A Puzzle in the Classroom

September 22, 2007 at 3:41 pm (all, blogging, Blogroll, children, classroom management, Education, Educational Leadership, Elementary, Gifted, High School, Middle School, principals, school, school administration, Thornebrooke, Uncategorized)

Weekly Tip – Creating Puzzling Classroom

See if you can figure this one out:

“George, Helen, and Steve are drinking coffee. Bert, Karen, and Dave are drinking soda. Is Elizabeth drinking soda or coffee? (It is possible to reason this out using logic.)

Most of us love a good puzzle. Some are more drawn to spatial puzzles, others enjoy a good logic puzzle, still others math or situation puzzles. In fact, you may even be distracted from this article right now because you are trying to figure out that puzzle I posted above. Mazes, jig-saw puzzles, brain-teasers, and short mysteries pose challenges that capture our imagination and our thoughts. Puzzles are also an excellent way to capture the attention of our students and encourage them to think on higher levels.

Below are some ideas for incorporating puzzles into your classroom, no matter what you teach:

1.   Pose a “puzzle of the week” every Monday. Students have all week to try to answer it. Have students place possible answers in a folder or large envelope to be opened on Friday. With younger students you might let them try throughout the week and then tell them whether they are “cold” or “hot”. Students who are “cold” might go back and rethink their answer. Students who are “hot” know they have it.

2.   Add an object to your room that has to do with the topic or skill you are teaching. Challenge students to find the new object. (Original idea by Frederick Briehl)

3.   Have a jig-saw puzzle “station” in the back of your classroom that students can work on during free time or when they finish their work early. A jig-saw puzzle is fun, but it also requires students to think logically and use spatial relationships to determine where pieces fit. If you can find a puzzle that relates to your novel, author, setting or location, art, music, math, science, or historical event – all the better. Use the internet to find topic related puzzles for students to solve. When working with pre-school and Kindergarten students, have a permanent puzzle station where students can put together different jig-saw puzzles.

4.   Copy and paste logic puzzles and brain-teasers on the inside of a manila folder. Laminate the folder to last. This makes a portable “Thinking Center” that students can take to their seats and work on when finished with a class assignment or test.

5.   Have students create their own jig-saw puzzles. Students could draw the setting or character in a story, create a timeline, draw a historical figure or event, or even create a mind-map or semantic web. If you have them do this on cardstock, turn the page over and have students draw different shapes and figures that interlock on the back. Cut along the lines and voila! You have a jig-saw puzzle. Craft stores such as Hobby Lobby and Michaels also sell jig-saw puzzle paper that is already shaped and pierced. Students simply draw on the sheet and then punch out the pieces.

6.   Use a situation puzzle for a transition or time filler. Pose the statement or question to students and give them 20 questions to solve it. Two sources of situation puzzles are Jed’s List – http://www.kith.org/logos/things/sitpuz/situations.html and Nathan Levy’s book series – “Stories with Holes” – http://www.storieswithholes.com. You can also use a search engine to find situation puzzles. Just keep in mind that many are mini-mysteries and can include someone dying or being killed. Always check the puzzles for appropriateness before using in school and with certain ages.

7.   Bring a wrapped present to class and situate it where everyone can see it. Don’t mention it or talk about it. When students ask, wave it off as nothing for them to worry about. This will drive them crazy. You might then pose a challenging question and tell students that the first to answer will get to open the present. Inside would be an object that relates to the topic of study. Ask your students at that point to identify why this particular object was chosen. This makes a great way to introduce a new topic.

8.   A variation on the idea above is to put the objects in a box with an opening large enough for only a hand. Students feel the objects and try to guess at each. What do these objects have in common? How are they different? How does each object relate to the topic currently studied?

9.   Have a Sudoku challenge on Fridays. The older students are, the more complicated the puzzle should be.

10.  Use Crosswords and Word Searches when practicing definitions and vocabulary words. Cryptograms are also great for vocabulary and sentence practice. Students must use their knowledge of how sentences are formed to determine the “key” words that will help them decipher the puzzle. You can offer certain vocabulary words as clues to help determine the “key”. (Cryptograms are puzzles that substitute one letter for another. For example: a is really s, p is really a, and o is really t. The word might be “sat”, but in the puzzle it will show as “apo”. Once a word is deciphered, you use the “key” letters from that word to determine other words. Cryptograms are usually sentences and phrases.)

 Puzzles are fun, challenging, and require us to think critically in order to solve them. We must use our knowledge of spatial relationships, numbers, number relationships, words, and our experiences in the world to solve different puzzles. This makes them not only enjoyable, but also a great learning tool. The next time you have a boring worksheet or activity, take some time to think about how you can turn it into a puzzle or mystery for students to solve. Look for different ways to incorporate puzzles into your classroom for students to solve as part of your class and outside of class. Before you know it, you too will have a puzzling classroom!

Still wondering about that puzzle above? Thought I’d leave you hanging, did you? Well, here’s the answer:  Elizabeth is drinking coffee. She has two E’s in her name, just like everyone else in the puzzle drinking coffee (as well as coffee itself).


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