Inspiring students – puzzles and competitions

Tuesday 12th January 2021

Much research has been done about the benefits of using puzzles with students.

By working consistently on puzzles in a supportive environment, students learn to accept intellectual challenges, adopt novel and creative approaches, develop modelling and estimation skills, practice recognition of cases, and show tenacity. Above all, they learn to take responsibility for their learning.

- Badger et al, 2012: 18

Puzzles can help to develop effective problem-solving skills as well as improving motivation to learn. Feedback from events that we’ve run shows that students often find the puzzles and mini competitions the most enjoyable part of the day.

It may feel like doing puzzles and competitions are not your highest priority at the moment, but it’s amazing how many young people cite a competition such as the Senior Team Maths Challenge or the Maths Feast as a motivating factor in taking their maths further.

So, how can you do this? Well, we can help! You may have received information about the Year 10 Maths Feast team competition which is being held online this year, and the format means that you can take part at a time that’s convenient for you. There are also many years’ worth of past materials from the Maths Feast and the Senior Team Maths Challenge available on our website. The UKMT competitionsOpens a new window are a great source of questions too.

Why not have a puzzle on the board when your students arrive in the classroom, or a 'puzzle of the week'? This can work well online too. We start all of our regional meetings with a puzzle, and the discussions certainly improve my problem-solving skills! Putting puzzles into any search engine will give you great sources of problems to use – I enjoy doing the MEI monthly puzzlesOpens a new window, and the NRICH puzzles can be a good challenge too. I’ve also enjoyed working through the Oxford Entrance exams, and it’s amazing how much strategies to tackle the multiple-choice questions on these papers remind me of those that I’ve used in the UKMT Senior Team Maths Challenge papers.

By Abi Bown

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