I have always really liked math puzzles. I’ve enjoyed them ever since I was a kid. I used to love putting tangrams together. You had all these neat different geometric shapes and you could put them together in any combination you please. I would mess around with them for hours, just making random shapes. Then I would start to try to solve a math puzzles in the book. I would use the different shapes to try to make different animals, objects, and abstract designs. It was challenging but it was a lot of fun, and it really helped me develop my spatial reasoning skills.
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Of course, as I got older, I stopped doing math puzzles. We would still have a few of them in logic classes when I was in college, but thy were something that I didn’t really do on my own. I enjoyed them when I came across them, but for some reason my interest just waned. Then one day, I discovered sudoku.
Sudoku is an extremely gratifying math puzzle for average folks. Pretty much anyone can do it, but the permutations get extremely complex. Being able to decipher such a complicated problem and come up with just the right numbers to fit the pattern is harder than it looks. I spend all day on those puzzles sometimes, but nothing beats the feeling of satisfaction I get from them when I’m done.
And there’s another part of my life where I’ve started using math puzzles again. I’ve been tutoring kids for a while now, and working with math puzzle solving is a big part of our job. The school district I tutor in uses a lot of puzzles in their mathematical education, and we also add a few in our tutoring program. The great thing about mathematics puzzles is that they exercise logical thinking without making kids slog through the same math facts over and over again. They allow children to enjoy math and see that it isn’t all just factoring and memorizing multiplication tables. That math can be fun is one of the best lessons a child can learn. It can inspire a lifelong love of logical reasoning that, otherwise, would be sorely lacking for most of these kids.
Math puzzles are not always the foundation of that lesson, but they can be. If you can show children that mathematics can be a game, they will become interested in it. After all, all children love games.