In February I attended a training course for teachers at the Royal Society and was inspired by the idea of running problem solving clubs/event after hearing about small workshops other schools had trialed.
Then came the golden carrot, so to speak. Those who were part of the Royal Society Schools Network could apply for a small amount of funding to help set up a problem solving club as long as they could show a plan of action and how this was going to benefit pupils; but the closing date was looming so that weekend was spent hatching a plan with the Head of Maths about how we could not only benefit our pupils but also our local community primary schools.
Teachers working together at the CPD event in February 2018
The grant application went in and after what felt like a lifetime of waiting (but in reality was only a couple of weeks) we successfully received the grant to help us purchase lots of great resources to set up a problem solving club resource library.
I started on a small scale with trialing the problem solving activities in lessons with pupils in key stages 2 & 3 to see which activities were better and to weed out any ones that were less engaging. Then I moved to stage 2 with a lunchtime club for key stage 2 & 3, this proved to be very popular it started with me leading the activities and as the weeks progressed the pupils gained confidence and they needed me less as they set up and ran the sessions themselves.
We could see a benefit of the problem solving activities for our pupils as they were becoming more intuitive and thoughtful when faced with a challenge, they were discussing the challenge and finding different routes to solve the problem rather than giving up too quickly.
We wanted to share this with our local community primary schools and the best way to do this was through a STEM day where they could come in and experience a set of workshops and the teachers could have a CPD session and leave with a set of resources to use back at their own schools.
We invited local schools to come in for a STEM day, and we have three more schools who would like to join in next year. We have now also set up a full problem solving resource library for the local schools to use. Here they can request physical resources including activity cards, dice, counters, white boards etc which will be dropped off to their school to use for problem solving activities in lessons or clubs. When they finish with it they can exchange it for another set.
The STEM day will now become an annual event and is already in the school calendar for next summer and schools have already booked onto the event well in advance.
Our problem solving club has now finished for the summer but next academic year there will be two problem solving clubs with more pupil led sessions (we are looking at it becoming a pupil led group to help develop pupil leadership as well as problem solving skills as requested by the pupils). We have also embedded the problem solving activities into the form time sessions so pupils are regularly interacting with these and improving their problem solving skills.
As well as the problem solving club in its current format we are going to develop it further with a mega-STEM problem, this is our super cross-curricular project. The head of maths and I have seen a very intriguing video of two young lads who are clearing rivers of plastic in kayaks made of milk containers, guess what we are going to build!
Oh yes, we are building and testing a kayak made of milk containers on the school pool then the head of maths will paddle it on open water (we are not daft enough to allow pupils to try it on open water). The pupils will be using maths skills to calculate the number /size of containers, science and tech skills to build it and humanities / science skills to understand the environmental impact of plastics.
We will be looking to apply for a Royal Society Partnership Grant in February 2019 to make our kayak project a reality and we are already on the hunt for a STEM partner to support us. Could you be that STEM partner who would love to help us build a milk bottle boat?