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How can I devise rich mathematical tasks for the primary classroom?

Created on 03 October 2011 by ncetm_administrator
Updated on 05 June 2013 by ncetm_administrator


How can I devise rich mathematical tasks for the primary classroom?


If, as a teacher in a primary school, you are looking for ideas to enrich the mathematics lessons you teach, this page is especially for you!

There are numerous resources on the NCETM portal to help you explore ways in which to develop rich mathematical tasks for your learners to engage in. We have picked out a few and made them quick and easy to find.

They include:

  • Just what is a rich mathematical task?
  • Support for developing your own subject knowledge
  • Practical ideas and resources for the classroom
  • Ways to reflect and develop your practice
  • How can I devise my own rich mathematical tasks?


Just what is a ‘rich mathematical task’?

Where can I find examples of rich mathematical tasks?

  • You can find examples in the primary section of the what makes a good resource microsite. These activities have been written by teachers who wanted to develop their ideas to help their learners’ understanding of particular mathematics concepts.
  • For example, Odd-one-out is a game that helps to develop learners’ thinking skills. It can also lead to rich mathematical thinking.
  • Linking mathematics to other areas of the curriculum is one of the ways to engage in rich mathematical tasks. The Primary magazine often contains useful ideas (take a look in the archive as well). A great and very popular example linking mathematics and the Ancient Egyptians can be found in issue 34.
  • Mathematics and art can also provide opportunities for developing rich mathematical tasks. The link between mathematics and the work of the artist Kandinsky can be found in issue 9 of the Primary magazine.

How can I plan to include rich mathematical tasks in my lessons?

The Standards Unit: Improving learning in mathematics: challenges and strategies resources provide exemplifications of effective and enjoyable ways of teaching and learning

  • In Maths to share, issue 11 of the Primary magazine there is guidance for planning problem solving tasks which engage learners in rich mathematical thinking.
  • The Embedding in Practice section of the ‘self evaluation tools (SET) also provides useful guidance.

What are higher order thinking skills and how can they be enhanced through rich tasks?

  • Benjamin Bloom created a taxonomy in which he identified different orders of questions that lead to different levels of thinking; from simple recall of knowledge to more complicated analysis, synthesis and evaluation.
  • NRICH offers many fantastic resources for enriching the curriculum. This NRICH resource links rich tasks, investigations and problem solving and suggests activities that are ideal for supporting learners with using and applying.

How can I provide opportunities for my learners to develop their higher order thinking skills?

  • Mathemapedia is the NCETM’s version of Wikipedia: users of the NCETM contribute articles ranging from a short paragraph about a brief idea, through to a full research report. The entry Providing opportunities for problem solving helps to develop higher order thinking skills. A problem is something that requires mathematical understanding, knowledge and skills to solve.

Why is the development of thinking skills so important?

  • What is the nature of the mathematics curriculum is part of an in-depth study module. It explores the idea that we have to help our learners develop genuinely mathematical ways of thinking to be able to cope with the unknown technologies of the future.

How can the questions I ask my learners enrich their mathematical experiences?

  • Something to share in issue 3 of the Primary magazine explores the questions we ask our learners. These fall into three main categories: managerial/information, closed questions, higher order open questions.

Where can I see an example of how a teacher has engaged their learners in rich mathematical tasks?

Discussion Point

Now that you have looked at some of the resources offered, spend some time reflecting on how you can develop these in your classroom.

  • How have these changed your thinking about the tasks you usually give your learners?
  • Which articles and resources impressed you?
    • Why?
  • Is it possible for you to adapt them in order to make them rich?
    • How will you do this?
  • How can you help your learners to develop their thinking skills?
  • If you use text books or worksheets, how can you adapt these to make them richer?

You could record your reflections in your personal learning space.

You might also like to join in the community in the Primary forum which refers to rich tasks. You could ask questions or offer suggestions.

Explore a piece of mathematics

Choose one of the activities from the primary section of the what makes a good resource microsite. Adapt it to suit your learners. Using the advice and guidance above, try to ensure that you make it ‘rich’.

Learning from each other

It has been said by some recently that ‘teachers learn best when they learn from each other’. If you know of another link to an activity or resource on the NCETM website that you think would be useful or appropriate for readers of this guidance, please use the comments box below to let us and them know of your idea.

Courses and Networks

We have many courses and networks available, search in our Professional Development Calendar to find a suitable course or network.

Personal Learning

The NCETM provides a Personal Learning Space which allows you to record your reflections, save documents that you have found helpful and share with colleagues.

  • You could use My Learning Journal to collect your thoughts and reflections. You can either type these or use the audio facility. You can also attach helpful documents. Why not visit your own PLS now?!
  • You could use My Favourites and Notes to capture and organise things you have found and want to use again.
  • You could use the Sharing and Contacts facility to share elements of your PLS with colleagues.
  • The request a reminder function is helpful if you want to return and look at your reflections at a later date.

Find out more details of these and other functions of the PLS.




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