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Big Fat Questions

on April 1, 2014

What with the meeting I’ve just been to about the new GCSE curriculum, and the lesson study project I’m now involved in, problem solving is currently very much on my mind.

In light of that, and having seen a fab lesson done by Rachael Horsman (, I had a lightbulb moment earlier.

My plan is to collect a bunch of ‘Big Fat Questions’.  The kind of questions that will keep an enquiring mind engaged for a lesson or two.  Things like ‘182,000 acts auditioned for the X-Factor last year.  How long did the auditions take?’ (totally stolen from Rachael….), or ‘how many times a year do we blink?’.

The aim is then to use these for Y7, 8 & 9 next year, on a regular basis, so that they are INDEPENDENT, RESILIENT, mathematical thinkers, not just mindless robots trained to follow algorithms.  I’d like them to think about assumptions, and variables, and how to formulate a mathematical representation of a problem.   I’d like them to learn to really think through how to work stuff out, without prompting.  I’d like them to learn to answer their own questions.  I’d like them to start asking me WHY the algorithms work…..

I may even try it occasionally with Y10 and 11…!!

It would be really very awesome if you would like to donate any Big Fat Questions you may have here on my google doc.

(The direct link for those of you that would like to not have to go via my blog each time is




2 responses to “Big Fat Questions

  1. talktofile says:

    This sounds very much like the thinking I am having for my school and discussions I have led at a LA level.

    I think the Bowland tasks are fantastic for this: We have been heavily involved with the Bowland Lesson Study with visitors from Japan and it sounds like you have undergone a similar lesson study process.

    I am trying to re-design our curriculum, particularly for Years 7/8/(9) to prepare them for the new GCSE curriculum. I am coining the phrase ‘mastery with purpose’ as I think thinning the curriculum down to really nailing core underlying skills (number and pre-algebra mainly) will be vital to prepare students for the demands of the new GCSE.

    This has come about through discussion about the new curriculum, dissatisfaction with elements of the current GCSE, preparedness for A-level. This was summarised beautifully by this great blog post from Will Emeny about the key elements of the current GCSE:

    I think the first 2 years at least need to be depth not breadth in the curriculum and for me that means mastery of core skills and rich tasks. My plan is to intersperse this deeper narrower focused curriculum with regular problem solving tasks – big fat questions as you say.

    I plan to be working with colleagues from other local schools on this so would be happy to share anything (when we have something to share!).

    I think the big challenge is to get the Yearly plans sorted so things connect together, but also discrete enough (multiplicative skills with area, perimeter with measurement and decimals, separate the 3 averages, …).
    Alongside that, the vertical progression through the school is important to not overlook. What foundation can we lay for algebra so it is coherent through the school and does not become distinct skills, but connected as a big picture.

    I am really interested in your thoughts.

    • I’m toying with the idea of for Y7….
      I just went on a training session which talked in depth about the Bowland lesson study, and that is indeed where this has come from!
      It sounds like you are thinking along exactly the same lines I am – it would be good to keep in touch as we develop these.

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