Archive for the ‘Problem Solving’ Category

Failing and Sailing

Having read the blog post from Meolscop High School: Shuffling Sums, about First Attempt In Learning and Second Attempt In Learning, and then meeting the lovely @missfilson at mathsconf15 and hearing more about her department’s work on growth mindset, I was inspired to give it a go with students at my school.

The first introduction was with a year 7 group who had been constructing triangles using ASA. I gave them the following problem asking whether students would construct identical triangles if they were gien only angles.


Some students were thinking about it straight away and were happy to write down their opinions, but there was a significant amount of students who were reluctant to write anything down because they didn’t know the right answer. It was important to spend time explaining to the students that I was interested in their thoughts and not whether ther answer was right or wrong. At this point I also said that they may want to write a sentence or try constructions to help them come to an answer. For this first attempt, I wrote individual hints in their books to give the students support towards their second attempt. I also wanted to help students feel ok with not getting the right answer the first time, and to share with each other their “FAILs” and hints.

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I also tried this with a year 9 group working through ratio and proportion. Students were gven the miles/km conversion lines and asked to complete any missing values they could. Again, students found it difficult to attempt anything to begin with as they wanted to know the right way to calculate the amounts, but after some encouragement, most students made their first attempt.


Looking through students first attempts, they’d all had a go at a valid method, so with support would be able to continue along their line of thinking. This time, instead of giving individual hints, I grouped the feedback into the three methods they’d attempted:

1. Putting values against each step on the double number line


2. Recognising where the miles value had doubled, so doing the same to the km


3. Finding the relationship from miles to km


I reviewed these methods with them as a whole class, and gave them the option of continuing with the method they started with, or changing to a different method. Some results are below (the final student being keen to make corrections corrected her first attempt before rewriting onto the second!)

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From this work, it is evident to me that students find it difficult to grasp the mindset of attempting something without knowing if they are “doing it right”. This won’t change overnight, but the failing and sailing is another step towards developing growth mindset within my maths classroom.

Observing Classroom Practice

I had a great opportunity today.  With Yr 11s on their mocks, I had a free hour to visit another school and observe some excellent classroom practice.  In 7 years teaching at my school, I hardly get chance to observe other members of the department, let alone going to another school, so I grabbed at the opportunity to spend a really fruitful hour soaking up fresh ideas.

Problem Solving Excellence

Although I only had the chance to go into one lesson, what struck me about it was the problem solving approach.  A small amount of practice, with differing levels of difficulty, on rotation, was quickly followed by a combination of transformations challenge.  Accessible to all at the start, but quickly made pupils think.  Key information was given and highlighted by the teacher, but pupils were allowed to explore first.  I know it’s nothing mind boggling new, but seeing it work was eye opening.

Having chatted to another member of staff after the lesson, it is clear it’s the nature of the scheme of learning and the culture within the department which enables this approach.  I’m very interested in the mastery approach, but this is not something I can control in my department, being a mere minion, but it is something I can try and influence.  The difference in being able to have time to learn, explore and problem solve over a few lessons instead of rattling through each topic per lesson must be invigorating.

Thinking about my classroom

So armed with a bucketful of ideas and having observed a successful different approach, my next step is to see how I can more successfully bring problem solving to my pupils.  The more the pupils have access to problem solving, the more successful they will become at it.  My difficulty will be squeezing it in to our packed scheme of learning.  However, from September I had already started finding and sharing some rich tasks for year 7s, and this has given me new momentum to integrate these into my teaching.