Home > #MTBoS, Pedagogy, Resources > Playing with jigsaws is the way forward

Playing with jigsaws is the way forward

This is a guest post written by my brother Andy (@andycav_25). Andy is a primary teacher in West Yorkshire and currently teachers Year 5.


Fractions Jigsaw from NRICH

In the 2014 Primary National Curriculum, there’s much more emphasis on problem solving in maths. Henceforth, we’ve had a few staff meetings and twilights on this recently. We’ve been encouraged to use ‘rich mathematical tasks’, and some colleagues (myself included) expressed sheer horror at some of the ideas. However, I did embrace it and took a bit of a risk with my Year 5 class last Friday. If an OFSTED inspector had walked into the first 30 minutes of that session, I would’ve been mortified. If they’d walked in at the end, I would’ve been ecstatic.


Definition from Simon Borget

We’d been doing fractions, decimals and percentages all week and, in my timetable, I have a 2 hour session every Friday morning. I normally do 2 lessons in this time unless it can be used for a science experiment, art or D&T depending on the long term plans. Last Friday, maths was the winner. The NRICH website is great for providing these rich mathematical tasks and I found this one, which I really liked the look of. Children had to complete a jigsaw on a 5×5 grid. Each square is cut into 4 triangles that were either blank (these would eventually form the outside of the jigsaw but there were a few extras thrown in) or they had a calculation using fractions. Obviously, the children had to match up the triangles to create a jigsaw.

I thought that it had to be a pair or small group activity, so do you group them as high/low ability or assign a high ability with a low ability? I kept the high achievers together this time, as an experiment in itself as much as anything.

What unfolded in front of me was just amazing. Every single kid in my class engaged. I don’t think I’ve ever achieved that before in 5 years as a teacher (and another few before that as a TA/HLTA).

One child in my class is ridiculously talented in maths (earlier in the term, it had taken him about 5 minutes, without a calculator, to find all of the factors of 256. He’s 9!). He absolutely loved this jigsaw task. He thrived on the challenge but was also made to reassess a few times when things didn’t appear to be working. It took his group about 45 minutes to complete the jigsaw, but when I spoke to them about how they did it, it was one of the lesser but still more able kids who had spotted the pattern in the jigsaw. They had taken on different roles in the group with child A quickly calculating in his head and child B spotting patterns to assist child A in finding the correct pieces.



That group also complained to me at one point that they had 6 ‘top’ pieces, which doesn’t work on a 25 square. They told me that it was wrong. ‘Look again,’ I said, numerous times. Eventually, they did realise that there were two blank areas inside the grid too.

The middle ability groups really struggled at first. As had been the plan at the offset, I shared a few answers and gave them a starting point after about 20 minutes. Bang. They started working through that grid as fast as I’ve ever seen them work in the 4 weeks they’ve been in my class. Not everybody finished (in fact probably only about half did, if that) but that didn’t matter either to me or them. They had all achieved something and we all knew it.

Once the HA group solved it, I gave them a template of the solution to make their own – they had fun testing each other. At that point, I also shared that template with the rest of the class as an extra piece of scaffolding. That made some of them look and immediately say ‘we need that shape here so which piece fits?’ Another great use of mathematical thinking. Key question: what’s the same and what’s different about the pieces and what does this tell us?

At the end of the session, I did two plenaries. First, what skills have we used this morning? Answers: ‘fraction skills’, ‘teamwork’, ‘spotting patterns’. It took a little bit of guidance but that’s fine.

I would’ve liked ‘problem solving’ to be an answer but alas…

Pic7 Pic6 Pic8

We’ll get there in the end!

The second plenary was simple: ‘who has been completely confused and felt like your head is about to explode at least once this morning?’ (62 thumbs up – there’s 31 children in the class).

Who thinks you’ve made progress with your maths this morning? (again, 62 thumbs up). I think this risk definitely paid off! I will be trying to do at least one of this type of task or investigation for every topic in maths from now on. The skills and achievement shown by every child at their own level was amazing and they really enjoyed it too! Plus, there’s no marking to do… Bonus!

I enjoyed reading this post. It’s nice to get a fuller view of what maths is taught at primary and how it is taught. I love the resources on nrich, I’ve not used this specific one, but I certainly would if I have a class that it fits too. Have you used anything similar? What are your views on this task/these tasks?

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