St Ives

A Maths Starter Of The Day


As I was going to St Ives
I met a man with seven wives
Every wife had seven sacks
Every sack had seven cats
Every cat had seven kittens
Kittens, cats, sacks, wives
How many were going to St Ives?

Note: If the first digit of your answer is an even number you have the wrong answer!

Topics: Starter | Riddles

  • Bethany Watkinson, Queen Elizabeths Highschool
  • I thought this was a very hard starter but it would get children's minds into gear in the morning !
  • Roger Waters, Heath Technology College, Runcorn
  • I found this really useful in high school, because it made the children think as well as using basic computational skills. I was told about this web site by my daughter, who is doing her primary teacher training!
  • Ks3 Student, Tabor Science College
  • This was a really good problem to do in the morning as it made you think!!!
  • MAK, NZ
  • An old 'chestnut!....But maybe the activity could be extended and used with older students to talk about powers of 7?
  • Y5 Set 1, Martham Primary Sc Hool
  • Whole class was tricked!! But we got there in the end by acting out the situation.
  • Y7 Set 1, Welshpool High School
  • A lovely starter, class got 1 straight away, however there was some debate over whether or not the answer was 0 as the second from last line mentions all the characters apart from the person travelling to St Ives - so weren't sure if we should include him or not :-).
  • Adrian,
  • This one puzzle can have 2 different answers. It doesn't say that the man and his wives is traveling away from St Ive or towards.
  • Lauren, Gloucester
  • My children in class didn't understand this starter at first but after I had shown them the actual answer there was only one person who got it correct.
  • Transum,
  • The answer to the riddle in this Starter is obtained with a little artistic licence and is not the frequently calculated figure of 2801. The correct answer appears (for teachers who have a Transum subscription) below. A similar question (though not a riddle) appeared in the Rhind papyrus dating back to 1650 BC. This version of the question is about 7 houses, each with 7 cats, each with 7 mice, each with 7 spelt, each with 7 hekat (what the hekat is a spelt and is that how hekat is spelt?). The answer to that is 19607. The question in the Rhind papyrus is included in Fibonacci's Liber Abaci first published in 1202.
  • Hannah, Rhs
  • Class says 1 No one knows if the man is going to IVES let alone the wives.
  • Ms. KP, Hamilton International Middle School, Seattle, WA
  • My class got the final answer as 2,800. We counted wives 7, sacks 49, cats 343, kittens 2,401. Then we added all of these together to get 2,800.

    [Transum: Well done Ms KP and your class at Hamilton but despite your accurate arithmetic that is not the classic answer to this riddle.]
  • Anna Cheyne, Borrowfield
  • My Primary Five class, mostly aged 10, came up with 2802 as we included the man and the original person heading to St Ives. We love doing the Starter of the Day and I am very proud of how my class are improving in their confidence and ability! Thank you Transum, from Mrs C & P5.
  • Mrs B, CCSY6
  • We think we know the real answer but we did have a very good maths discussion! The answer we suspect is really more about Geography!

How did you use this starter? Can you suggest how teachers could present or develop this resource? Do you have any comments? It is always useful to receive feedback and helps make this free resource even more useful for Maths teachers anywhere in the world.
Click here to enter your comments.

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Christmas Present Ideas

It is often very difficult choosing Christmas presents for family and friends but so here are some seasonal, mathematics-related gifts chosen and recommended by Transum Mathematics.

Equate board game

Here's a great board game that will give any family with school-aged kids hours of worthwhile fun. Christmas is a time for board games but this one will still be useful at any time of year. Games can be adapted to suit many levels of Mathematical ability.

For Maths tutors working with just one or small groups of pupils this game has proved to be an excellent activity for a tutorial. Deciding on the best moves can spark pertinent discussions about mathematical concepts.

Equate looks a bit like Scrabble--for aspiring mathematicians, that is. Designed by a real mathematician, it works like this: You put down tiles on a board and make points by correctly completing simple equations. Your nine tiles include both numbers and mathematical symbols; you can add on to previous plays both vertically and horizontally. more... #ad

How Not To Be Wrong

The maths we learn in school can seem like an abstract set of rules, laid down by the ancients and not to be questioned. In fact, Jordan Ellenberg shows us, maths touches on everything we do, and a little mathematical knowledge reveals the hidden structures that lie beneath the world's messy and chaotic surface. In How Not to be Wrong, Ellenberg explores the mathematician's method of analyzing life, from the everyday to the cosmic, showing us which numbers to defend, which ones to ignore, and when to change the equation entirely. Along the way, he explains calculus in a single page, describes Gödel's theorem using only one-syllable words, and reveals how early you actually need to get to the airport.

What more could the inquisitive adult want for Christmas? This book makes a cosy, interesting read in front of the fire on those cold winter evenings. more... #ad

Graphic Display Calculator

This handheld device and companion software are designed to generate opportunities for classroom exploration and to promote greater understanding of core concepts in the mathematics and science classroom. TI-Nspire technology has been developed through sound classroom research which shows that "linked multiple representation are crucial in development of conceptual understanding and it is feasible only through use of a technology such as TI-Nspire, which provides simultaneous, dynamically linked representations of graphs, equations, data, and verbal explanations, such that a change in one representation is immediately reflected in the others.

For the young people in your life it is a great investment. Bought as a Christmas present but useful for many years to come as the young person turns into an A-level candidate then works their way through university. more... #ad

Apple iPad Pro

The analytics show that more and more people are accessing Transum Mathematics via an iPad as it is so portable and responsive. The iPad has so many other uses in addition to solving Transum's puzzles and challenges and it would make an excellent gift for anyone.

The redesigned Retina display is as stunning to look at as it is to touch. It all comes with iOS, the world's most advanced mobile operating system. iPad Pro. Everything you want modern computing to be. more... #ad

Before giving an iPad as a Christmas gift you could add a link to iPad Maths to the home screen.

Craig Barton's Tips for Teachers

Teaching is complex. But there are simple ideas we can enact to help our teaching be more effective. This book contains over 400 such ideas." more... #ad

"The ideas come from two sources. First, from the wonderful guests on his Tips for Teachers podcast - education heavyweights such as Dylan Wiliam, Daisy Christodoulou and Tom Sherrington, as well as talented teachers who are not household names but have so much wisdom to share. Then there's what he has learned from working with amazing teachers and students in hundreds of schools around the world.

Another Craig Barton Book

The Story Of Maths [DVD]

The films in this ambitious series offer clear, accessible explanations of important mathematical ideas but are also packed with engaging anecdotes, fascinating biographical details, and pivotal episodes in the lives of the great mathematicians. Engaging, enlightening and entertaining, the series gives viewers new and often surprising insights into the central importance of mathematics, establishing this discipline to be one of humanity s greatest cultural achievements. This DVD contains all four programmes from the BBC series.

Marcus du Sautoy's wonderful programmes make a perfect Christmas gift more... #ad

Christmas Maths

This book provides a wealth of fun activities with a Christmas theme. Each photocopiable worksheet is matched to the Numeracy Strategy and compatible with the Scottish 5-14 Guidelines. This series is designed for busy teachers in the late Autumn term who are desperate for materials that are relevant and interesting and that can be completed with minimun supervision.

All the activities are suitable for use by class teachers, supply teachers, SEN teachers and classroom assistants and cover topics such as 'How many partridges did the true love give all together?' and 'Filling a sleigh with presents by rolling a dice!'. Children will have lots of fun working through the Christmas Maths themes but also gain valuable skills along the way.

A great source of ideas and another reasonably priced stocking filler. more... #ad

A Compendium Of 	Mathematical Methods

A Compendium Of Mathematical Methods

How many different methods do you know to solve simultaneous equations? To multiply decimals? To find the nth term of a sequence?

A Compendium of Mathematical Methods brings together over one hundred different approaches from classrooms all over the world, giving curious mathematicians the opportunity to explore fascinating methods that they've never before encountered.

If you teach mathematics to any age group in any country, you are guaranteed to learn lots of new things from this delightful book. It will deepen your subject knowledge and enhance your teaching, whatever your existing level of expertise. It will inspire you to explore new approaches with your pupils and provide valuable guidance on explanations and misconceptions. more... #ad

Math with Bad Drawings

I had been tutoring the wonderful Betsy for five years. When the day came for our last ever session together before the end of her Year 13, I received this beautiful book as a gift of appreciation.

This a very readable book by Ben Orlin. I'm really enjoying the humour in the writing and the drawings are great.

Ben Orlin answers maths' three big questions: Why do I need to learn this? When am I ever going to use it? Why is it so hard? The answers come in various forms-cartoons, drawings, jokes, and the stories and insights of an empathetic teacher who believes that mathematics should belong to everyone. more... #ad

Click the images above to see all the details of these gift ideas and to buy them online.

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Laptops In Lessons

Teacher, do your students have access to computers such as tablets, iPads or Laptops?  This page was really designed for projection on a whiteboard but if you really want the students to have access to it here is a concise URL for a version of this page without the comments:

However it would be better to assign one of the student interactive activities below.

Laptops In Lessons

Here is the URL which will take them to a mathematical crossword puzzle.

Student Activity


Do you know the ultimate mathematical riddle and most probably the first? Click the link below to see it.

Student Activity


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