Bernard Bagnall looks at what 'problem solving' might really mean
in the context of primary classrooms.
In this article for teachers, Bernard gives an example of taking an
initial activity and getting questions going that lead to other
In this challenge, you will work in a group to investigate circular
fences enclosing trees that are planted in square or triangular
What statements can you make about the car that passes the school gates at 11am on Monday? How will you come up with statements and test your ideas?
Sort the houses in my street into different groups. Can you do it in any other ways?
A group of children are discussing the height of a tall tree. How would you go about finding out its height?
When Charlie asked his grandmother how old she is, he didn't get a
straightforward reply! Can you work out how old she is?
Can you make these equilateral triangles fit together to cover the
paper without any gaps between them? Can you tessellate isosceles
"Ip dip sky blue! Who's 'it'? It's you!" Where would you position yourself so that you are 'it' if there are two players? Three players ...?
Let's say you can only use two different lengths - 2 units and 4
units. Using just these 2 lengths as the edges how many different
cuboids can you make?
What happens when you add the digits of a number then multiply the result by 2 and you keep doing this? You could try for different numbers and different rules.
I like to walk along the cracks of the paving stones, but not the
outside edge of the path itself. How many different routes can you
find for me to take?
Take 5 cubes of one colour and 2 of another colour. How many
different ways can you join them if the 5 must touch the table and
the 2 must not touch the table?
We went to the cinema and decided to buy some bags of popcorn so we
asked about the prices. Investigate how much popcorn each bag holds
so find out which we might have bought.
Investigate the different ways you could split up these rooms so
that you have double the number.
In my local town there are three supermarkets which each has a
special deal on some products. If you bought all your shopping in
one shop, where would be the cheapest?
Investigate the area of 'slices' cut off this cube of cheese. What
would happen if you had different-sized block of cheese to start
Here are many ideas for you to investigate - all linked with the
If we had 16 light bars which digital numbers could we make? How
will you know you've found them all?
Investigate the numbers that come up on a die as you roll it in the
direction of north, south, east and west, without going over the
path it's already made.
In this investigation we are going to count the number of 1s, 2s, 3s etc in numbers. Can you predict what will happen?
These pictures were made by starting with a square, finding the half-way point on each side and joining those points up. You could investigate your own starting shape.
This challenge involves eight three-cube models made from interlocking cubes. Investigate different ways of putting the models together then compare your constructions.
We need to wrap up this cube-shaped present, remembering that we
can have no overlaps. What shapes can you find to use?
What can you say about the child who will be first on the playground tomorrow morning at breaktime in your school?
What happens to the area of a square if you double the length of
the sides? Try the same thing with rectangles, diamonds and other
shapes. How do the four smaller ones fit into the larger one?
Arrange your fences to make the largest rectangular space you can. Try with four fences, then five, then six etc.
Investigate what happens when you add house numbers along a street
in different ways.
This activity asks you to collect information about the birds you
see in the garden. Are there patterns in the data or do the birds
seem to visit randomly?
How many shapes can you build from three red and two green cubes? Can you use what you've found out to predict the number for four red and two green?
Follow the directions for circling numbers in the matrix. Add all
the circled numbers together. Note your answer. Try again with a
different starting number. What do you notice?
Explore the different tunes you can make with these five gourds.
What are the similarities and differences between the two tunes you
What do these two triangles have in common? How are they related?
If the answer's 2010, what could the question be?
48 is called an abundant number because it is less than the sum of its factors (without itself). Can you find some more abundant numbers?
Can you find ways of joining cubes together so that 28 faces are
Here is your chance to investigate the number 28 using shapes,
cubes ... in fact anything at all.
How many different ways can you find of fitting five hexagons
together? How will you know you have found all the ways?
Is there a best way to stack cans? What do different supermarkets
do? How high can you safely stack the cans?
Use the interactivity to investigate what kinds of triangles can be
drawn on peg boards with different numbers of pegs.
What is the largest cuboid you can wrap in an A3 sheet of paper?
Try continuing these patterns made from triangles. Can you create your own repeating pattern?
Explore ways of colouring this set of triangles. Can you make
An activity making various patterns with 2 x 1 rectangular tiles.
Using different numbers of sticks, how many different triangles are
you able to make? Can you make any rules about the numbers of
sticks that make the most triangles?
Make new patterns from simple turning instructions. You can have a go using pencil and paper or with a floor robot.
Can you continue this pattern of triangles and begin to predict how many sticks are used for each new "layer"?
Complete these two jigsaws then put one on top of the other. What
happens when you add the 'touching' numbers? What happens when you
change the position of the jigsaws?
What is the smallest cuboid that you can put in this box so that
you cannot fit another that's the same into it?
The red ring is inside the blue ring in this picture. Can you rearrange the rings in different ways? Perhaps you can overlap them or put one outside another?