Monday, 30 June 2014

Y2 Problem Solving Day

Before reading this post you may be interested in a similar post I produced on the Y6 Problem Solving Day I ran earlier in the year. See that blog post here.

So, having done the Y6 Problem Solving Day I was asked to do a similar day for our local Y2 students. Having enjoyed the Y6 day I was happy to do a similar day for the Y2s and having not taught students this young before I was keen to get some experience here and tailor some different puzzles/problems for them. I decided to run the day very much like I did the Y6 day, by having a series of 'Bases' that the schools would rotate around like a carousel. However, I wanted to tweak things slightly for the younger students.

How I changed the carousel of activities was by having a final 'Team Challenge' in which all 6 schools would carry out the same task together, later to be judged by (it turned out) the library staff! In addition to this, one of the 'Bases' then became a mini-lesson to prepare them for the Team Challenge at the end of the day.

Before I go on to describe all of the 'Bases' and the activities I used on the day I must say at this point how much work and effort was put in by our fantastic Faculty Assistant in organising and arranging the day. All communication to our local Primary Schools went through her, she sorted out all of the refreshments for the day, e-mailed the teachers of my Y8 students who would be helping me on the day, sorted out sticky labels for name badges, printed and wrote certificates for the children and so much more I'm probably not even aware of! So, thank you JST, the day wouldn't have ran as smoothly without your support!

Here are the activities the students did on the day...

Base 1 - Tarsia Puzzle

In this 'Base' the students had to piece together the 24 triangles to create a regular hexagon. On the perimeter of the hexagon there were 12 numbers they then needed to sum to give the total number, which was the answer for that base.

The trick with this task is that there were more than 1 question that had an answer of 60 and 9 and so this affected how the triangles were put together as if not in the right place they would not 'fit'.

If you haven't done these Tarsia puzzles before I suggest you head over to Hermitech Lab for the free downloadable software. There are also lots of these pre-maid puzzles on the TES to download too.

The students had 20 minutes for each base and this was one of the more challenging 'Bases'.

Base 2 - Magic Square(s)

In this base the students had to arrange the 9 number tiles (2 different groups of tiles to choose from: 1 easier, 1 harder) into a 3 by 3 grid so that the rows, columns and the 2 longest diagonals all added up to the same amount.

This, for the harder set of tiles, was quite tricky for the students. The easier set of tiles were more appropriate, yet some did get the answer to the harder set of tiles.

The answers are below for each set...

The harder set of tiles' answer was 99. The easier set of tiles' answer was 18.

As this was one of the harder bases some schools decided to use their 'Clue Tokens' on helping them to complete the task. The 'Clue Tokens' were given to each school at the start of the day to use whenever they needed some help on a task/base. My Y8 helpers that assisted the schools and their students on the day had all the 'clues' given to them alongside the answers to each base. If a school wanted to use a clue token, they were told on the instructions to each base (see my Dropbox folder for these) what the clues would consist of. In this case, if a school wanted to use a Clue Token, they'd give a token to their Y8 helper and they would then either, tell them the number tile that went in the very centre of the 3 by 3 grid, or tell them the total of each row, column and the diagonals.

The 'Clue Tokens' worked well. Each school was given 3 tokens, each worth 5 points. Any unused tokens were added onto their final score.

Base 3 - The Frogs Problem!

This was my favourite base of the day! The frogs came out of a discussion I had with one of my colleagues (CMU) earlier in the year. We were talking about our Perspective Parents' Evening and the tasks we did on this day and I mentioned the Frogs Problem as a possibility for the future, but thought there needed to be some actual Frog teddies or toys for the students to move, rather than have the mymaths task on the computer, or similar. My colleague, one of our school's cover supervisors, then suggested that she could make them for us [she's amazing at stitching and stuff]! A week later a frog found its way to me and on seeing its brilliance asked if she'd make 6 for us to use at PPE and the Y2 Problem Solving Day. After months of her putting together the 6 Frogs and the 7 Lily Pads they were complete and ready for the day. They look fantastic and were an immediate conversation starter when the Y2 students were arriving. The children loved them and loved moving them about to try and rearrange the frogs. If you are unaware of the 'Frogs' Problem' and the Mathematics behind it, just Google it! The students just had to write down the fewest number of moves it took to rearrange the frogs. However, I allowed them to move the frogs both forwards and backwards (left and right) whereas the computer software versions do not allow this. This kept the task going longer than it may have done and schools did not get 'stuck' as they may have if they could not physically move them further without restarting.

The frogs have now been homed in my classroom above one of my windows. All my classes have asked about them and when they got there. They've asked what they were used for, if they'll be using them etc. They'll come out again towards the end of the school year for sure, and at PPE next year!

They fit perfectly between the ceiling and the window cover. The Lily Pads are kept atop one of my bookcases.

Base 4 - The Horse Race

The good ol' Horse Race. We did this at our PPE evening this year, to great success (on a large grid created on one of our classroom floors using masking tape). So, I thought it'd be great here too. The students had to roll the die to generate the number horse that would move forward one square (drawn on the Magic Whiteboards I laid down [see]) The horse at the end of the grid 1st would win.

All the students were asked was which horse was most likely to win.

The students enjoyed using my large foam dice to generate the numbers and moved some multilink cubes to represent the horses. In future, I need to get some horse toys to move instead to make it a bit more realistic! Some good discussions were heard on this task when the school's teachers/assistants were asking them questions as to why certain horses (1) hadn't moved etc.

Base 5 - Pentominoes

This base involved students placing the 12 pentominoes into a 10 by 6 rectangle. I like this task as it is one of those 'easy access, high challenge' tasks. The students found it challenging and only one school managed to complete the rectangle.

This was another of the bases where 'Clue Tokens' were used. My Y8s had the solution to hand and if/when a token was used, they placed some of the pentominoes correctly for them.

Base 6 - Mini-Lesson to set up the 'Team Challenge'

What I liked about being able to give each school a mini-lesson was that it allowed me to see what they had been learning at school recently and what knowledge they already had about basic 2D and 3D shapes. I was impressed by how much they already knew. Some schools mentioned 'vertices' and other properties of shapes; they linked the position of the midget gems and cocktail sticks to these properties too! Other schools were able to talk to me about the school trips they'd been on and famous bridges they knew that would help them build their bridge for the 'Team Challenge'.

In this mini-lesson, I got students to practise using the midget gems and cocktail sticks to make cubes and tetrahedrons. These would then be used later in the Team Challenge. Students, on seeing the sweets (midget gems) were hooked straight away and this 'base' helped explain the instructions for the later challenge. I used the JustMaths presentation that accompanied their blog post on this task (see below). I had my iPad to help me deliver this presentation and the Y8 helper of each school took over the presentation half way through so I could go round the rest of the bases and ensure everyone was OK and any questions were answered.

I should say at this point that my Y8 helpers were fantastic. They made me proud as I selected the helpers from my own Y8 class. Although they are set 3 of 4, I choose the 7 helpers from my class as I knew them and the top set students are usually used for days like these and the other students in the lower sets don't often get asked. I liked the fact that I choose my students as I already have a good relationship with them and I knew I could trust them to do as asked on the day. They were brilliant throughout. Each was assigned to a different school to follow round the bases and help where needed. They were all given an 'answer pack' and the instructions all the schools would have. They found the bases challenging at times too and being able to answer the questions the younger students were asking them throughout would have given them great confidence. So, thank you to all 7 of them!

The idea for the cocktail sticks/midget gems bridges came from and you can see their blog post here. The blog post includes the presentation I used in Base 6 above.

The Team Challenge

The big finale of the day was the 'Team Challenge' where, using what they had learnt in Base 6, they'd create, in their schools, the best bridge they possibly could. The bridge had to be made solely from a 27p (I know!!) bag of midget gems and a box of cocktail sticks. It had to be freestanding for 5 seconds and had to allow a 10-stick of multilink cubes to pass underneath it. The team challenge was very kindly judged by the 2 ladies that work in our Library and their input was very much appreciated - I didn't want to have to award points and so asked them to do it for me! They judged the bridges on their structure, 'sturdyness', appearance and other variables such as height, width and adherence to the rules above.

Here are some of the bridges the students created (I let my 7 Y8 helpers do this task too as an extra team)...

My Y8s' effort!
 The winning school's bridge!
 The winning bridge (partially complete, they added another layer to each 'tower' to make it taller and therefore even more impressive)

The day ended with the presentations of certificates to all students that took part and all the Y8 helpers. Thanks were given to members of staff that helped me throughout the planning and delivery of the day. All students went home with a few mementos of the day (a personalised pen of our school and a fuzzy book pal thing [I'm not really sure what this was if I'm honest, but it looked quite sweet]). Whilst on duty after school later that week I spoke to a parent of one of my Y10 students who works at one of the schools that attended the day and she spoke very highly of the day. I even saw one of the students walking home from our most local primary school (they're right next door) and she made a point of saying hello to me and then explaining to her mum who I was!

I'm yet to send round a survey to the staff that accompanied our primary schools but await their feedback to make the day even better next year. One thing we will be looking at getting is a 'Problem Solving' Trophy to give to the school that wins, rather than a confectionery-based prize!

For all the resources I used on the day, see my public Dropbox folder below...

I hope these are of use to others. If there's anything missing please let me know. Anything not in the folder may be included in the links given in this blog post above.

Let me know if you do use some or all of the resources. Comment below or tweet me @mrprcollins.


  1. Looks like the midget gem challenge went well .. we're doing it next week again. I did get some funny looks buying 75 bags of midget gems (Tesco value and not the real thing!) though!

  2. thanks so much for the idea Mel, worked really well-kids loved it!! I got the value ones too, cheap and cheerful :)