Use of puzzles in schools is gaining ground. Recently, the expanding SMILE Mathematics project ran a puzzle competition to celebrate 25 years of publication. Sponsored by Texas Instruments, Oxford University Press and Circa, the competition asked pupils to solve four puzzles and contribute one of their own.
A total of 951 students entered, many from schools which do not use SMILE. Two schools decided to run their own puzzle competitions. At Chulmleigh Community College in Devon, which won one of the prizes for most entries, 6O of the 15O who entered for the SMILE competition were keen enough to want to try the Sharp UK competition.
Samantha Hancock is head of maths at Chulmleigh Community College. The school came just below the national average in its maths GCSE grading last year and has adopted SMILE for its Year 9 and l0 students as part of an attempt to raise standards.
SMILE's formula of short, discrete tasks is well suited, says Ms Hancock, to increasing pupil enthusiasm.
The competition was popular with all the groups. Over two weeks, lower ability sets (Years 9 and 10 are set for maths) took enormous pleasure in counting all the possible combinations of pentominoes in a set; high-achieving students were put on their mettle by the fifth question, which asked students to design their own puzzle. "I can set a harder one than that," they proclaimed.
Maths word searches, crossword puzzles and getting the calculators out to test out number relations fed their enthusiasm for "doing that great competition again".
The maths staff were pleased with the way the questions, which spanned several basic number concepts, backed up the curriculum work on primes, cubes and squares. Now, says Ms Hancock, "I've started ending lessons with a few puzzles, such as number bingo. It's been a bit of an inspiration, really."