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By Ian GardnerLecturer University College Northampton

Use sport as a basis for solving mathematical problems

Games appeal to most young people and are something that they can relate to from school and wider experience. The activities described here use this theme as a vehicle to extend confidence and capability in problem solving.

With the renewed interest in ‘linked learning’, teachers are being encouraged to pursue mathematics, both ‘for its own sake’ and across other subject areas of the curriculum. Some of the questions raised in this article are the type that might be asked in real situations – in PE lessons, for example. Wherever possible, ‘contrived problems’ should be realistic and plausible, otherwise the subject is at risk of being seen as irrelevant to everyday concerns.

Getting started

  • The activities detailed in this article have a common thread involving ‘finding all possibilities’. Start the topic by using the A3 poster, ‘Team kit challenge’, which places problem solving in a sporting context.
  • There are nine different kits with three colours. Use the poster to talk through the colour combinations of shorts and shirts, and how these might be recorded symbolically with the colour’s initial letter. By making more or less colours available, the task can quite easily be applied to lower or upper juniors. Can the children work out the colour combination of the child in white?
  • Encourage methodical methods of creating new combinations, consider how this is reasoned through, and explore how the children can be confident of having found all possibilities. With the introduction of a fourth colour, learners should be working towards the correct answer of 16 combinations.
  • By observing the children’s work, you can assess their skills and approaches to tasks. Are results checked thoroughly enough to ensure all outcomes are covered? Does the individual follow their own (or suggested) extensions to the task? Are any patterns or wider generalisations identified through this task?
  • By changing the number of colours available, it is possible to generalise that, for the number of colours (n), the combinations available equate to its square. This might be a pattern observed by a confident, able child.
  • Activity sheet 1, ‘Finding all possibilities’ (on the back of the A1 poster), acts as a visual prompt for much of the above. It provides steps to use when solving a problem and explains what to do at each stage.
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