Solefield an NRICH Problem Solving School

Mr Budden, Assistant Head, Head of Mathematics & Director of STEM

23rd February 2024

Solefield recently received accreditation as an NRICH Problem Solving School in recognition of our commitment to developing students who are confident and competent at finding solutions to real world problems. NRICH is a project set up by the Faculty of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge designed to help challenge, inspire and engage learners in their maths education.

At Solefield, we already use problem solving extensively throughout our Mathematics curriculum, as well as in other subjects, such as the Project Based Learning approach we employ in STEM lessons. We promote problem solving skills during lessons and actively push opportunities towards our students through discrete lessons, challenges, homework and assessments.

Problem Solving permeates our entire Maths provision. Within lessons, we have a big focus on process over answer. Students are encouraged to explain the method employed to derive their answer, with different strategies shared and discussed. Just as when taking a car journey, there are many possible routes to the destination; so, when solving a problem, there are many ways to arrive at the answer. There is an understanding that there are different ways of finding an answer and it is about using the best ‘route’ for each student, and for the problem.

Bespoke Problem Solving lessons are also timetabled in many year groups during which problems are explored with peers and often solved using practical and/or visual methods. These problems are designed to challenge our learners, encouraging them to draw on their knowledge and understanding from a range of different concepts, weaving them together in order to reach a solution. The discussion and explanation phases of solving the problems are often more insightful, interesting and important than the answer itself. The students are expected to not only listen but to challenge their peers’ ideas, helping to refine their approach and supporting each other in finding the most effective and efficient solution. Pupils are tasked with justifying their reasoning to an ‘enemy’ (or sceptic), a far harder ask than justifying it to a friend or to oneself!

Many NRICH problems are used as challenge tasks that will really stretch our Solefield students. Whether this is done as an additional task in lesson time or to get students thinking at home as part of their prep, it is a great opportunity for our boys and girls to apply learnt skills in a creative manner. Exploration of these problems, especially without a prescriptive method to follow, truly allows students to think outside the box when tackling any problem they encounter. As with all problems, there is no right or wrong way to solve it and this freedom often results in our pupils producing creative and unique methods, something the NRICH project really value.

Because it does play such an integral part of what we deliver in our Mathematics curriculum, problem solving is incorporated within our assessment process too. Whilst it is important to test students on the key topics studied in class, we also like to see how students are able to think creatively about these concepts and utilise their learning to solve problems they will not have seen or considered before. This ability demonstrates mastery of the topic learnt as well as signalling a level of mathematical flair required for studying the subject in Higher and Further Education, something many of our students should be aspiring to do.

Our boys and girls are given the opportunity to put all of these skills to good use when they take part in national challenges and/or competitions. Years 3-8 enter Maths Challenges in which we have great success, showing how successful our pupils are at putting what they have learnt to good use, even in a pressurised environment. This year, for the first time ever, we are also entering a Maths Team into the Quiz Club Championships, providing yet more opportunities for Solefield students to employ these skills in a competitive scenario.

The vision of Maths at Solefield is to produce students who are confident solving real-life problems. This is at the very heart of our philosophy of teaching and learning Mathematics. Receiving the recognition of being a Problem Solving School from NRICH shows we are on the right path and also provides a framework for how we can improve in the future.