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Maths - Query your method

What it's all about

There are some dangerous myths in the world of maths: "two minuses equal a plus" and "one is a prime number" always bring me out in a cold sweat. But the one that's potentially most deadly is that open questions are better than closed ones, writes Craig Barton.

Open-ended, unstructured questions are important for letting pupils' mathematical imaginations flourish, but so-called "closed" questions have a crucial role to play in the classroom. They are necessary to ascertain pupils' understanding quickly. They are an essential Assessment for Learning tool.

Whether a question is open or closed does not determine whether it is good or bad. The quality of a question is determined solely by how much it makes the pupils think and how greatly it tests their misconceptions. So I try to make my questions as probing as possible. For example: "Which number is the biggest: 0.8, 0.715, 0.87, 0.8099?"

This is certainly a closed question - there is only one correct answer. But does it get the pupils thinking? Of course it does. If they have misconceptions about place value, this question will weed them out. A quick whole-class vote between the four options will inform you where to take your teaching next. If the pupils get it right, they understand it, so move on. If not, get them to discuss their reasoning, intervene if necessary and try another example.

What else?

Test pupils' ability to write numbers in expanded form with Jinky Dabon's handy worksheet. For differentiated place value tasks, check out SQUIDLEY `s presentation.

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