Puzzle Olympics

Thanks to Beaufort Primary School, Trawalla Primary School, Beaufort Secondary College and Castlemaine Secondary College who have all contributed to the information below.

It might take a little work, but the benefits are worth it. And it doesn't have to be Olympics time for the idea to be used. Why not an annual Mathlete Championship or Family Night Challenge or aligning the event with National Maths Day or National Literacy & Numeracy Week?

The ideas and resources below will help you set up your first Olympics. Embellish this work and send us stories and photos to include on this page to encourage others.

Puzzle Olympics

Green Line


One group of winners from Castlemaine.
  • Choose your tasks and decide a scoring system. Only use tasks - or parts of tasks - that have a non-negotiable, essentially self-correcting outcome. Some tasks are more suitable for this purpose than others. The Puzzle Olympics Team Sheet lists many which work well as Events. It is also available as a Word '97 document, so you can edit it.
  • Organise medals and prizes
    • Gluing used CDs together on a ribbon works well for medals. It is sufficient to have medals for first only (allow for draws), but if you want to get more creative you can make medals of gold, silver and bronze.
    • Purchase a bulk supply of simple sweet packets or similar (a) to add to the 'prize', (b) to use as an encouragement award for the team with the lowest score, (c) for random bribery.
  • Organise a large space and devise a timetable for teams to attend the Puzzle Olympics Stadium (Archimedes Ampitheatre??).
    • Even with secondary students a carpeted space with students working in groups on the floor seems to create a better atmosphere than tables and chairs.
  • Consider using a data projector and large screen and creating a multimedia event.
    You are welcome to present your Puzzle Olympics using these slides. (Opening slide shown above.)
    Note: The slides are a 4MB non-editable PDF file set for an 1024 x 768 screen.
  • Advertise and promote the event.
  • Ask students to form and name teams (2 per team can work but 4 per team will mean you won't need as many tasks available).
    • Some schools assign students to teams, some give the students 5 minutes to decide their groups and names before being accompanied to the Puzzle Olympics Stadium.
  • Consider building an enormous atmosphere around the event - banners, opening & closing ceremonies, media presence, food sales, special event tickets...
  • Arrange a team of 'judges' who sign off on a team's solution of a puzzle.
    • As far as possible let the kids do the work.
    • Teachers are only the judges. The kids are on their own.

  • Decide your Opening Event Puzzles (OEPs). These need to be tasks that are easy to begin with a large group. Examples are listed below. Alternatively use a Poster Problem (see Poster Problem Clinic and the slide show above). Or open with the Poster Problem, followed by the OEPs, then use the full range of puzzles.



These few photos give an idea of how the Olympics has worked in several primary and secondary schools. Use arrow keys to change photos. Photos will open in your browser, but use right click and save and then open from your desktop to get the best effect.

  1. In advance arrange the task challenges around the room. It helps if they are arranged in score groups so students know where to go if they want to try a 5 point or 25 point task. Large signs for these areas are also useful - they encourage teams put tasks back where they got them from.

  2. If you are running a whole school Olympics, you will probably schedule groups to attend the stadium at a variety of times. You will need at least 1 hour per group.
    • At Beaufort Primary the session ran very successfully from 9:15 - 12:00 with fruit on the run about 10:00 and a 20 minute exercise break about 11:00.
  1. As each group enters, ask the Team Leader to come to the whiteboard where a teacher records the team names then issues a Team Sheet.
    • Some organisers prefer to hand out the Team Sheet after the Opening Ceremony to keep distraction to a minimum.
    • If students don't come with their maths journals, make sure there is plenty of working paper available.

  2. Welcome teams to the Puzzle Olympics. Explain the structure of introducing a few puzzles, the Opening Event Puzzles, so everyone has somewhere to start. Explain that soon teams will be able to decide for themselves the number of points they might gather, by choosing the tasks they tackle. Point to the tasks arranged around the room in score groups. Suggest that teams might gather points by selecting a few harder (high scoring) ones, or lots of easier (low scoring) ones.

  3. Present your Opening Events Puzzles (OEPs). This is really a crowd control device so that when the free choice section comes, many teams will choose not to move from where they are because they will be able to get points by solving these puzzles. This reduces opening demand on the tasks around the room.
    • You will need up to three of these OEPs.
    • They all need to be easily stated and easily started by a wide range of students.
    • They can be from the Team Sheet, but if not, points for them can be added to the sheet.
    • Allow about 15 minutes for the introductory administration and the OEPs.

  4. Invite every team to begin the Puzzle Olympics events by choosing any task on the list any time they like, with the aim of building the most points in the next 45 minutes. Point out that:
    • groups might like to continue with OEPs and indicate the scoring for each.
    • using the Working Mathematically page attached to the Team Sheet might help.
    • For the most part, judges need only check, score and sign off puzzles - but it can get hectic, so make sure you have plenty of helpers.
    • Note: It is very important to choose tasks, or specific questions from tasks, which a teacher can quickly scan and know whether the students' response is correct.

  5. At the end of Event time, present students with a Closing Ceremony problem that will keep their interest while the judges total and verify the scores.

  6. Collect and total score sheets. Arrange your own way of presenting medals and closing the session and the day.

Opening Events Examples

Each of these can be set up using torn up paper, so ask teams to tear one A4 piece of paper into 9 pieces and number them 1 to 9. If using Jumping Kangaroos you will also need counters in two colours. All three of these examples have been taken from the Team Sheet list above, which also shows the score for a solution.
  • Number Tiles
    Make a 3 digit number with any three pieces. Now make another three digit number underneath this. If you add these two three digit numbers in the normal way, the answer should be in the pieces you haven't used yet.
    Allow a moment or two to get into the puzzle, then explain that one of the choices teams will have is to score points by solving this problem.

  • Jumping Kangaroos
    Bring six students to the front and stand them on seven masking tape crosses so that three are facing the other three and the spare cross is in the middle:
    You three are kangaroos going this way. These other three are kangaroos going the other way. You are on a narrow mountain trail, so your only moves are to hop one space forward into an empty space, or jump over one of the opposite kangaroos into an empty space. How can you change places? Turn over seven of your pieces of paper to show their blank side and use six counters from the table over there to be the kangaroos.
    Allow a moment or two to get into the puzzle, then explain that one of the choices teams will have is to score points by solving this problem.

  • Red To Blue
    Ask teams to use four of their pieces of paper starting with the digit up. It doesn't matter what the numbers are:
    Start with the numbers showing on the four pieces. A move in this puzzle is to turn over all except one of the pieces of paper at one time. The aim is to use this rule to make all the blank sides show.
    Allow a moment or two to get into the puzzle, then explain that one of the choices teams will have is to score points by solving this problem.

More on Integrating Tasks