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KS2 Maths Problem Solving Investigations Based On Real Life Events In Primary School

It’s been a long week and it is time to hand out your latest ‘exciting’ KS2 maths investigations. You have carefully created these as a way to practise complex fractions, but then you hear the the immortal words from your Year 6 class: “But What Does This Have To Do With The Real World?”

Any good teacher knows, of course, exactly how relevant maths is in the real world and how, without maths, modern society as we know it would never have existed.

The problem is, not all 11 year olds know it too – and you’re going to have a hard time convincing some of them.

In defence of 11 year olds, the curriculum – maths in particular – can sometimes feel all too distant from what’s ‘real’.

So the question then becomes, how do we show young learners how Maths intersects and dominates our day to day life?

How do we give our KS2 pupils maths investigations that inspire them, change their perceptions and help them to move beyond a fixed mindset to see maths problem solving as entirely relevant to what may come next in life?

If you’re just interested in maths investigations for Year 5 and Year 6 we’ve created jump to the end of the blog where they’re all listed by term.

KS2 Maths Problem Solving Investigations In Context

We believe that one of the answers is putting your maths problem solving activities into a context that your pupils can relate to.

We call this Topical Maths, and we’ve used this idea as the source for several of our most popular Year 5 and Year 6 maths problem solving resources, all offering the kind of KS2 maths investigations we know your pupils will love!

To encourage you to give these KS2 maths investigations a go, we’ll first look at the benefits and principles of introducing them for your reasoning and problem solving at Year 5 and Year 6, we’ll then give you some ideas for how you can create these problem solving activities for the rest of KS2 yourself.

We guarantee you’ll see your pupils’ reasoning and problems solving skills improve!

KS2 Maths Investigations Involve Pupils Talking And Reasoning About Maths

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 online maths intervention is mathematical 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.

The inherently collaborative nature of year 5 and year 6 maths investigations gives pupils the opportunities to to reason out loud and work on their maths problem solving skills.

KS2 Maths Investigations Cement Higher Order Reasoning Skills

Our experience teaching thousands of primary school pupils maths every week has shown us that at KS2, even by Year 5 or Year 6, pupils often have good procedural understanding, but struggle with higher order problem solving questions.

The problem solving element to these topical maths investigations naturally improves reasoning skills in Year 5 and Year 6 pupils, as they are more likely on reaching an answer to have to think about not just how but why that answer is correct.

By setting topical maths investigations at KS2 as group-work or a whole class activity, you can ensure that all pupils get to experience this deep level of reasoning.

Many of our topical maths investigations are open ended, but if you’re teaching a fully mixed ability class, we’ve also created some low threshold high ceiling open ended maths investigations specifically for mixed ability classes.

KS2 Maths Investigations Give Early Exposure To SATs Style, Reasoning 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 low stakes classroom setting or as a group.

Creating a learning environment where the types of problem solving questions found in SATs just become part of  your lessons 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.

These maths problem solving investigations and downloadable resources enable you to include these type of SATs style questions in a way which is fun and confidence boosting.

More support with problem solving activities and investigations

KS2 Topical Maths Problems

20 real world maths investigations to practise reasoning and problem solving

5 Top Tips For Creating Your Own KS2 Maths Investigations To Develop Problem Solving And Reasoning

1. Date-based themes for Maths problem solving activities

Nothing solidifies maths in the real world quite like the real world. Nearly, if not everyday of the year holds some significance to someone.

February? Pancake day, Valentines Day, and Fairtrade Fortnight.

March? Red Nose Day, World Book Day, and Holi.

Why not spice your lesson up and throw in some Pancake Day Maths for ratios, or Bonfire Night Maths for measurements. Capitalise on special celebrations throughout the world to excite and enthuse young learners.

For example these Christmas activities always prove popular with KS1 and KS2 or at a different time of year you could try these summer holiday maths investigations or any of the maths activities listed here.

2. Trends and pop-culture KS2 maths investigations

Peers and pop culture hold huge sway over most pupils, and the reason for this is that as growing persons we want to fit in and find friends.

Nothing achieves this more effectively than mutual interest. As a teacher, utilise it – whether this is measuring the speed of explosions in the latest Transformer film, or totalling the high notes in Disney’s Moana – you’ll have pupils hooked in no time.

For the exceptionally savvy teacher, you might want to capitalise on the latest fads and trends within your school. How about measuring amounts via the infamous bottle trick, or examining angles through the lens of the dab?

3. Simple stuff to engage pupils with maths problem solving and reasoning

Sometimes when teachers link maths back to real world issues, politics, and the universe at large, it can still feel a little dissonant for the younger pupils.

Don’t be afraid to stick with the simple stuff and the smaller aspects of the world.

Everybody needs to know how much change they’ll have left over after a bus ride home, everyone wants to know exactly how many chocolate bars they can gorge themselves on with two pounds, and everyone wants to know how many times they can go on the log-flume with five tickets.

Keeping it simple can be one of the most effective ways to engage pupils by showing them the mathematics they will employ in every-day life.

4. Cool factor for primary teachers – even in Maths

Generally – note this is a generalisation – as a secondary teacher, one can spend eternity being uncool. Luckily primary school teachers get an easier rap, and KS2 pupils are willing to be ‘wowed’. All students can be ‘wowed’ under the right circumstances, but with younger, more malleable minds it can be somewhat easier.

Astronauts, magicians, superheroes, cute animals, cartoons, all carry the power of enthusiasm. They can be your secret weapon for making percentages fun – you’re not halving a number, you’re a magician halving a 167cm person in a special box, etc.

5. Making your maths investigations REALLY relevant

Relevance can be highly underrated when it comes to linking seemingly abstract topics to the real world.

One trick is to instead of distributing your problem solving activity sheets with strangers’ names and unrelatable allegories in the questions, why not make those names and allegories about your class.

Instead of a stranger gathering four apples and eating three, make your pupil.

Instead of apples, why not their favourite snack?

Letting students pick names in questions gives them greater agency in their learning and can be highly engaging.

Better still, putting their names/hobbies/likes/dislikes will not only show them that you know them, and that you care, but it will establish clear links between the work they are doing and the world proper.

Here’s our complete list of topical maths investigations – have fun and let us know how you get on @thirdspacetweet

Topical Maths Investigations for Year 6 (and upper KS2)

Autumn Term maths investigations year 6

Autumn maths activities
Halloween maths activities
Bonfire Night maths activities
Christmas maths activities


Spring Term maths investigations year 6 

Heart Month Months activities

Shrove Tuesday Maths activities
Pancake Day Maths activities

World Book Day Maths activities

International Women’s Day Maths activities

British Science Week Maths activities

Holi Maths activities

Easter/Lent Maths activities


Summer term maths investigations year 6

Share-a-Story Month activities
FA Cup Maths activities
Walk to School Week activities
Ramadan Maths activities
Child Safety Week activities


We’ve even got maths investigations for Year 5 and Year 6 for events you’re likely to celebrate in primary school but don’t come round every year… 

Red Nose Day Maths activities

World Cup Maths activities
Election Maths

Do you have pupils who need extra support in maths?
Every week our maths specialist tutors support thousands of pupils across hundreds of schools with weekly online 1-to-1 lessons designed to plug gaps and boost progress. Since 2013 we’ve helped over 60,000 primary school pupils become more confident, able mathematicians. You can learn more about our interventions or request a personalised quote for your school to speak to use about your school’s needs and how we can help.

Personalised maths support delivered by each child’s own dedicated primary school maths tutor.

Sophie Bessemer
Sophie Bessemer
Third Space Learning
Content Team
An education publisher, content editor and primary school governor, Sophie works at Third Space producing resources and sharing best practice
Downloadable resource

KS2 Topical Maths Problems

20 real world maths investigations to practise reasoning and problem solving

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Downloadable resource

KS2 Topical Maths Problems

20 real world maths investigations to practise reasoning and problem solving

Download Now