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Carousel of Conundrums – exploring creative maths challenges with the Toast Model

Regular attendees at our monthly residency at Pancras Square Library will know that through our events we aim to provide opportunities for families to be creative and mathematical together.

Last month, as part of our Carousel of Conundrums session, we presented two conundrums for families to try. The first conundrum was a collaboration with Cubitt Artists and was a visual landscape through which participants could explore the open-ended ‘four fours’ maths problem. This classic maths problem, interpreted as the ‘Four Feathered Fours’ by Cubitt artist Nicky Hoberman with illustrations by her daughter, took the form of an island journey. The second conundrum was ‘How Many Creatures?’ using the story of Noah and the Ark. Noah saw 16 legs go past the ark, but which, and how many animals did he see? 4 sheep? 2 spiders?

Four Feathered Fours

Children were presented with a map and invited to use four feathered 4s (or four 4 shaped birds) and all four operations +, -, x, ÷ to make the numbers on the islands they wanted to travel to. They were warned that some islands would be easier to reach than others!

This was the first time we had tested out ‘Four Feathered Fours’ with a group of participants and we were keen to see how it might enable them to explore the emotional landscape of solving maths problems. The journey to some islands was plain sailing but others felt impossible to reach and it could get cold and lonely when lost at sea. Families were encouraged to reflect on their ‘journey’ using the Toast Model, and use strategies such as doing a drawing or working with someone else to help them persevere in the Toast Zone (Growth Zone) when they got stuck.

If participants found themselves ‘Off the edge’ they could opt to do another challenge in their comfort zone, allowing them to feel successful or try a change of activity, such as colouring, before returning to the problem.

It was interesting to observe that although the ‘How Many Creatures?’ conundrum was seemingly easier to solve, with many children working in the ‘Jam Zone’ (comfort zone), there were others who chose to extend themselves to find all possible solutions working their way back to the ‘Toast Zone’ once more.

And, that’s the role of the Toast Model; to help children to recognise what they can do, have the confidence to take on a challenge and develop the strategies to persevere when something feels hard – knowing that that’s how you can really grow your maths brain!

Join us on the Second Saturday of each month for more creative, crunchy family maths activities you can really get your teeth in to…

Find out more about the Toast Model here.

We would like to thank Matilda Hoberman-Evers for her ‘Four Feathered Four’s’ illustrations. She can feel very proud of her contribution in producing a beautifully enticing maths problem – we look forward to testing it out with more families in the not too distant future…