Saturday, 8 October 2016

Y6 Problem Solving Day 2016

On Tuesday I hosted our school's annual Y6 Problem Solving Day, read more about the previous Y6 problem solving days I have run here. We had 5 of our local feeder schools join us for a morning of activities. Here are the activities I ran this year...

As there were 5 schools there were 5 bases for them to rotate around and then at the end of the day we did the usual team challenge...The Marshmallow Challenge!

Base 1 - 'Crossing the River'
This activity is well known and I found a nice introduction to the problem on the TES and used this as the 'base instructions'. I then cut out and laminated some of the characters in the resource to be used by the children to try and solve the problem. I managed to find a piece of blue scrap plastic to act as the 'river', but this could have been improved...especially if I had a boat too that they could have used to put the laminate pieces in.
The resource I used can be found at:
Thank you to TES user cariad2

Most schools finished this one in 5-10 minutes so I asked a few extra questions on this base once they had finished to throw in a few extra scenarios. i.e. what if the fox could row the boat, can you safely get everyone across the river then? Does it take fewer or more steps if possible? What if the fox also ate the grain as well as the hen? Is it possible to get everyone across safely...etc.

Base 2 - 'Charlie's Shoes'
Another resource I found on the TES. This one I liked as the 9 grid of statements the children had to read through included some that were important to the problem and others that were not. They had to read the 9 statements and then answer the question given on one of the cards. I tweaked the wording of the cards slightly to suit the age and ability of the students. The hardest part of this task was to find an original price of the shoes based on a sale being 30% off. I briefed the teachers of each school prior to starting the task as to how they might support the students with this and then let them guide them from there.
The resource is available at:
Thank you to TES user altypotter

You may have noticed the whiteboard books on each table and their accompanying correctable whiteboard pens. These are available from the Magic Whiteboard company. We have a class set of these for each teacher and are used in various ways in our lessons. You may want to read up on my previous blog post about these here.

Base 3 - 'Locked Up'
This activity was one my GTP mentor (Richard Cottyn) used to do as an end of term activity with his classes. It is one I am still very fond of, that creates a high level of challenge for students. The activity is based around a locked bag within which there is a prize. The lock is a 4-digit combination lock that students have to try and unlock. The students answer questions, in my activity they had 8 money based questions to answer. The sum of all 8 questions' answers should then give them the 4-digit code for the lock. All I did was write (took some questions from a text book) and ensured their combined answers added to the 4-digit code of the lock.
The students got very engaged with this activity and when getting the final answer wrong had to go back over their answers to check which was wrong. This I love as it got them checking eachother's answers and working together as a team to ensure they had all 8 answers correct before trying the code again. I put some sweets in the locked bag that, if they unlocked the lock, they could eat as they continued around the bases.
The questions I used can be downloaded here. (The number trail in question 8 was intended to be done from left to right and not applying the laws of BIDMAS).

The bag I used was found in my office (I think it was an old laptop bag). The combination lock was @MissJoyceMaths' gym lock...our Y9 helpers all now know when her birthday is!

Base 4 - 'Crack-a-lacking'
For this activity I used a 1-26/a-z codebreaker to set up a code for the students to crack. There were 26 questions (a-z) for them to answer, each with a corresponding number between 1 and 26. I made sure that a) did not equal 1 and b) didn't equal 2, etc so they had to think about it. The questions I used can be found here. The questions were all about properties of numbers and key number facts, etc. Once the students had their answers they new which letters to put in place of the numbers in the code that was on the instructions sheet. The code I used can be found here and can be edited for your own use. The code read 'Don't eat the marshmallow in the team challenge, you'll need it to win'.

What I liked about the code was that it did not contain every letter of the alphabet. So, although students may have worked out that the answer to question b) was 1, there were no 1s in the code and therefore no letter bs either. This got them thinking.

Base 5 - 'All Four 6'
The only remaining base activity from last year's problem solving day.
The students had 4 of each of the numbers between 1 and 9 and using any operation they liked had to make the 4 1s, 4 2s, 4 3s, etc, all equal 6. There were a lot of brackets used around the numbers and operations to ensure BIDMAS was applied correctly.
The 'All four 6' sheet is here if anyone would like to use it.

The students had a copy of the all four 6 sheet and the code to crack attached to the back of their answer pack, which is available by clicking on one of the previous links for the questions used in base 3 or 4.

Here's a picture of the students getting stuck into the first rotation of the bases...

We usually use our 'study centre' (school library) to host the event as there is plenty of space for all the children/staff. Luckily we were able to use this space again.

I was very fortunate that 8 of our Y9 students supported the event and were fantastic throughout. Each of them supported a school and then the left over students circulated between the schools offering help and obviously helped me out on the day too including escorting the children to and from our reception and tidying up the study centre afterwards. These students then helped out the department at our school's Open Evening later that week on Thursday.

Finally...The Marshamallow Challenge

20 pieces of spaghetti, 1m of string, 1m of sellotape, a couple of pairs of scissors and a marshmallow. The the tallest structure possible in 30 mins with the marshmallow supported at the top of the structure. The height of each school's structure was measured and this height then gave them points to contribute towards their overall total from the 5 bases.

Here are my Y9 helper's attempts...

An ingenious use of the scissors to support the structure here!

This one stood standing the far!

Later in the year I will be running our Y2 Problem Solving Day, see previous posts about this here and here. Our school also do a cross-curricular Y5 carousel day that we will be providing a session for. More about these in due course.
Thanks for reading and I hope the resources are of use.


  1. Hi there!
    Great post!! And I love the emphasis on problem solving. I was looking into these whiteboard books for our STEP courses (I got mine from the BETT show) but I found that the pens always left lots of stains and thus the books didn't have a long useable life! Where did you get yours from? Thanks a lot! Michael

  2. Scratch that! I just saw that they were from the magic whiteboard company - did you find that the stained a lot and it was hard to wipe the pens off?