Mechanical Puzzles - Valuable Educational Resources


by Andy Liu, October 2002

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Saturday Mathematics Activities, Recreations & Tutorials
The SMART Club, as it is generally known, started in 1981, and is still on-going. At present, it is intended for students in Grades 7 to 10, even though we admit students in Grade 6 or 11 on an individual basis. The Club meets from two to three every Saturday afternoon in the months of October, November, February and March.

The Club Room opens at half-past one and closes at half-past three. For the extra half an hour at either end, the students have access to the Club's Puzzle Library, now housed in the Binary Arts Chiu Chang Heuristic Instruction Centre (BACCHIC) next doors to the Club Room. It is intended to provide some meaningful activities for those who arrive early or leave late. However, for some Club members, the Puzzle Library is the primary reason why they come.

I observed some interesting phenomena in how the children play with the puzzles. Some would tackle the task systematically, building their own data base on relevant information about the puzzles. This provides valuable training in their analytic skill. Others hold the puzzles in their hands and stare into space, and often end up having a flash of brilliant insight, or at least some tangible intuitive feel for them.

Some of the children are so intrigued with the mechanical puzzles that they would stay in the BACCHIC and continue to play, rather than go to the lecture in the Club Room. This is fine, because we have a Club and not a class. Attendance is not compulsory, and children are free to do what they want.

Over the years, I find that new members tend to find out from older members how certain puzzles are solved, and then keep playing with the same ones over and over again. This is because they still harbour the fear of failure. They would rather play it safe, and practice on something which they can show off to newer members. I have to encourage them to explore, without which they cannot hope to expand their knowledge base.


Last Updated: March 28, 2005 top
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