Perusing my book shelf – Opening up closed problems

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Over the years, I’ve collected a pretty large set of books related to teaching and Maths teaching in particular. I’ve decided to try to read through a book a week to glean any interesting ideas that might be useful and decide if I should keep or kick it.

Today I’ve picked up a thin pamphlet (have to start somewhere) called ‘The Delholm Fun Book of Mathematical Puzzles’. I have no idea where I picked this up from but I think it’s followed me around two schools now so I figured I’d take a look.

This is an old book which has 34 puzzles that may be useful as starters to lessons – probably why I picked it up!  There are quite a few vocabulary based puzzles and most of the Maths involved could be usefully tackled by late KS2 and early KS3 students, focusing primarily on the four operations.

The puzzles themselves are quite closed but I could see how working backwards may provide a more open problem that makes it a high ceiling problem.

The hidden picture problem is a good example:

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The initial problem would be to complete the puzzle but then, with new copies of the grid, students could firstly design their own picture and then create questions to go alongside it. One idea could be to use this as a revision lesson – creating a list of topics that need to appear in your question list.  These could be exchanged with someone else and then students will have practiced creating and doing the questions.

I’ve created a Word version of this here.

Lots of these puzzles feel a bit like busy work – I can see them being used as a launch pad to check basic vocabulary or understanding but I’m not particularly impressed with the depth of thinking that any of these tasks involve.

Looking through this book I realise my metric for deciding if a problem is worth bringing into my classroom has changed a lot since I began teaching. Before I would be interested if this covered a part of a learning objective, now I want to know can this be used to enhance the quality of thinking my students engage in. I think when tired or busy I slip back into busy work and keeping kids active – I actually need to always keep them challenged and thinking which is a wholly different and more difficult problem.

So, decision time – keep or kick …. I think it has to be a kick. The quality is pretty poor and I don’t think I’ll struggle to find resources that would fill this gap. I haven’t used any of these in the 6 years I’ve had the book and, apart from the hidden picture idea there isn’t anything that excites me at all.

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