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Problem Solving in KS2 Mathematics

02 October 2014

Children in Years 3-6 have a dedicated problem solving session every week. This constitutes an integral part of our Mathematics curriculum. Applying mathematical knowledge to solving puzzles and real life problems helps children get engaged with Mathematics and facilitates development of their logical thinking (one of Advanced Performance Characteristics).

Problem solving has long been recognised as a practical and meaningful way to help children understand and apply Mathematics. In problem solving children demonstrate that they can:

  • understand the concept of cause and effect
  • apply prior learning to a problem
  • recognise and can talk (or otherwise communicate) about a problem
  • consider a range of possible solutions
  • ask questions and select and record information relevant to the problem
  • plan the steps and strategies they will use
  • predict possible effects of different solutions or modifications
  • respond to a problem or task using trial and error
  • use a cycle of trial, error and improvement
  • review what has been done and recognise the outcome (i.e. that the problem has been solved or a different course of action is needed)

Depending on their age, your child’s problem solving sessions will focus on different aspects and will use different problem solving strategies.  These could include the following:

  1. Draw a picture, act it out, use a model
  2. Look for a pattern
  3. Make a table or chart
  4. Break the problem down & solve each part
  5. Write an equation or open number sentence
  6. Use logical reasoning
  7. Guess and check or try and adjust
  8. Use appropriate equipment to solve the problem e.g. measuring instrument
  9. Work backwards from the solution
  10. Make an organised, systematic list
  11. Solve a simpler version of the problem e.g. smaller numbers


Regardless of which strategy is used, there are some generic stages of solving a problem:

Stage 1: Understand the problem

Stage 2: Devise a plan/approach for solving the problem

Stage 3: Carry out the plan

Stage 4: Looking back and checking the solution


What have we worked on in problem solving sessions this term?

This term, children across KS2 have been practising various problem solving strategies. Look at the photos of students in Years 3-6 solving problems and read what their teachers wrote about the tasks.


In Year 3 children focused on drawing up tables so that the pattern could be clearly seen in their investigations. Then the students reflected on the problem, writing down what they found and if there was another way they could solve the problem. Then they checked to see if the answer matched the question.

In Year 4 students practised the ‘guess and check’ problem solving strategy. Children used their knowledge of number bonds to speculate about possible realistic solutions to a practical problem. Then they checked different possible solutions and choose the correct one.

In Year 5 children were investigating finding alternative answers to some challenges in shape problems. They enjoyed experimenting with a Chinese Tangram puzzle and rearranging multiple Queens in a chess-based spatial activity called ‘8 Queens’.

In Year 6 the main objective was to develop strategies for solving problems and use these strategies both in working within mathematics and in applying mathematics to practical contexts. The focus was on thinking ‘outside the box’ to decide how to approach the problem but keeping the work systematic.


Mathematics house challenge for students in Years 3-6

Practise problem solving at home to receive house points. Click below to download a problem for your year group. Print it and solve it. Remember to show how you found the solution. Return it to the special box in Mrs. Britton’s classroom, room 129 by October 20th. Each entry which clearly shows how you solved the problem will be awarded with a house point. The house with the largest number of entries will receive bonus points. You can try to solve all the problems but you can only get a house point for solving a problem for your year group.


Maria Britton
Head of Year Four and KS2 Mathematics