Problem solving is such a valuable skill for our students, yet it can sometimes take a bit of problem solving on our part to figure out how to be intentional with it in our classrooms. One simple and super engaging way that I like to encourage students to work on their problem-solving skills is through maths challenges. In this blog post I’ll talk through 4 fun maths challenges that you can start using with your students straight away.
Challenge 1: Find the Number Pattern
The first maths challenge I recommend is ‘Find the Number Pattern’. For this challenge, you’ll present the first few numbers of a patterned number sequence to your students. Your students will then need to identify what the number pattern is before completing the next few numbers in the sequence.
Let’s look at an example. You could start by presenting the following to your students:
88, 86, 84, _____, _____, _____
Here, we can see that each number in the sequence is 2 less than the number that came before it. So, your students would need to firstly work out the pattern – that each number in the sequence is 2 less than the number that came before it. Then, they’d need to calculate the next 3 numbers in the sequence, which, in this case, would be 82, 80 and 78.
Here’s another example that’s a little more advanced. Present the following to your students:
2, 6, 5, 9, 8, _____, _____, _____, _____
For this number pattern challenge, students will need to work out that the pattern is +4, then -1. Or, if they take it a step further, they’ll be able to combine the 2 calculations into one and simply +3 to the number that came two spots before the number they’re trying to find.
This means that the next number in the sequence is 12. To get 12, students could either +4 to 8, knowing they’ll need to -1 to get the next number in the sequence. Or, they could +3 to 9, which came two places before the 12.
As you can see, it’s easy to make these number patterns as simple or as challenging as you like. You can even have a lot of fun with this maths challenge by having your students create some number patterns of their own!
If you’d rather not have to think about organising a range of number patterns yourself, you can grab a copy of my ready-made number pattern cards here.
Challenge 2: How Many Ways?
‘How Many Ways’ is another maths challenge that can easily be adapted to suit the level of your students. The premise is simple. You are asking students to think of ‘how many ways’ they can do something.
With younger students, you can simply ask ‘how many ways can you represent the number 20?’ They can then use different objects or drawings to show you what the number 20 looks like visually. Another option is to give them a full equation, with the answer, such as ‘2 + 2 = 4’, and ask them to represent that equation.
You can extend this activity further when working with older students. Here, you can ask them to use the order of operations to come up with as many equations as possible that result in the number 1,251, for example. This will give you excellent feedback on your students’ confidence with basic operations.
If you’d like some ready-made task cards for this activity, I have a set of How Many Ways cards for younger students available here. I also have some How Many Ways challenge cards for older students in my Maths Challenge Set, available here.
Challenge 3: The Four Fours Challenge
The ‘Four Fours Challenge’ has been around for a long time, and really gets students thinking! For this challenge, students need to use only up to 4 fours and any maths symbols necessary to create an equation that equals 1, then 2, then 3, then 4 etc.
For example, if I was using 4 fours to create an equation that gives me the answer 8, I would do:
4 + 4 + 4 – 4
If I wanted to get to the answer 4, I would do:
42 – 4 – 4 – 4
For younger students, I get them to complete equations for the numbers 1 – 14, and for older students I have them go up to the number 26. If you do a quick search online though, you’ll see that as they increase their maths skills, you can ask students to go up to 100! And it is possible. It just takes a bit of critical thinking.
I have templates for the Four Fours Challenge, up to 14 and up to 26, available in my Maths Challenge set as well.
Challenge 4: What Order?
This final challenge can have different names, but I like to call it ‘What Order?’ Here, students are given a maths equation that has had the symbols removed from it and is left with only the numbers. They then need to use their knowledge of the order of operations to figure out the correct symbols for the equation.
For example, you could present the following to your students:
7 5 1 9 = 3
They would then need to work out that the maths symbols that need to be added to make that equation true are:
(7 + 5) – (1 x 9) = 3
This can also be adapted to suit different ability levels, and you can even ask students to create equations for their friends to complete.
And yes, there’s a template for the What Order challenge available in my maths challenge set too.
Don’t these challenges look like such fun? You might even want to try them yourself! And they’re great for getting students engaged and practising those problem-solving skills. I hope that you’re inspired to try some of them with your students this week.
You can use the links to buy your own copies of any resources I’ve referenced in this blog post.
Do you want some more tips for teaching problem solving while you’re here? Then have a read through my other posts on encouraging problem-solving skills.
P.S. I’d love to hear how my tips and resources are helping you in your teaching, so leave a comment to let me know!
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This blog post was written for a collaborative maths event that I’m participating in this month called March Mathness. Continue on to the March Mathness activities by clicking the image below.
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