Stretching students’ thinking without reinventing the wheel – ask a question!

As a teacher, it is so easy to think we have to keep reinventing new activities to ensure students are challenged, engaged and most importantly, learning. Whilst it is certainly important to maintain a degree of ‘freshness’ in one’s teaching, it really doesn’t mean we have to go and reinvent completely new activities. Sometimes asking a simple question at the end of an activity is all that is needed.

I learnt this recently when I was teaching some of my Year 2 students about patterns using the same activity I used a couple of years ago. My students were both tasked with continuing the pattern (based on  Nelson Maths activity) of L’s, see below.

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Students had to work out what the 10th L would look like and how many counters would be needed. They worked on this until they reached the 40th L. Most students were able to work out that this was the counting by 2s pattern starting from an odd number. I thought to myself, ‘great, they get it now onto the next activity.’ I was just about to hand out a follow up activity when I realised that this certainly was one pattern, however, there were other patterns as well. In order to make this activity more challenging, I said could anyone work out the 100th L in a different way (without using the counting by 2s pattern)? This really got my students thinking. For some of them, they needed the hint of referring to the number above the L as well as the number of tiles required to make the L. I got two groups to come up with a different rule.

Using this L pattern activity in this way made me realise I need to make sure my students’ are genuinely challenged before rushing to the next activity. Adding just one simple question to their activity made it more challenging. I learnt that it is so important for me to continue asking questions like ‘Can you think of another pattern? Can you show me in another way? Why do you think that?’ to ensure my students are suitably challenged.

How else do you challenge/stretch your students’ thinking in maths or other subject areas?