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Boxing clever

Encourage your pupils to use their minds in a different waywithout adding to your workload, says Mark Edwards

While we may argue about what thinking skills actually are, current teaching is definite in its encouragement of a linear or step-by-step approach to tasks. In contrast, I would define thinking skills as an invitation to use one's mind in a different way.

An example is this warm up exercise I gave my Year 6 maths group. I asked them to replace the question marks in the sequence 6 ? 3 ? 2 ? 9 with the operation symbols x, V, +, - , or = as appropriate.

They managed the first five but were stumped by the final one. All except for one girl who put the equals symbol in the central space, rather than the final one, so the sequence read 6 V 3 = 4 V 2.

Gasps of astonishment and admiration for this fine example of what I call divergent thinking ensued, and the next day many more children were able to complete six similar problems.

Further examples that encourage this kind of thinking might be: how many things can you think of that are taller than a house? List 10 things that could be put into a bottle. How many uses can you think of for a house brick? Name 10 red foods.

The skills developed here are not purely logical and neither are they purely intuitive. They are an invitation to "think outside the box", to make connections that are new and to see things from a different angle.

Some may argue that this kind of thinking is encouraged in the literacy and numeracy strategies, but I beg to differ. It does, however, provide excellent warm-ups for the literacy hour, or can be used for other subjects where appropriate.

Try the game Dingbats. It's composed of what are called rebus puzzles that invite solvers to look at words in the way I advocate. For example, the letters N, W, O, R and G placed vertically on top of each other in this order means "grown up". Solving such puzzles requires us to make connections we would not normally make.

Children get better at these activities the more they do them and they begin to apply the principle of "thinking outside the box" elsewhere in their work.

Resources exist but they need to be sought out. Look for "brain-teaser" type puzzle books, specifically those that use the term "lateral thinking".

Finally, here's one of my favourite puzzles. Why not try it with your class tomorrow? Can you join these nine dots using four straight lines, without lifting the pencil from the paper and without going over lines you have drawn? Hint, "think outside the box".

* * * * * * * * * Mark Edwards is a former primary headteacher. He combines part-time teaching with visiting and consultancy

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