During 2008-2009 Sharon Walter
was one of four NRICH Teacher Fellows who worked on embedding NRICH
materials into their teaching. At the time Sharon was the second in
Faculty at Crown Hills Community College which is an inner city
state secondary school in Leicester. In September 2008 Sharon
became the Head of Mathematics at Crown Hills.
In this article, Sharon talks
about her experiences.
Are NRICH problems only for the most able students?
I used the NRICH problems with a Year 8 class, set 3 of 4, who had
targets of level 5 or above at the end of KS3. I found that the
important thing was to select the problems carefully. At the lower
end of KS3 problems labelled as Stage 2 on the site may be more
suitable than Stage 3 problems.
How did you use the problems?
I used the problems in a variety of ways, sometimes as starters,
sometimes as whole lesson activities and occasionally as a basis
for a set of lessons.
How did you choose which problems to use?
I used the
curriculum mapping documents
extensively, as well as the Topic
Search. They both led me to appropriate problems for the
mathematical topic I was covering. I never looked at the problems
of the month.
How did you make the problems accessible to your students?
The first large scale problem I used with
the class was
In order to introduce it to the students I printed off the
problem and created a whiteboard flipchart which helped me
structure the start of the lesson. It included a guide about the
steps we needed to take to gather data. I also prepared a table for
results that we began to fill in as we worked through.
This scaffolding meant that every student had a starting point
and was not left behind.
Did the students become engaged immediately?
No. It took a while for the students to get really involved in
the problem. I had initially planned it for just one 50 minute
lesson but at the end of the lesson the students were only just
starting to get engaged. I had to seriously weigh up the options of
either leaving the problem incomplete or spending another lesson on
it. The easy option would have been to leave it and move on. I
decided to continue, and half way through the second lesson
realised that I had a class of actively engaged students who were
all working on the problem and who had also begun to work
collaboratively. They were checking each other's working and
attempting to improve upon it.
At the end of the lesson I asked each student to write about
how they had felt about the problem at the beginning of the first
lesson and how they felt about it at the end of the second lesson.
I also asked the Teaching Assistant to note down her views. This
was extremely impromptu, and only involved giving each student a
blank piece of paper, but it produced some really interesting
feedback. It reinforced my feelings that the students had found it
difficult at the start but a significant number had worked through
the process and come out at the end with a feeling of
So can you just choose a problem from the website and use it
with a class immediately?
Not quite, most of the NRICH problems are open ended
investigations where there may be a variety of solutions. Their
main benefits are that they require the application of a variety of
mathematical processes. To use them in the classroom you have to be
a facilitator to the problem-solving process providing nudges,
hints and guidance as appropriate, but being prepared for the
problem to take you in a totally unexpected direction. The problems
may be solved more quickly than expected or take a lot longer. This
requires you to be flexible in your lesson planning which can be
intimidating if you are used to sticking to fairly rigid
What have been the benefits of using the NRICH problems?
Solving a challenging problem that required a significant
amount of time and energy gave a much greater feeling of
satisfaction to the students than solving a large number of
superficial problems. In my class the engagement of the boys
increased but I must admit that the engagement of some of the girls
decreased. It seemed to fire up the competitive nature of the boys
but some of the girls seemed intimidated by the lack of structure.
All of the students seemed to benefit from the discussion with each
If you do not think you have enough time to fit in problem
As the curriculum changes and functional skills and the key
processes of mathematics are further embedded, problem solving and
application of maths should be integral to your scheme of work.
Looking at the NRICH problems now and trying out a few with your
classes will benefit your teaching and your students' learning; but
it will not be an overnight 'quick fix'. Changing the culture of
the classroom to one where the process is more important than the
answer is a difficult and arduous process and, although without
doubt there will be long term benefits, there will also be times
when you want to give up. Knowing that it will have benefits is the
only way to make sure that you do not give up at the first
How can you help others use the resources?
Always discuss what you are doing with others. You may think
that what you are doing is very obvious while for another colleague
it may be totally groundbreaking. Try to have some time in meetings
where you do maths together and share problems and successes.
Working with someone else can give you a totally different
perspective on a problem that you may have viewed as inappropriate
or uninteresting. Talking could reveal a totally new slant, as the
teachers of Leicester City found out during their workshop on the
What will I do in the future?
I would like to look at the different ways to use the problems
and evaluate them. Using more group work and concentrating on the
way that they present their findings I feel would be beneficial to
all students as learners of mathematics. I would like them to focus
on the processes they are using rather than just the final
[Readers may also be interested in other
about teachers using NRICH]