Building maths concept and fluency through problem solving

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Passion for teaching numeracy has grown on me ever since I started this journey. Teaching kids to problem solve in maths was always a challenge for me. So I chose this area as my special teaching project, a challenge for me to conquer this year.

The school that I’m teaching in supports inquiry-based approach, based on Vygotsky and Piaget’s theory that students learn by actively constructing their own knowledge. Therefore, we facilitate flexible learning environment where students are encouraged to learn by collaborating with others and arriving at the knowledge by investigating a challenge.

In a traditional learning environment, teachers would write up worded problems on the board and give worksheets for students to practise. Nowadays, this is labelled as lazy practice.

The inquiry question I created to focus my project was “how can I teach problem solving in numeracy using inquiry-based approach.” What I am really interested in is … is inquiry the best approach that can improve problem solving skills? Let’s save this discussion for next time.

Here is my attempt at teaching problem solving through inquiry-based learning:

Problem-solving lesson using STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) 

Our focus for the first three weeks of term 3 has been geometry, which is an important concept to build in students: It helps develop spatial abilities that is connected general mathematical ability (Clement & Sarama, 2011). Power is also our Big Idea for this term (part of Kath Murdoch inspired Challenge Based Learning), which means we have to try and incorporate it into all learning areas. The way we integrated numeracy with the concept of ‘Power’ was by considering why we use certain shapes and the power they have in our daily lives.  

After hours of digging through my brain over a cup of darjeeling tea, I remembered back to good old uni days and my favourite earthly creature, bees!

I posed a challenge of building the strongest and largest beehive using different resources including toothpicks, marshmallows, clays, and straws. Students were grouped into mixed ability groups (making sure introverts were mixed with extroverts). Those who were likely to become disengaged were assigned a leadership role in their group with set responsibilities. They had to collaborate in order to complete this mission due to the heavy workload.

The task was designed so that every student in the team had an important role to play and demanded higher-order thinking. Each resource was assigned a value and they only had $100 to spend. It was a huge challenge for the Grade 2s but they didn’t notice because it was disguised as a shopping game. This was a great opportunity for them to apply our problem solving strategies and steps that we have been developing throughout the year in an authentic context. 

Each material was assigned a value that allowed Grade 2s to practice their number fluency while exploring the concept of money. Cents were eliminated at the beginning to avoid confusion with decimals. The materials were assigned with numbers that students were able to skip count in such as 2, 3, 4, 5 and 10. This allowed multiple entry points for all levels of learners: Students were able to apply skip counting as well as the four operations (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division).

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At the start, students had to carefully plan which shape they will choose to build a beehive. The shapes chosen by the students included square, rectangle, triangle, pentagon, and hexagon. By physically building and connecting them using concrete materials such as toothpicks and clays, students consolidated their understanding their properties by manipulating the edges and vertices (corners).

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At the end of the task, students were able to arrive at the understanding of why hexagon is the most powerful shape to be used as beehives: Hexagon yields the largest possible space for storing their nectar, requires the least amount of resources to build yet happens to be the strongest structure that can be packed tightly without leaving gaps in between.

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Honeybees are excellent mathematicians who know how to perfect their architectural designs. These honeybees developed this mathematical skill through long periods of trial and error by facing challenging problems and applying their strategies.

Most of all, it was difficult to bring the activity to an end as students were highly absorbed in maths disguised as play. It was only during the reflection time when students realised the amount of maths they were doing.

Check out our school blog to see kids reflecting on their learning:

Thank you for reading 🙂







How long do you spend planning?

I called in sick today due to a viral infection and stayed at home feeling guilty about falling behind at work. So after my doctor’s appointment, I opened up my laptop and started filling out my planner for next week. As soon as I created a black template for next week, I started wondering how long it will take to plan a full weekly lesson in one sitting.


When I’m curious about something…I can’t let it go. So I decided to try and measure it out hoping that curiosity doesn’t kill the cat.

Drum roll… It took 6hours 20 minutes excluding meal and toilet breaks.

I understand schools operate differently and have different expectations on how detailed the planner needs to be depending on curriculum priorities.

I thought it would be interesting to compare different expectations and the time you spend outside work hours planning.

So I wanted to share the product of my 6 hrs and 20 mins:


Screenshot of a math lesson:

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Here is a link to my full weekly planner: Term3Week4Planner

Thank you for visiting 🙂

Handwriting facing extinction


I remember back to my old primary school days when we used to receive pen licences that motivated us to maintain our beautiful handwriting. Today, handwriting is redundant amongst our 21st century learners. Keyboards and touch screens are replacing our fine motor skills.

My Grade 2s submitted their first writing task today on their fresh new writing journals with the good old dotted third. After observing the quality of their handwriting, majority of them were unfamiliar with the function of the dotted third. I had one or two kids who knew how to use them and they were coincidentally my stronger kids in reading and writing.

In our school, students have access to one-on-one iPad and learning apps are predominantly used. Comparing Grade 2s in my current class to those from two years ago in my old placement school, my current munchkins’ handwriting are less developed. Grade 2s in my first placement school were exposed to dedicated 30 minute handwriting sessions once or twice a week where they practiced cursives with quiet meditation music in the background. We are discouraged from holding explicit handwriting sessions in my current school.

Article in The Age recently published a piece about Finland phasing out handwriting classes in favour of keyboard skills: “A recognition that this generation will never write a letter, a birthday card or love letter.” Finland justified their decision by acknowledging the rise of digital age transforming our mode of communication.

Here are the two sides to the debate as always:

  • One side argues handwriting is no longer valued in the job market because it currently favours efficiency: easier, faster and instantaneous.
  • Handwriting conservationists, on the other hand, proved its neurological and psychological benefits.

In fact, handwriting enhances brain activation which helps stimulate the learning process. Research encourages cursives in particular to improve students’ “motor and visual skills, eye-to-hand co-ordination, spatial awareness, hand and finger dexterity, cognitive function and brain development… the physical act of handwriting also facilitates the retention of information and the flow of ideas”. Times magazine also mentioned a research in their article showing that “kids who learn cursive rather than simply manuscript writing score better on reading and spelling tests,” as “linked up cursive forces writers to think of words as wholes instead of parts”.

Handwriting taught me patience and care. It poured sincerity and soul into my messages conveyed. I still find handwritten cards and letters much more endearing: full of personality and human touch. Despite my boyfriend and I being one Watsapp away, we made a choice to exchange handwritten letters to preserve our sweet unrest from The Austenian period.

A leading teacher from Melbourne expressed, “I think it teaches mindfulness. It helps people connect to their bodies, it helps people pay attention and it helps people concentrate”.

Could handwriting become our new mindfulness colouring books?

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Gender identity and creativity

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I came across an interesting research program exploring gender roles exhibited by parents to toddlers and how it influences the development of children’s creativity. This research was held in a Korean kindergarten setting where majority of children were exposed to traditional male and female gender roles: Men are breadwinners and female are stay-at-home mums.

Research discovered that children exposed to traditional gender roles developed constricted gender views and behaviours, inhibiting the development of divergent thinking and creativity. On the other hand, those who displayed bigender traits showed creative thinking and even higher emotional intelligence.

This research made me think about the tendencies I have observed in my own classroom: I have noticed one introverted boy displaying bigender traits who happens to be incredibly intuitive, sensitive towards others feelings, helpful around class and creative in his expression. It also made me reflect on my own subconscious behaviours that could have been modelled to my kids to their own detriment.

Apparently, children’s gender identity becomes concrete around the age of 6 or 7. I am teaching a class of Grade 2s who are already displaying set masculine and feminine traits. I am in a dilemma as to whether I should let them be or intervene.


Link to research: