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
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