We know how important mathematical reasoning is – not just within the curriculum, but in real life too. So we set ourselves the challenge of designing a workshop that would give students of all ages a very different way of practising (and, crucially, extending) their reasoning skills. We discussed lots of potential approaches back at as creatives HQ – then, after testing the most promising, selected one. One which we further developed to become one of our most challenging (yet also most enjoyable) maths workshops: The Bunker.

Inspired by the work of Alan Turing and his fellow mathematicians at Bletchley Park (work that, it’s generally agreed, shortened World War II by a good couple of years), The Bunker is based in cryptology – the writing and reading of codes. Appealing to all age and ability ranges, The Bunker has a simple premise. Working in teams, and at their own pace, students need to identify as closely as possible the location of a Suspicious Device by cracking a series of increasingly fiendish numeric, geometric and semiotic ciphers. The more codes they crack, the more precisely they’ll be able to pin the Device down.

Since then, The Bunker has gone from strength to strength – and we’re proud to say we’ve now delivered this workshop from Northumberland to London to Malaysia!

  • The Bunker is unique in its three-pronged approach to promoting mathematical reasoning and problem solving …
  • It’s a fantastic way of promoting accuracy and precision – as teams realise quickly that making one small mistake will result in a translated cipher that reads as gibberish …
  • In a great example of intrinsic and cumulative learning, students get fewer and fewer instructions for each new code they tackle. So instead of being “spoonfed” information, they’re required to learn from what they have just done and built it into the next stage of the challenge – an approach they all always rise to …
  • It explicitly recognises that empirical approaches are sometimes appropriate; there are times that codes will offer binary choices – but if teams work accurately and precisely (see above), a “wrong” choice will swiftly become apparent.

The Bunker has been flexibly designed to meet the needs of different schools and different students, with a range of age and ability-differentiated formats of varying durations. So a cohort of Year 5 – 8 students from Prudhoe Middle School (Northumberland) enjoyed a 90 minute version of the workshop, with pupils working to levels according to age and ability, while new Year 7 pupils at the Reach Free School (Watford) spent two hours cracking even more codes.

“Excellent! The children loved the activities and got a lot out of the programme!” (Prudhoe Junior School, Northumberland)

And its flexibility – and ability to generate ever more challenging codes- means that it’s also an ideal way of demonstrating the power and importance of analysing, interpreting and predicting data to students at Key Stage 4 and above. In a day funded by the school’s successful application for a Royal Institution grant (insert a link?), we delivered four 90 minute workshops for Year 10 students at The Studio School (Liverpool). And as the school’s specialism lies in programming, the programme provided learners with an ideal way of exploring algorithms.

“Our students really enjoyed “The Bunker”. They had an opportunity to approach mathematical and logic problems in a different way, and worked independently on the puzzles set. Students were very positive about their experience!” (The Studio School, Liverpool)

The Bunker’s ability to cater for students across all ability ranges was also demonstrated by the response of high-achieving Year 11s at The Chigwell School (Essex?), where we provided two three-hour workshops in a single day. So keen were the students to reach the final code that many of them stayed in during their breaktime!

Students are always quick to get to grips with the fact that independent working is an absolute prerequisite in The Bunker (although we’re always on hand to give a few enigmatic tips if required) – so it’s a brilliant way of promoting both confidence in maths and self-confidence itself. And this as one of the “unexpected” (yet hugely useful) outcomes that teachers at the Learning Adventure Resource Network identified when we ran a half-day version for Year 5 – 9 pupils in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia.

“The positive outcomes from the as creatives programme included both academic and social components. The participants’ engagement in subsequent classroom lessons and perception of their own abilities improved overall!” (Learning Adventure Resource Network, Malaysia)

You can read Jackson’s blogs about his Malaysian adventures here.

For more information about The Bunker (or any of our creative maths programmes) – or to make a booking, please contact Jackson Kavanagh: j.kavanagh@as-creatives.com.