The Kevin Bacon Game: promoting sequencing and numeracy skills

First posted on the Reach Free CPD blog on 17 February 2017 and the Herts & Bucks TSA blog on 25 March 2018.

One of the problems with the various lesson observation forms I have seen being used in schools recently is the requirement that teachers must demonstrate a use of numeracy in their lessons. This is difficult for teachers of English, Humanities and other non-STEM subjects, especially as devising mathematical problems may take the focus away from the particular area of study for that lesson.

Nevertheless, when I raised this at an INSET session on numeracy with Collette Bridge-Madden, The Reach Free School’s Head of Maths, she suggested that mathematical skills need not centre around numbers themselves. Her advice was not to see maths as dependent on using numerical figures or equations, but rather to see any reference to sequence, pattern recognition or logical connections as mathematical. She argues that sequencing people, facts and concepts into a logical order or pattern is still a form of numeracy as practicing these skills will improve pupils’ overall numeracy when they come across numbers elsewhere.

Therefore, she argued, if we can get pupils to break down problems into smaller parts it will help them to see things sequentially. In turn, this will help them think systematically, logically and mathematically; and, as said already, it will also improve their numeracy skills.

As an example, Collette pointed to the ‘Six Degrees of Separation Game’ (or ‘The Kevin Bacon Game’ as it’s sometimes known), as a useful way to get pupils to reflect on sequencing and to practice using their mathematical skills indirectly, particularly in non-STEM subjects. Essentially, the game is based on the theory that every human being in the world is connected to every other human being through a chain of no more than six people. The idea is that pupils need to logically sequence their understanding from one person to another to form no more than six connections linking them altogether. Moreover, this method of sequencing can be applied to events and concepts as well as people. We could provide pupils with a prompt connected to the topic we are studying, give them an end point they have to connect to and get them to sequence what they know. This process is as follows:

  1. select a topic or theme;
  2. write 1–6 along a timeline;
  3. put a person, fact or concept at number 1;
  4. put another person, fact or concept at number 6;
  5. get from 1 to 6 in no more or less than six steps.

E.g. in History lessons, ask pupils to suggest the six degrees of separation between the Treaty of Versailles at the end of WW1 and the outbreak of WW2.  Although this could be a challenging starter/‘Do Now’ activity to just introduce, once you have got the pupils to play the game a number of times, you can them expect then to simply ‘Do Now!’ at the start of lessons.

Please consider these examples. Remember the 6 points need to logically link the first point through to the last.

‘The Kevin Bacon Game’ (History example)

  • Armistice in 1918
  • ?
  • ?
  • ?
  • ?
  • VE Day 1945

(Another, completely random, example)

  • Beyoncé Giselle Knowles
  • ?
  • ?
  • ?
  • ?
  • Nick Gibb, MP!

Good luck!

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore (used here under a Creative Commons licence).

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