Do you struggle to engage your reluctant learners in Mathematical thinking?

Math puzzles have become one of my FAVORITE ways to engage reluctant learners in mathematical thinking. I've used Math puzzles in my General Education classrooms, Academic Intervention, and now my special area STEAM classroom with great success!

I'm enamored with these puzzles because once upon a time, I WAS a reluctant Math learner. I had some Math trauma in 6th grade (I'll save that story for another day) which stuck with me ALL of the way through the beginning of my teaching career up until the time I was 28. If you do the math on that (hah, pun DEFINITELY intended) that's 16 years of DREADING math!

When I started playing these games with my students a few years ago, I reignited my love for Math, but I also noticed the spark of engagement my students received when we worked on Math puzzles that didn't "Math-y." I know I would have LOVED these puzzles as a student - they would have provided me with feelings of success and joy around Math class that I was lacking otherwise.

How do I get started with Math puzzles?

1. Pick your puzzle: My students's favorite freebies are Which One Doesn't Belong, Pico, Fermi, Bagel (also known as Yes, No, Move It), and the newest favorite, Oodle.

2. Plan to spend about half of a class period teaching your chosen puzzle. This is key. Students need to feel confident about the rules in order to participate in gameplay. For example, with Pico, Fermi, Bagel, I start by teaching students the process with two-digit numbers before letting them try to "stump" one another in small groups! (Check out my Pico, Fermi, Bagel Reel here!) I like to introduce new puzzles after a test or quiz, but before starting a new unit.

3. Sprinkle that puzzle in to your instruction 2-3 times a week, for about 2-3 minutes. Once your students know the rules, that's all it takes to get them going!

4. Teach another puzzle soon. We all know variety is the spice of life for us and our students, and once they know how to complete multiple puzzles, you can visit a different puzzle each day!

How do puzzles fit into my standards-based instruction?

Math Puzzles easily compliment the Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practices. Here's a quick breakdown of how my three favorite games easily compliment your math instruction:

MP 1: Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.

MP 2: Reason abstractly and quantitatively.

MP 3: Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others. (Heated discussions come from this Which One Doesn't Belong, so be prepared!)