Puzzles in the Classroom

 

by Mark Kielpinski, Summer 2002

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How Puzzles are Used in My Classroom
I would use puzzles during Wednesday, Thursday and Friday during student free time, as long as they were finished with all of their other work. I found that if given the chance the students would not do their regular homework during study hall time because they would rather work on the puzzles. Because of that, I also made puzzles that students could check out over night or over the weekend to work on with their family. We also had a fourth grade teacher that developed puzzle backpacks and travel packs for families to use at home.

I also used puzzles every other Friday as a problem solving development activity. Additionally, I had a Puzzle Of the Week (POW) that was the main puzzle for students to solve. If they solved the puzzle then they were able to sign a poster stating that they completed the Puzzle Of the Week.

We as a class also made our own puzzles at Christmas time as our own Christmas present and we made a puzzle at the end of the school year as a remembrance of the classroom.

Students would have about 50 minutes of study hall time each day. I would say that one third of my students would have 30 minutes of time each day after they had completed all homework. Another third had 15 minutes of spare time. The remaining third needed all of the 50 minutes to complete homework.

Class time would be used to work on puzzles and board games every other Friday. This was a forty five minute time period. Typically, if there was a new puzzle that I had made, I would introduce it when I brought it into the room. I would explain the object of the puzzle, number of pieces, history, creator, type of wood it was made from, and other features.

In my classroom there are at least two of every puzzle. One of the puzzles must stay on the puzzle cart and remain untouched. The reason for this is that there is a model of what the pieces should look like. After the first week or two of school most of the puzzles are torn apart and sitting on the shelf. At first the students expect me to "save" them by putting everything back together. I just have them put it back on the shelf for tomorrow and let them know they can work on it then. Most will accept the challenge to at least try, and when others see their friends trying they will pick up the pieces and try themselves. I will admit that occasionally I will put one or two together after school so the students can see how the puzzle comes apart one more time, so they can reverse the process. It works well this way without any answers, knowing you need to develop the skills to solve problems.

I provide NO solutions. Even for teachers that I made materials for, there were no solutions included. I would provide some hints. On the Convolution Puzzle I would tell students how many pieces there are, that there were white pieces on each corner as well as eight white cubes within the puzzle and that they should pay particular attention to how the pieces come apart because they will need to reverse the order to assemble the puzzle. I don't know if this is more of a HINT, a chance to develop visualization, or a challenge to conquer the puzzle but for me it seemed to work.

We also talk about students giving answers to others and the thrill of achieving something on our own. Let's say we have a contest to see who can guess the secret number first. Want to try to guess the number? Oh, by the way the secret number is 57. What is the secret number?

Most of the students ask why even ask what the number is when I already gave it to them. It is kind of the same thing when I show you how to do a puzzle, what is the point - you already know the answer. Then I ask them to guess my new secret number and we go around the room guessing numbers. The student guessing closest I give a puzzle to and the winning student feels elated while the others are disappointed. I tell them that to complete something yourself gives you that type of elated feeling and that disappointed feeling should motivate you to continue trying to do your best.

I've created all of my own materials and processes for introducing and utilizing puzzles. Most of the background info that I had to make the puzzles came from the series of books on the history of puzzles by Jerry Slocum and from Stewart Coffin's books on puzzle making, as well as the Puzzle World website (http://www.johnrausch.com/) and Wei Zhang's book, (http://www.keypress.com/). I tried to always have something new and would try to build with certain students in mind. Some students excelled at cube puzzles, some disentanglement, some the impossible objects, etc. In many ways, I view this like I do a standard math program. Some students like just the rote computation, some enjoy probability, others geometry or algebra. To just have one type of puzzle would make as much sense to me as doing just addition for math - boring, limited, and unrealistic.

NEXT: The Puzzles in My Program
Last Updated: February 7, 2005 top
Puzzles in the Classroom
How Puzzles are Used in My Classroom
The Puzzles in My Program
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