Australian Maths Trust

Maths for me: Running the Challenge

By Anna Nakos, AMC State Director, SA

It is just wonderful at the start of a year to hear a student say, “Will we do the Challenge?”   

When they first encounter the Maths Challenge at my school (year 7) their reaction is quite different. At first they think, “Six questions, easy!” until they realise these are no routine questions. Although slightly overwhelmed that each question won’t be solved quickly, they become intrigued. They learn to read carefully, to take on a detective style search for the key information, and then exploration begins. 

They are told they have all the tools they need as all questions are based on material from the Australian Curriculum for mathematics for their year level. Some vital facts from the Teacher Help section gives them some confidence to begin their race. 

On comes their critical thinking hat and they ponder problem-solving strategies. They are in shock when they first hear there may be more than one solution, and in horror when they hear that I won’t tell them how many they will need to find. This brings the privilege of showing them the beauty of taking a systematic approach. My joy comes when they say, “I know I have found all possible solutions.” 

Anna Nakos

By year 8, experience has placed them in a stronger position. Last year it was incredible to watch the year 8s tackle the questions related to the beautiful geometric design question Rhombus Ring. They knew the angle information they needed to draw. They worked with confidence whether calculating angles from the centre ring or working backwards from the outer ring. Having encountered many intriguing patterns revealed in questions the previous year, they were on the hunt for more again. They expected, they hoped, they explored, they proudly announced their find and then like budding mathematicians proved algebraically their pattern did exist. 

They never would have thought that manipulating fractions would be exciting. Yet this is what happened as they took on the question Ts and Rs. On completion they were captivated by its connection to John Conway’s Rational Tangles. 

When I reflect on the Challenge for year 3-10 students, I know that students take on a captivating mathematical journey delving into a world of a different adventure, new challenges and an exciting feeling of accomplishment when the race has been run.  

It has been a privilege to be a part of the writing group for 26 years, learning from some of the great mathematical minds of Australia.  

It is a joy to share this with future generations of young talent and to inspire them.