How do you approach a maths problem?

How best can we show pupils that there are often many ways of solving a maths problem? 

There is a tendency among some adults to suggest that maths is irrelevant to their daily lives.  And yet of course we all know that to be a fully-functioning adult, one needs to be able both to live within one’s means, and to evaluate this week’s “special offers”.

But that is just the start and a life in which one relies on friends to advise on the best deal can indeed turn out to be an expensive life.

To navigate such issues, young people need first to be able to identify which problems need solving, and then work out the best way to solve them. However, this can be a very complex task, for answers are not always clear.

Indeed, advertisers are notorious for bending reality to make their product or service appear to be the cheapest or the best value when it most certainly is not.

And all this comes before we recognise that there can be different approaches to solving each problem, each of which might have its own merits. 

In such circumstances one needs to encourage children to be creative and investigative in terms of the way the problem is approached, both in order to find the right methodology, and then to refine their approach as they proceed.

Thus, one might ask, is a trial and error approach effective or should one be gathering evidence?

Which leads onto a breaking away from “this is the way you do it,” and instead replacing that view with the question, “What way would you tackle this problem?”.

Getting children to think about problems in their own way and find strategies that suit them is the objective of the “Open-ended Maths Investigations” series. You can read more about the three volumes in the series (for Years 1–2, 3–4 and 5–6) on our website. There are also pages to download and complete under the ‘Try before you buy’ tab.

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