The Potency of Maths Problems – a snippet from the intro of ‘How to Teach Primary Maths – Anyone Can Feed Sweets to Sharks’

The Potency of Maths Problems – a snippet from the intro of ‘How to Teach Primary Maths – Anyone Can Feed Sweets to Sharks’

Guestblogger: @mrtileynunn

The Potency of Maths Problems

Child A: Errrrrrrm, sir, I think we’ve got a problem …

Teacher: Really? Show me what the problem is.

Child B (head stuck inside a cardboard box): I’m stuck! I tried to see if it was the right size for my head, and it’s a bit tight. I can’t pull it off!

Teacher: Fantastic! Tell me what you’re going to do next to solve the problem.

Problems. They are more prevalent than sand in the desert and salt in the sea. And, much like primary mathematics, they are sometimes labelled as negatives: we approach them with negativity and view them as a barrier. Given the opportunity to rub a magic lamp and be granted three wishes, many of us might wish for some form of problem to vanish. This is perfectly understandable because problems make life bumpy. Yet it is precisely this bumpiness that has yielded some of the most exceptional human beings and creations that have ever graced our planet. Without water pouring through the hull of the Syracusia, Archimedes would not have developed his engineering masterpiece, the Archimedean screw; without the need for an instant and practical light source, Thomas Edison would not have developed the first light bulb; without the problem of how to create multiple copies of books, Johannes Gutenberg would not have created the first printing press with moveable font.

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Without problems, these solutions would have never come to fruition. Like a comic book hero and his nemesis, solutions are nothing without the problem that existed in the first place. We need to treat problems as a mechanism for improvement rather than something that gets in the way of success. By exposing our young learners to problems on a regular basis we not only increase enthusiasm and passion for the subject, but also lay the foundations for creating independent, resilient and skilful learners.


My book is intended to reanimate the way that you look at primary mathematics. Its main goal is to make maths shine, and it aims to do so by applying the following model to everything that is contained within:

  • Social. This book contains activities designed to get pupils to discuss, question and collaborate in their work. All too often, maths is taught as a lonely subject, and this book aims to address this.
  • Hued. This book aims to present primary mathematics in the most colourful way possible. There are many very good vanilla teaching activities that can be used when teaching primary maths, but you won’t find many of them here.
  • Interlinked. This book does not present primary mathematics in discrete, easily digested nuggets of knowledge; it will challenge both teacher and learner to make links to how maths manifests in the world outside the classroom.
  • Nerve-building. This book makes no excuses for presenting ideas that may be considered to be outside of the realms of the primary curriculum. Many of the activities will challenge even the brightest primary students, but all of the activities are designed to build nerve (not nerves) by encouraging pupils to fall over and pick themselves up again.
  • Energetic. Put simply, this book is designed to make you move.

So ditch your spoons, grab your safety nets and pick up a copy…

Excerpt taken from Primary Maths: Anyone can feed sweets to sharks…
By Nick Tiley-Nunn edited by Phil Beadle
© Nick Tiley-Nunn 2014

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