Puzzles in the Classroom

 

by Mark Kielpinski, Summer 2002

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I've taught fifth and sixth grade math in the public schools of North Dakota for the past eleven years; I have been a teacher for twenty years overall. Each day I see approximately one hundred ten (110) students for math.

I've used puzzles for the past twelve years, with an increasing number of puzzles and types of puzzles for the past six years.

I am very honored to share my experiences with puzzles in the classroom. I had a goal of trying to get my students to think more. If I could get them to think more, in different ways and at different levels, I could then refocus that newfound energy and insight to other aspects of their school day and life. I found puzzles. As a teacher it was one of the best choices I have ever made.

There are several observations I can make about my students and their interactions with puzzles.

* First, there were less discipline problems with most students because they always had something that they could do - instead of bothering the person next to them or throwing paper, they were trying to complete the checkered Soma Cube or trying to pack all the pieces into the box for the Diabolical Cube.

* Second, our scores for problem solving on the CTBS (Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills) were always high. Even though our math curriculum was not particularly good in developing problem solving, our sixth grade consistently achieved at the 80th percentile or better.

* Third, it gave the students ownership of their classroom. I made the puzzles but they were for the kids. They learned how to put them together, and if someone took apart a puzzle and it needed to be put together they would take care of it. Also, the students would not give each other answers. They were honorable to try to help and encourage others but they would not give out solutions.

* Fourth, students had a chance to try and fail without it counting against them or without embarrassing themselves. I could always put a puzzle in front of a student that would blow them away - we all knew (myself included) that we each had a great deal to learn. I would tell the students that there were puzzles that I had directions to make and I had the pieces but I couldn't get the puzzle put together (they would offer to help). We were all learning and on the same level with the puzzles.

Finally, one of the biggest successes of using puzzles in the classroom is to get students to expand their thoughts, to become comfortable with not knowing everything, and the development of how to ask a question. Many kids will start by just saying "I don't get it" or "I can't do it." I want them to know that there is a way to sort through what they do know and what they need to find out and that by asking the right questions or by asking questions correctly it develops the problem solving process.

NEXT: How Puzzles Are Used in My Classroom
Last Updated: March 28, 2005 top
Puzzles in the Classroom
How Puzzles are Used in My Classroom
The Puzzles in My Program
Advice for Teachers Just Starting Out

 
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