating as well. At its simplest level, the child has to use the up, down, left and right arrows to make the turtle move from one flower to another. You can ask questions like “Do we need to go left or right?”, without worrying about how many steps are needed to reach a destination.

2Go is playable for free until the 11th of November. Try it here.

However, as with everything in Purple Mash, the app can be taken to much more sophisticated level, by clicking on the Challenges.

For example, selecting the Lighthouse one (right) brings up a more complex and more detailed environment. This time, instead of only having four direction arrows and no measurements, you have 45 degree direction arrows too, and can make the turtle move by the number of squares you decide. This means that you can introduce the children to estimating distances (how many squares do we have to move the turtle to get to the next island?) and also to modelling at a simple level. That’s achieved by asking the children to work out the shortest distance to get from A to B. In these ways, 2Go can be used to prepare the children for learning how to code.

Purple Mash-2Go lighthouse challenge
Taking on the lighthouse challenge in 2Go

The app also introduces compass directions too, by the simple device of featuring a picture of a compass! That means that it also serves as a nice introduction to map reading.

Also explore…

While on the subject of directions, try this: enter the word ‘directions’ in the search box, and you’ll discover a range of activities that can help you take what we’ve learnt to the next level. One of those activities is to label a compass with directions such as North-East. A more sophisticated activity, though, is the Superhero challenge, in which you have to program the superhero to fly up when the background is clicked.

This is another great introduction to programming, and a nice way of showing the children another situation in which their knowledge of directions can be put to practical use!

Purple Mash-Using the clipart picker in 2Count
using the clipart picker to choose items for pictogram tool 2Count

Understanding numbers

Another requirement of the curriculum at Key Stage 1 is for children to be able to answer questions such as “How many more people like red than like blue?”. This is the basis for understanding statistics, which is a requirement at Key Stage 2, and being able to interpret graphs such as pictograms. A great starting point here is 2Count.

This app enables you to create your own pictogram, and so is ideal for introducing the children to the idea of databases as well as understanding graphs.

It lends itself to building into a project such as doing a survey of how each pupil in the class gets to school: walking, by bus, or by being given a lift by car, for instance.

The app is really easy to use, and very intuitive. The default picture for the pictogram is a car, but by clicking on the car you’ll get a dialog box (left) for choosing a picture from a huge repository of clip art, organised by categories.

To add a number of items to each column in the pictogram, use the plus symbol or just type the number in.

Also explore…

Do a search on the word ‘statistics’, and you’ll be presented with several tools worthy of further exploration. For instance, to test whether the children can understand pictograms and answer questions of the ‘how many more?’ variety, select the Y2 chart exercises.

Once the children have got the hang of pictograms, a good next step would be to introduce them to all the other kinds of graph you can make, such as pie charts and bar charts. These, after all, tend to be used in lots of different contexts, whether it’s showing the amount of rainfall in different months of the year, or what percentage of the children come to school by bike. Look no further than 2Graph. And if you decide that it would be useful for the children to learn about databases -- handy for surveys, history (lists of kings and queens), geography (lists of countries), and many more -- there’s an app for that too: 2Investigate.

Shapes revisited

There’s more to shapes than simple two dimensional ones like triangles or rectangles. In the real world, we live in three dimensions, and as luck would have it pupils have to understand 3D and 3D according to the Programme of Study. Fortunately, Purple Mash delivers the goods here as well.

Type the word ‘properties’ into the search box in order to go straight to a section called ‘Properties of shapes’. Here you’ll find everything you need to teach children from Y1 to Y6 about different kinds of shape.

For example, there is a Y3 activity that requires pupils to sort shapes into 2D and 3D. This could be a brilliant way to start teaching about 3D shapes, because it would act as a kind of baseline test. That is, it will tell you where kids are in terms of their understanding at the outset.

Purple Mash-Sorting shapes in 2Quiz
Sorting 2D and 3D shapes: a 2Quiz activity easily found by searching for properties in the Purple Mash search bar

Also explore…

The next logical step would be to look at 2Design and Make. In this program, the children can start with a template for, say, a car, and then alter its shape however they like. While they do so, the 3D version reflects the changes being made, and a kind of ‘flat pack’ design is created at the same time. When the design has been completed the pupil can print it off and then construct it.


In this article we’ve really only skimmed the surface of what Purple Mash has to offer in the wonderful world of maths. If there is an aspect of maths that you’re especially interested in that hasn’t been covered here, try searching for it in the search box.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the way Purple Mash has been conceived means that the different subject areas are not in silos. For example, some of the writing activities and games centre on shape. In other words, it’s worth being open-minded and having a good rummage around!

Next month, we’ll delve into design even further, in the run up to the end of term festivities and a card making competition. More on that in due course! But if you can’t wait that long to look into the hidden delights of Purple Mash, then check out the following articles:

5 Ways to inspire writing with Purple Mash.

5 ways to engage your pupils in English and Literacy

Terry Freedman is an independent educational ICT consultant and writer, having had a long career in Education, including teaching, advising schools and inspecting. He publishes the ICT and Computing in Education website at www.ictineducation.org, and the Digital Education newsletter at www.ictineducation.org/diged. You can follow Terry on Twitter if you wish: @terryfreedman.