Abigail Bown, AC for Blackburn with Darwen, Bolton, Bury, Oldham, Rochdale, and Tameside
A puzzle is generally a type of problem that requires little previous mathematical knowledge. Z Michalewicz and M Michalewicz (2008,vi) comment that “puzzles might be considered to be a sub-set of problems”, satisfying the criteria of generality, simplicity, a “Eureka” moment and an entertainment factor. These things are evident in our own enrichment events, such as:
- the Senior Team Maths Challenge (STMC) for Years 12 and 13
- Maths Feasts for Year 10 students
- Dragon Maths competitions commonly used at the end of enrichment events
Much research has been done about the benefit of using puzzles with students. By working consistently on puzzles in a supportive environment, students learn to accept intellectual challenges, adopt novel and creative approaches, develop modelling and estimation skills, practice recognition of cases, and show tenacity. Above all, they learn to take responsibility for their learning (Badger et al, 2012:18). Thomas (2012:2) suggested that they could be both “frustrating and entertaining”.
Embedding puzzles in more traditional teaching develops students’ problem-solving skills, whilst increasing their motivation to learn mathematics (Thomas, 2013:5). Puzzles can help to develop effective problem-solving skills as well as improving motivation to learn. Feedback from events that we’ve run shows that students often find the puzzles and mini competitions the most enjoyable part of the day.
Utilising our competitions such as the STMC (which took place in November) and Maths Feast (beginning in early 2019) is a great way to enrich the education of your students. You may also like to consider using puzzles from these events and other maths challenges as a fun way of improving problem-solving in your classes. We have access to some of the 2018 Maths Feast resources, which are great to use with Year 10 students as part of an enrichment session.
If you’re interested in finding out more about this, or about any other enrichment or problem-solving bespoke events, please get in touch with your local