It’s been a long week, you hand out your latest ‘exciting’ KS2 maths investigations carefully created to practise complex fractions and you hear the the immortal words from your Year 6 class ‘but what has this got to do with the real world?’
Any good teacher knows, of course, exactly how relevant maths is in the real world and how, without maths, modern society as we know it would never have existed. The problem is, not all 11 year olds know it too – and you’re going to have a hard time convincing some of them.
In defence of 11 year olds, the curriculum – maths in particular – can sometimes feel all too distant from what’s ‘real’.
So the question becomes, how do we show young learners how Maths intersects and dominates our day to day life? How do we give our KS2 pupils maths investigations that inspire them, change their perceptions and help them to move beyond a fixed mindset to see maths problem solving as entirely relevant to what may come next in life?
Topical maths at Upper Key Stage 2
We believe that one of the answers is putting your maths problem solving activities into a context that your pupils can relate to.
We call this Topical Maths, and we’ve used this idea as the source for several of our most popular Year 5 and Year 6 maths problem solving resources, all offering the kind of KS2 maths investigations we know your pupils will love!
To encourage you to give these KS2 maths investigations a go, we’ll first look at the benefits and principles of introducing them for your reasoning and problem solving at Year 5 and Year 6, we’ll then give you some ideas for how you can create these maths investigations for the rest of KS2 yourself.
We guarantee you’ll see your pupils’ reasoning and problems solving skills improve!
If you just want to get hold of the KS2 maths investigations that we’ve already created for you so you can use them in your class straightaway, download one of the following resources. Don’t worry, answers are included too!
Here’s why you we think you should download our free topical KS2 maths investigations…
Our KS2 topical maths investigations involve pupils in talking and reasoning about Maths
Getting pupils to verbalise their numerical reasoning has a knock-on effect on pupils’ overall reasoning skills, which is why the core element of our 1-to-1 tuition catch up programme is verbal reasoning; asking pupils to explain not just what they’re doing, but why they’re doing it.
As a teacher of a large class, it can be difficult to provide the teacher time necessary for each pupil to verbalise to you their reasoning. The inherently collaborative nature of these Year 5 and Year 6 topical maths problem solving activities gives pupils the opportunities to to reason out loud and work on their maths problem solving skills.
Here's the first of our collection of topical maths problem solving investigations
Our KS2 topical maths investigations cement higher order reasoning skills
Our experience teaching up to 6500 primary school pupils maths every week has shown us that at KS2, even by Year 5 or Year 6, pupils often have good procedural understanding, but struggle with higher order problem solving questions.
The problem solving element to topical Maths investigations naturally improve reasoning skills in pupils, as they are more likely on reaching an answer to have to think about not just how but why it’s 14cm.
By setting topical Maths investigations at KS2 as group-work or a whole class activity, you can ensure that all pupils get to experience this deep level of reasoning.
Many of our topical maths investigations are open ended, but if you’re teaching a fully mixed ability class, we’ve also created some low threshold high ceiling maths investigations specifically for mixed ability classes.
Our KS2 topical maths investigations give early exposure to SATs style, reasoning questions
Most, if not all, schools will provide their pupils with exposure to reasoning via SATs-style questions, but this often comes hand in hand with exams and assessment. Yet, it is equally important to get pupils reasoning and problem solving in a low stakes classroom setting or as a group.
Creating a learning environment where the types of problem solving questions found in SATs just become part of your lessons will help pupils feel comfortable with exam terminology, and ensures they are more at ease with being asked the same kind of question (say, multiplying and dividing fractions) in lots of different ways.
Our Topical Problem Solving resources enable you to include these type of SATs style questions in a way which is fun and confidence boosting.
Links to specific awareness day or themed blog posts are also available at the end of this blog.
If you want to integrate more maths problem solving into your classroom, take a look at our Ultimate Guide to Maths Problem Solving Techniques.
5 top tips for creating your own KS2 maths investigations to develop problem solving and reasoning
1. Date-based themes for Maths activities
Nothing solidifies Maths in the real world quite like the real world. Nearly, if not everyday of the year holds some significance to someone. February? Pancake day, Valentines Day, and Fairtrade Fortnight. March? Red Nose Day, World Book Day, and Holi. Why not spice your lesson up and throw in some Pancake Day Maths for ratios, or Bonfire Night Maths for measurements. Capitalise on special celebrations throughout the world to excite and enthuse young learners.
For example these Christmas activities always prove popular with KS1 and KS2 or at a different time of year you could try these summer holiday maths investigations.
2. Trends and pop-culture Maths investigations
Peers and pop culture hold huge sway over most pupils, as growing persons we want to fit in and find friends. Nothing achieves this more effectively than mutual interest. As a teacher, utilise it – whether this is measuring the speed of explosions in the latest Transformer film, or totalling the high notes in Disney’s Moana – you’ll have pupils hooked in no time. For the exceptionally savvy teacher, you might want to capitalise on the latest fads and trends within your school. How about measuring amounts via the infamous bottle trick, or examining angles through the lens of the dab?
3. Simple stuff to engage pupils with maths problem solving and reasoning
Sometimes when teachers link maths back to real world issues, politics, and the universe at large, it can still feel a little dissonant for the younger pupils.
Don’t be afraid to stick with the simple stuff and the smaller aspects of the world. Everybody needs to know how much change they’ll have left over after a bus ride home, everyone wants to know exactly how many chocolate bars they can gorge themselves on with two pounds, everyone wants to know how many times they can go on the log-flume with five tickets.
Keeping it simple can be one of the most effective ways to engage pupils by showing them the mathematics they will employ in every-day life.
4. Cool factor for primary teachers – even in Maths
Generally – note this is a generalisation – as a secondary teacher, one can spend eternity being uncool. Luckily primary school teachers get an easier rap, and KS pupils are willing to be ‘wowed’. All students can be ‘wowed’ under the right circumstances, but with younger, more malleable minds it can be somewhat easier.
Astronauts, magicians, superheroes, cute animals, cartoons, all carry the power of enthusiasm. They can be your secret weapon for making percentages fun – you’re not halving a number, you’re a magician halving a 167cm person in a special box, etc.
5. Making your maths investigations REALLY relevant
Relevance can be highly underrated when it comes to linking seemingly abstract topics to the real world. Here’s a trick, instead of distributing your problem solving activity sheets with strangers’ names and unrelatable allegories in the questions, why not make those names and allegories about your class.
Instead of a stranger gathering four apples and eating three, make your pupil. Instead of apples, why not their favourite snack? Letting students pick names in questions gives them greater agency in their learning and can be highly engaging. Better still, putting their names/hobbies/likes/dislikes will not only show them that you know them, and that you care, but it will establish clear links between the work they are doing and the world proper.
Follow the links below for our topical maths investigations for key events in the Spring and Summer Term