As teachers we can all sometimes run out of ideas on how to keep our students engaged and motivated. I have incorporated using some of the great unsolved maths problems into my maths lesson plans with excellent results. I’ll discuss some of the benefits for students in this article.
A good way to introduce such maths problems is to give the problem to the class but not tell them that it is actually unsolvable until they have been working on it for around ten minutes. This creates a change in the students perspective, as what was seemingly a straight forward problem in arithmetic turns into being basically unsolvable, thereby questioning the very basis of maths problem solving concepts they have previously relied on.
Using unsolved maths problems has the effect of allowing students to let themselves break free somewhat of the commonly held notion that there is a “right” and “wrong” answer to everything, and indeed raises the question in their minds – does there need to be a correct answer at all? In my opinion, if the right and wrong answer idea is forced upon students, it inhibits them from developing their own addition mental strategies and to gain a deep understanding of maths concepts.
Furthermore, working on unsolved maths problems allows a student to relax, engage with the problem at hand without the pressure of needing to find the correct answer. This focuses the student’s subtraction mental strategies and lets them explore different maths problem solving techniques and key core concepts. Failure, is for want of a better word, expected and normal with success not coming in the form of finding the correct answer but rather in the depth of investigation done by the student. For the most part all my students love working on these problems. Hopefully, some of these problems stay unsolved for very long time.