Math puzzles are an enjoyable and engaging way for children to build a variety of skills necessary for understanding and performing, mathematical computations at all levels. Unlike standard problem sets, math puzzles require trial and error by manipulating parts in different ways. By interacting with the principles of math such as symmetry, logic and ordering, completing math puzzles can help make these otherwise abstract concepts tangible and concrete for kids, according to Drexel University's Math Forum.
Tangram puzzles can be done electronically or with plastic shapes. Each puzzle contains a finished outline or shape along with several shapes, including triangles, hexagons and quadrangles. The goal is to arrange the triangles to construct the outlined shape. The variation of this game for younger children typically includes a large quantity of a single shape, such as triangles, with a final picture-shape of something along the lines of a duck or a heart. More complex tangrams have a more diverse group of shapes and require more trial and error. Manipulating the shapes builds an understanding of symmetry, opposites, rotation and geometry, according to Illuminations, a resource for math instruction.
Puzzles such as KenKen and sudoku requires students to order numbers in a series of boxes so they reach a particular sum while maintaining a certain order within the boxes themselves. For example, in KenKen each row and column must contain each number exactly one time. These puzzles build arithmetic skills, and an understanding of sequencing and logic, according to Illuminations.
While jigsaw puzzles might not seem inherently math related, in fact, they employ many important elements found in mathematics, including making combinations, working systemically, along with visualizing defining shapes and their combined product, according to Cambridge University's Center for Math Enrichment. Jigsaw puzzles are also helpful for young children who might not be old enough to recognize, write or understand the concept of numbers. Additionally, jigsaw puzzles come in a variety of kid-friendly sizes, from four to 400 pieces.
Tower of Hanoi
The Tower of Hanoi is an ancient puzzle that teaches children in grade school about computation and algorithms, according to Cut the Knot, a children's educational website for math. Using three rods and a series of circles, kids must move the circles from the central rod to the two outer rods following a set of limitations, such as never moving a larger one on a smaller disk and never moving more than one disk at a time.
- University of Cambridge: Millennium Math Project -- Tangram Pictures
- Middle School Mathematics Institute: Math Puzzles for Your Kids
- Illuminations -- Resources for Teaching Math: Geometric Understanding Through Tangram Puzzles
- Math Forum: Tangrams
- Illuminations -- Resources for Teaching Math: Ken-Ken
- University of Cambridge -- Enriching Mathematics: Jigsaw Puzzles
- Cut the Knot: The Tower of Hanoi
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