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The primary-level activities for November 2011 invite learners to consider a variety of ways of approaching tasks and encourage them to reflect on the merits of different routes and solutions.
I suggest that in order to encourage a range of ways into a problem, it is best to present the pupils with a challenge to which they do not have an automatic learned response. In such situations they have to rely on their creative abilities and problem-solving skills rather than their memory of lessons and procedures. Presenting pupils with a challenge of this kind may allow the teacher to have a particularly good insight into where the pupils are in terms of their mathematical thinking. Some pupils may need to gain confidence and so realise that it is all right to have their own mathematical strategies. These are often helped to develop by having their ideas respected by those around them. Some of this month's activities give an opportunity for this to happen.
During the course of lessons such as these, when the pupils have achieved some results by different means, a time comes for them to share their ideas and consider the different approaches that have been tried. Such discussions probably need to be encouraged carefully as they are more in keeping with the atmosphere we might associate with circle time.
The challenges are as follows:
Lots of Lollies, which has many possible solutions.
Number Round Up, which involves simple addition in a non-standard context.
How Tall?, which gives the children a very practical challenge.
Eye View, which presents the children with a perspective problem.
Forgot the Numbers, which offers the children an arithmetic problem that is not so straightforward.
Fitted, challenges the children in a way that involves spatial awareness as well as number awareness.