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How topical Maths investigations can improve problem solving and reasoning in Year 5 & 6 pupils

By David Leighton 

How topical Maths investigations can produce more effective and engaged primary mathematicians in your school, improve reasoning & verbal fluency, and create flexible, independent problem solvers.

This post marks the start of our new topical Maths investigation series for summer-term 2017 which classroom KS2 Maths lessons and resources to calendar-based events. Follow the links below to each post:

  1. Share-a-Story Month activities
  2. Walk to School Week activities (to come)
  3. Election Week Maths activities (to come)
  4. FA Cup Maths activities (to come)
  5. Ramadan Maths activities (to come)

Or follow the links here for our hugely popular spring-term topical Maths series:

  1. Heart Month Months activities
  2. Shrove Tuesday Maths activities
  3. World Book Day Maths activities
  4. International Women's Day Maths activities
  5. British Science Week Maths activities
  6. Holi Maths activities
  7. Red Nose Day Maths activities
  8. Easter/Lent Maths activities

Free download: 

20 topical maths problems and investigations for April - May 2017


Engaging primary pupils in Maths

Let’s face it, though it is a hugely valuable subject, sometimes Maths is just plain hard - for teachers and for pupils.

Admittedly, half the battle is engagement. Sometimes Maths can feel like an especially obscure topic that is too far away from what’s ‘real’. To really improve mathematical learning, from fluency to reasoning, pupils need to be engaged with the content given to them.

A great way to increase engagement in Maths, all while improving problem solving and reasoning skills in your pupils, it to use topical Maths.

Activities like those included in this KS2 Topical Maths Reasoning Investigations Resource use date-based themes to improve engagement by including significant days of the year in Maths learning which, by capitalising on special celebrations all throughout the world, helps to excite and enthuse young learners.

At Third Space Learning, we believe that topical Maths can really help boost engagement and improve problem solving and reasoning skills, as they promote more in-depth investigational learning in an exciting way. Also they help pupils verbalise answers, cement higher order reasoning skills, and provide exposure to SATs style problem solving questions. For a more in-depth discussion on the three, read more below.

Verbalising answers

Getting pupils to verbalise their numerical reasoning has a knock-on effect on pupils’ overall reasoning skills, which is why the core element of our 1-to-1 tuition catch up programme is verbal reasoning; asking pupils to explain not just what they’re doing, but why they’re doing it.

As a teacher of a large class, it can be difficult to provide the teacher time necessary for each pupil to verbalise to you their reasoning. If Topical Maths Reasoning Investigations are set as group work in your class, the inherently collaborative nature of the activities can help pupils to verbalise with each other while developing their problem solving skills. 

Cementing higher order reasoning skills

As the largest provider of 1-to-1 tuition and intervention for Year 6s in the UK, our experience has shown us that pupils often have good procedural understanding, but struggle with higher order problem solving questions.

The problem solving element to topical Maths investigations naturally improve reasoning skills in pupils, as they are more likely to verbalise their answers and discuss why the answer is 14, not just that it is 14. 

By setting topical Maths problems (such as those found in our KS2 Topical Maths Summer Term 1 Reasoning Investigations) as group-work or a whole class activity, you can ensure that all pupils get to experience problem solving and have a chance to verbalise and discuss with their peers - developing their reasoning and problem solving skills.

If you want to integrate more problem solving into your classroom, you can download our free resources such as our KS2 Topical Maths Summer Term 1 Reasoning Investigations, or our Ultimate Guide to Problem Solving Techniques.

Exposure to SATs style, topical problem solving questions

Most, if not all, schools will provide their pupils with exposure to reasoning via SATs-style questions, but this often comes hand in hand with exams and assessment. Yet, it is equally important to get pupils reasoning and problem solving in a classroom environment or as a group.

Creating a learning environment where the problem solving questions found in SATs are used as a teaching tool, not just an assessment tool, is easily done. For example, incorporating problem solving questions into your lessons, whether as bell tasks, starters, or a Topical Maths Investigation.

This will help pupils feel comfortable with exam terminology, and ensures they are more at ease with being asked the same kind of question (say, multiplying and dividing fractions) in lots of different ways; which is what pupils need to become intelligent and flexible problem solvers and reasoners.

Plus, for your pupils, this can mean that the process of answering exam questions becomes more normalised, ensuring they are comfortable with and capable of their SATs.

Of course, though SATs are hugely important, what's really important is that we teach problem solving and reasoning in a way that equips pupils the skills to be vibrant and independent learners, who are capable of being the best mathematicians they can be!

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