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Kristin Coldwell, AC for Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes

Students from Stanground Academy and Walton Girls’ High School joined the Year 12 mathematicians from Sir Harry Smith Community College in Whittlesey for a day to develop their problem-solving skills. After a brief discussion of the importance of problem solving, noting their particular significance for university admissions, the students were given a very challenging problem regarding two circles and a square inscribed in a larger circle.

With a great deal of persistence and cooperation, they made progress and learned both techniques and attitudes valuable for attacking unfamiliar problems along the way. With increased confidence, students worked together on a range of problems from different areas of A level Mathematics, before learning about Fermi estimation, a useful life skill as well as a common topic for university and employment interview questions. Finally, students were challenged to think like an examiner and develop their own questions based on a graphical or algebraic stimulus. When they had refined their questions and double-checked their own solutions, students were able to set a question for a peer (or in some cases their teacher) while they tackled someone else’s problem.

The day was a great success and we are very grateful to Sir Harry Smith for both proposing and hosting the day. A comment from one of the teachers who attended summed it up nicely: “A very good day. Pupils will have learnt a lot about how to face unfamiliar problems and strategies for tackling these.”

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