# 'Challenge Wall' idea

Discussion in 'Mathematics' started by Woostarite, Sep 2, 2011.

1. ### Woostarite

Hi all,
Although it's a year until I'm likely to start teaching, I nethertheless thought it might be good to explore a few ideas that I have buzzing around. One of these is a 'Challenge Wall' - consisting of a variety of (hopefully interesting) maths puzzles/problems of a variety of different difficulties, and for different year groups. The system would work like this:
• Each puzzle would have a stated range of year groups that it is intended for (and those solving problems set for those below their year group wouldn't receive credit for it - see below).
• Each student would be represented with a grid of blank boxes, that could say be inserted into the back of their exercise book. Each time they solve a puzzle (for which they have to verbally explain how they arrived at the answer and/or show their working), they get the corresponding box stamped.
• Solving a certain number of puzzles would results in prizes of some description.
• The puzzles would span of number of topics mainly within the national curriculum. Puzzles which link topics together would be particularly ideal (e.g. Challenge 1 links trigonometry and equations of a circle).
To give you an idea of what I mean, I've come up with 2 sample puzzles. Please let me know your thoughts!
http://tinyurl.com/3e7hkou
http://tinyurl.com/3zvma9m

2. ### Woostarite

Hi all,
Although it's a year until I'm likely to start teaching, I nethertheless thought it might be good to explore a few ideas that I have buzzing around. One of these is a 'Challenge Wall' - consisting of a variety of (hopefully interesting) maths puzzles/problems of a variety of different difficulties, and for different year groups. The system would work like this:
• Each puzzle would have a stated range of year groups that it is intended for (and those solving problems set for those below their year group wouldn't receive credit for it - see below).
• Each student would be represented with a grid of blank boxes, that could say be inserted into the back of their exercise book. Each time they solve a puzzle (for which they have to verbally explain how they arrived at the answer and/or show their working), they get the corresponding box stamped.
• Solving a certain number of puzzles would results in prizes of some description.
• The puzzles would span of number of topics mainly within the national curriculum. Puzzles which link topics together would be particularly ideal (e.g. Challenge 1 links trigonometry and equations of a circle).
To give you an idea of what I mean, I've come up with 2 sample puzzles. Please let me know your thoughts!
http://tinyurl.com/3e7hkou
http://tinyurl.com/3zvma9m

3. ### ic3g1rl

I love the idea and the enthusiasm behind work like this. I also liked the puzzles, in particular the hamster.
My concern would be what are you offering for the very large set of students who will not be able to tackle these problems. Depending on the school you will work in you will probably face 5 sets for mathematics, in some schools there could be two streams of these 5 sets. Of those probably only the first two sets will be able to attempt these problems. I have used nrich materials with my tutees and find that often my GCSE students are challenged by KS2 material. This is probably in part because they aren't used to working on this type of material but it is also partly because they don't make connections between different areas of maths.
I think the idea is a good one and over time will give students confidence to work on these kinds of problems but I still think you need to consider all your students in the tasks you present.
Does any one else agree/disagree with me?

4. ### DMNew commenter

I remember when I was enthusiastic.

5. ### Woostarite

I completely agree, and I should point out this is just in the 'idea' stage at the moment. Your problem would partly be addressed by the 'difficulty meter' - in addition to specifying year ranges, the number of stars could potentially also correspond to certain sets.
My original intention for the idea was to challenge brighter students though (with something fairly fun yet effective at developing a broader ability to mathematically reason through more difficult problems), something thing which, perusing a number of random OFSTED reports, seems to be a common theme in terms of many schools failing at this.
Thanks for your thoughts so far!

6. ### Maths_MikeNew commenter

Yes I also do not want to appear to criticise your enthusiasm and desire to engaeg children and promote mathematics.
In reality however you would need to consider the ability of the children and the regularity with which you intend to change the puzzles etc.
You might be better just to aim it at one year group initially - probably year 7.
Prizes - the problem here is you are either going to break the budget or be in danger of falling into the trap of students not valuing what they receive. What if half the year group solve your problems (they will copy) - what "prize" are they all going to get?

7. ### Maths_MikeNew commenter

Further I would advise any new teacher to concentrate first and foremost to teaching their own classes - this will be more than enough to keep you fully occupied.
When you have developed your own classroom teaching skills you can begin to think about departemntal and whole school responsibilities!

8. ### Woostarite

See above.
The exact nature of the prize is not really that important. It could be say small bags of Haribo - something that not acting as an impetus for students to get some reward of monetary value, but just as a nice incentive. To be honest, I reckon the more enthusiastic students would be spurred on by the idea of trying to get as many of their blank boxes stamped - it's a mentality that underpins both the Scouts and Pokemon cards!
I should point out (since I didn't really make it clear from my original post) that this is an extra-curricular thing.
From the perspective of university admissions, it would be particularly important for Lower Sixth students to tackle these kind of problems. Other than as a 'trial', I see no point in limiting the scheme to a small group.
Firstly, I think this is a slight misrepresentation. Secondly, I appreciate your concerns about lack of time, but for me I consider ideas like this under the general umbrella of teaching, and there seems no harm using your early years to try out ideas. I can worry about developing my teaching skills when I'm in the classroom.

9. ### scentless_apprentice

No there isn't a problem using your early years to try out ideas.
However in my experience the most successful NQTs are the ones who concentrate on getting their new classes settled in the first term before then moving forward with ideas such as this.
It is a cracking idea, however it will only be successful when you have the classes on your side and they have your trust to do them properly. Getting to this point takes time and effort, you don't want to spend your time putting this - admittedly worthwhile - resource together only for it to be poorly executed because you don't have the relationship.
Classroom Management First, Enrichment Later.

10. ### Maths_MikeNew commenter

A small bag of haribo - oh well you will learn.
Oh so in your first year your gonna be an outstanding teacher and also good enough to inspire the whole school and sixth form in a way that their current teachers clearly dont with your fantastic and innovative ideas - well done.
Well good luck to you and next time you want some well intentioned advice I suggest you take more notice otherwise we bother asking?
I wish you luck in your teaching carer - I too remember the days when I was going to take the teaching profession by storm etc.etc. - I soon learnt the hard way - You will too.

11. ### Woostarite

True, and I take on board all of this. But for the moment, given I have ample time before I start teaching, I was more looking for feedback on the idea itself (e.g. that it needs to ensure that it adequately differentiates between varying ability groups), whereas it seems the thread of this conversation has gravitated towards the act of me personally executing the idea. It could after all be started at a later time, or just start off as a classroom display that I informally encourage a few students to have a go at.

12. ### scentless_apprentice

I think it's a cracking idea, I'm just concerned you need to walk before you run.
Instead of focusing on year groups I'd focus on ability levels. It means that the super-bright Year 7s aren't restricted and the very weak Y11s feel they can attempt something.
Look at pre-existing sites for ideas - the 1000 Problems To Enjoy Site is a good example. I seem to remember Dundee High School having an extensive problems site too.

13. ### Woostarite

(That was in reference to Scentless_Apprentice's post by the way; for the sake of diplomacy it's best I don't respond to Maths_Mike)

14. ### Woostarite

Many thanks for this. Indeed Problem 2 is one I found on the Khan Academy website, but I'm always on the lookout for more resources.

15. ### brookes

In my school there would be two barriers to this idea. Firstly, getting the problem from the wall in to a student's own time. There are both practical and social aspects. Secondly, the amount of time and thought it'd require would greatly outweigh the number of students it would benefit. Don't take comments too personally, it's difficult with experience and hindsight to be 100% enthusiastic about every idea a non/new teacher has. I've found myself getting quite exasperated with another new poster's ideas recently.

16. ### bolzanoweierstrass

Perhaps instead of seeing these problems as an add-on, you could look to integrate these types of activities into lessons. This would address some of the issues to do with access and time (for both you and your pupils) and you would be able to model and develop strategies for your pupils. The trick would be linking them with objectives in schemes of work so that you still cover what is required.

17. ### Woostarite

Many thanks Brookes.
The time problem wouldn't be so much of an issue since the actual resources can be produced in advance of starting teaching. Unless you meant the time executing it, which yes, could be a problem in my GTP/NQT year.
But as I've said earlier, if many schools are providing inadequate means for brighter students to be challenged, then anything that could mitigate this problem is surely a plus? (unless, as has been suggested by others in the thread, I give more thought to tailoring it to a variety of ability levels). I have some experience of university admissions (having interviewed undergraduates), and one of the things I notice is the lack of general 'mathematical fluency', i.e. unable to approach problems, even if using theory they already know, outside of a very rigid context. I think this is a very important problem to address for these kind of students.
Even if the scheme was framed to just challenge brighter students, then it still has applicability to say top sets. I taught for a week at a school (my former school in fact) that just 5 years ago was on the brink of being put on special measures before a new head turned it around. Particularly in the top two sets, I was surprised, and massively encouraged how enthusiastic and sharp a number of the students were, and I'm certain they would benefit enormously from something like this.
I appreciate that not all schools are the same, and this idea wouldn't be suited for all schools (although I personally would think it worthwhile even if there were just one student who would otherwise not be stretched - perhaps because I, as a student at the school I mentioned, was just told by my maths teacher to 'get on with what work I liked' in lessons, without being provided with any resources). My GTP school (which I'm hearing back from this week hopefully, fingers crossed) is a grammar school for the main placement, where a scheme like this is likely to be effective.
True. I wouldn't suggest the idea be a compulsory thing. Although from students I've encountered I'd still be optimistic that some would be interested.
Well I hope I don't come across as exasperating. It's not like I'm suggesting inserting random videos of sneezing pandas into my lessons. But I should point out that even if I've only had 2 weeks teaching specifically in schools, and have a lot to learn, I'm not entirely some naive whippersnapper. My departmental outreach programme strives to get materials like this out, and to be honest, I've found a number of people in this forum a little stifling in general, and less helpful than some of the inspirational teachers I've met in person. I was hoping responses would be more along the lines of criticism of the idea itself and ways to improve it (which some have done), rather than being cynical or insisting this be about my level of experience.

18. ### Woostarite

This is a great idea, thanks a bunch.
Harder problems could always still be left as 'enrichment' for more motivated brighter students, but I guess abstract mathematical reasoning is something that should really benefit all - I take back my quoted comment.

19. ### Maths_MikeNew commenter

Yes thats what we mean - yet you seem unwilling to accept this advice.
You assumptions about what many school are doing is based on what exactly?
Well I probably agree -but do you really think you challange wall is the ultimate solution to these concerns? - I dont.
So after 5 weeks you are already certain that you know how to inspire top set students? Personally (after 15 years) I think high quality lessons are likely to have a more striking effect and I would be inclined to concentrate on that.
Beneficial to one student - maybe - but would this justify the time and effort involved. Maybe there are more effective and less time consumming ways of challenging the more able?
Really based on what evidence can you make this statement - from what you have posted above I would have to conclude that thats exactly what you are.
rather a posh description for a wall display with some maths problems copied from nrich dont you think?
I have given you advice - and so have many others.
Your idea is fine in theory.
In practice you wont have the time to do it and it wont have the impact you are suggesting.
Ways to improve it - concentrate on teaching the children in your own classroom, including support the more able and devloping problem solving skills. When you have found something that works well share it with your department. Learn to walk before you try to run.
This is good advice - the fact that you dont like it doesnt change that.

20. ### ic3g1rl

This would probably be a good initial compromise and would help the idea to develop into a workable scheme. It would naturally lead to differentiation which would allow more students to access this initiative. Then the necessary skills of processing math techniques would be available to all students.
Perhaps you could let us know how you get on with this idea.