Sudoku. Logic. Magic Square. Tangram. Bridges.
Puzzles, like the ones listed above, often give people of any age problems that expand their mathematical thinking in a fun and creative way. This type of thinking always looks to see the effect that a move will have and understands that it is okay to mess up and learn from it. Puzzles are often created in many different levels so that they are accessible to a wide variety of people. I have seen puzzles completed in the Sunday newspaper and in a 3rd grade classroom. Puzzles keep the brain working. So why don't more people do puzzles, why aren't puzzles incorporated into education?
I have always enjoyed doing puzzles, but I know that not everyone enjoys them as much as I do. Often they cause people to get aggravated or annoyed if they mess something up or they are struggling to figure out the solution. However, I see this behavior and mindset among adults more than children. Mindset is a large focus when looking at education practices and the difference between and fixed mindset and a growth mindset is a topic that is being explored in a variety of ways. I believe puzzles can give students the chance to expand their thinking and learn how to work through a difficult task, leading them to a growth mindset. This growth mindset that can come from doing fun puzzles in the classroom setting will then be able to carry over into different mathematical ideas and even into other subjects.
Another benefit to incorporating puzzles into classroom work is that they start to see patterns and relationships between different sequences and numbers. Their mathematical thinking is heighten without the students even thinking they are doing math. The 8 standards for mathematical practice can be seen and even assessed in different puzzles. The following just some of the standards that basic puzzles will incorporate:
In class we had the chance to create a puzzle and it was something that made us think deeper and be creative. This use of puzzles in a college classroom is something that I would want to take into my own classroom. Having students create their own puzzles expands on their mathematical thinking and it causes them to look at the construction of a puzzle and use math to complete it. Creating something or being involved in the creation process will give students even more interest in their work because they feel a sense of control and passion for their work. They will want to test their classmates and see if they could solve each other's puzzles. Their thinking would be deep and useful.
Puzzles are fun and so helpful when looking at education and even beyond, If we give students the tools and techniques to solve puzzles, just think about the puzzles they will be able to solve down the road with the dedication and strategy they learned while having fun.
Some links with puzzles for kids of all ages!