Thursday, 31 October 2013

Year 6 Problem Solving Day

Right in the middle of the first half term of the school year I helped host, and organise, a Year 6 Problem Solving Day for my school's local primary schools. In all, we invited 6 of our local primaries and each brought with them 4 students and 1 member of staff. The day ran fantastically well with all schools feeding back positively on the day and in the subsequent online survey that I sent round. However, without the help and support of our mathematics faculty assistant and my fellow Mathematics teachers the day wouldn't have even gone ahead.

The only downside to running events such as these is the amount of organisation and planning the day takes. For this event we had to (in no particular order):

contact our local primaries, get the names of the students/staff attending
send out details of the day a week before the day itself
book the school's study centre to host the event
enlist the help of our Year 9 prefects to support the Year 6 students on the day
advertise the event in our school's bulletin/the website and in staff briefings
print and write certificates for each student who attended/prefect that supported the event
print out answer booklets for each primary school to use on the day
print off name badges for all involved
arrange parking spaces for the primary school's minibuses
arrange refreshments for our visitors
get a member of SLT to come and award the certificates at the end of the day
ensure everyone knew of fire and safety procedures should we have to use them
seek permission for use of photographs for the school's website
plan all the activities for the day
plan cover for the lessons my colleague and I missed due to running the day...

...and I'm sure there are loads more things that our faculty assistant did behind the scenes that I am unaware of!

However, despite the mammoth task of planning the event (and the time it took up) it was well worth while. I planned all the activities and I used resources I had found on the TES or from tweets that I had seen.
On the day itself the activities were arranged in 6 different bases, each with a different activity. Our primary schools then rotated round the bases in a carousel of activities type style. The schools had 20 minutes to attempt the activity at each base, they wrote down their answer in their answer booklets, reset the activity to how they found it and then advanced to the next base. Each school therefore got to attempt each activity and the results were collated at the end and points awarded for the successful completion of each task.
Each student was then awarded with their certificate at the end of the day and the winners were then announced.

The activities (with all links to the resources used) are listed below, with a brief description of each activity and how/where I found them...

The Factors and Multiples Puzzle @nrichmaths

The Factors and Multiples Puzzle, from the nrich website is one that I have used in class before and set students as a homework task. Each time the students, regardless of age, have found the puzzle challenging and only a few have been able to complete it. The answer (seen in the picture inserted to the left) was uploaded to Twitter by @SmileMaths and they reminded me of the activity when i was looking for inspiration on my Twitter time line. Only 1 school managed to complete the puzzle in the 20 minutes allowed. For this 'base' I took a photo of each teams completed (or partially completed) puzzle and then worked out how many points to award based on the numbers being in the correct row/column. A total of 25 points available!

The Marshmallow Challenge

The Marshmallow Challenge was the most popular 'base' of the day and was an idea I saw tweeted by @ArcherEdTech. The picture to the left was the laminated instructions I gave to the students arriving at the base. I had a lot of our Year 9 students positioned on this base to help measure and cut out 1m of string and tape and to ensure the structure was freestanding at the end of the 20 minutes with the marshmallow on the top. The height was recorded. The winning height was awarded 5 points, 2nd 3 points and 3rd 1 point.
Lost Labels
RSS Centre for Statistical Education

A resource I found on the TES whilst doing my usual resource reviews. When I was planning the activities for the day I wanted to get a mixture of activities that covered the 4 main areas of Mathematics (number, algebra, shape space and measure and data handling). However, the algebra activity was left out as the Year 6 students may not have come across much of this as of yet in their learning of Mathematics. N.B. the day was for any Year 6 student, not necessarily those that were 'gifted and talented' in Mathematics. So, the lost labels task asked students to complete the labels on the axes of a couple of bar charts, just based on a few clues. I like how this task leads to a lot of interpretation of bar charts, decisions as to the scale of the axes etc. 5 points were awarded for each successfully labelled bar chart (10 points on offer here in total)

Murder Mystery

Another resource I found on the TES when doing my resource reviews and when looking for end of term activities at the end of last year. Now, this task was the only one where we had any sort of EBI feedback on. The activity just took too long and therefore not all schools were able to give an answer to this one and had to 'guess' based on the amount they were able to complete. So, in future, if I were to use these sorts of activities again, I would ensure that the activity was completed over 2 bases and therefore allowed more time. Nonetheless, I still think this is a fantastic resource, that I have used with Y7-10 students at the end of term. The task, in an hour lesson, has taken anywhere from 10-60 minutes depending on the ability of the group and the number of students in each group. I think I was hoping that with each school having 4 students and 1 member of staff that if each took one 'clue' and answered it that they'd be able to do it in the time allowed. I may have underestimated this a bit?!

Triangles Mystery

Another idea/activity I saw on my Twitter time line over the Summer, this time tweeted out by @stevenstrogatz. What I really liked about this activity is that it was in the New York Times and this, for me, gave the puzzle a certain gravitas that I feel the students/staff appreciated as they saw it as a puzzle that was trying to be solved elsewhere in the world, and not something I had just thought up/found for them alone. There is more that can be done with this task rather than just the simple nature that I presented it due to the 20 minutes allowed.
It could form the basis of a mathematical investigation to give to students in KS3?
Mathematical Treasure Hunt
Smile Cards

The final activity that I included was one that had been used in the Year 6 Problem Solving Days done in years past. The day had previously been run by a colleague who retired at the end of last school year. I worked with her when working as a cover supervisor and she helped me loads in terms of allowing me to observe her lessons, help plan and run revision sessions for year 11s and I now teach in the room she vacated. I owe a lot to her in terms of my own development and felt that it was important that the day still had something of hers in it. She had left behind her boxes of resources that she used on the problem solving days (there's a year 2 one coming up later in the year) and from these I searched through and used the 'base' numbers she had on each table, the answer booklets and of course, this resource. The resource itself was one from the SMILE cards series, involving students going on a mathematical treasure hunt around the study centre, finding cards with mathematical problems and then finding the card with the answer to that problem on before attempting the problem on that card. The students wrote down the path between the cards and then were awarded points on the correct answer/path. The students enjoyed searching round the study centre for the clues and some of the year 9 prefects helped locate those that I put in obscure places.

In preparing the day I created this ppt with all the resources/instructions etc I needed to print/laminate for the day. If you would like to use them just click the link below (and of course the links above).

My resources -->

As I have said above, the day was a great success. The day ran smoothly, mainly due to the organisation that had gone before it (especially on behalf of our faculty assistant). I was a bit nervy at the start of the day that everyone would turn up and the day itself would go to plan. These worries soon disappeared and the best part of the day was seeing the students attempting the puzzles, asking questions, posing questions to questions asked, talking to staff from our primary schools and enjoying the solving of the problems that were set. There was a definite 'buzz' around the study centre that morning and all students were fully engaged in trying to solve the puzzles/problems given to them. The day ran on time, awards were handed out by one of our SLT members and the winning school took home with them the remaining bag of marshmallows that weren't used in the challenge! They were thrilled!

Since the day itself one of my colleagues has held a meeting with all our local primary schools and the feedback he got on the day was great. He said that staff that didn't even attend the Problem Solving Day were speaking very highly of it due to the fact that the year 6 students that had been on the day went back to their respective schools and were clearly telling their other teachers all about it. This is not only fantastic news for those of us that helped run and organise the day, but also for our school as it puts out a very positive message about the school. We have now had requests for similar days to be run in the future, in addition to the year 6 and year 2 problem solving days we already put on. So, hopefully, it is something we can look to offer on a more regular basis, in different disguises, for other year groups in our primaries, or for groups of students that are enthusiastic about Mathematics.

I, despite the panic and stress of ensuring everything was prepared for the day, thoroughly enjoyed the event and would recommend running a similar event to anyone that is thinking about doing so. I like liaising with our primary schools, the chance to speak to the students who could well be coming to our school in September 2014 and the opportunity to do something 'different' for a few days in the school calendar.

Many thanks again to our faculty assistant (she knows who she is), my colleagues that helped run the day and those that came down (in their free periods) to see what was going on. To the year 9 prefects for supporting and of course to all the year 6 students and their teachers for attending and making the day as good as I could have hoped.

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