Puzzles Make Us Wonder

May 15, 2016

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Renee Cunningham

As a school media coordinator I am always looking for ways for students to use their time in the media center not just to check out books and read (though I certainly think these are important); but also to practice skills such as cooperation and critical thinking.

This week I introduced a jigsaw puzzle station, and also did tabletop Sudoku puzzles with 5th grade. I was amazed at the amount of interest these two activities generated with the students. They were so excited to keep working and it was hard to pull them away at the end of their class time.

My biggest observation at the jigsaw puzzle was that the students were truly cooperating, not competing. Because they all had the common goal of completing the image they were all working in individual areas, but also offering pieces as a suggestion. I loved hearing, “Try this one” or “I think this piece goes right there”. It was very hard to get students to leave the puzzle uncompleted, though the next class was excited to come in and do their part to work towards the completion. This is not a special puzzle..just a 300 piece jigsaw puzzle of a water scene at night. Yet, the students were enthralled with putting the pieces together. I noticed that many students that do not see a lot of success in class were at the table, and i loved observing them get the immediate satisfaction of getting a piece in it’s correct spot.

I introduced Sudoku puzzles to the 5th graders. I did give an explanation of how the puzzles worked, because many had not worked at them before. After explaining the process of how to fill in a spot I turned the tables loose to complete their boxes! As I observed, I loved seeing which students immediately “got it” and were able to “think that way”; and it was not necessarily “the smart kids”. One of the hard parts about Sudoku is once you make a mistake it is hard to go back and retrace your steps...something a few groups experienced first hand. Several groups were definitely “bit by the bug” and wouldn’t stop until their puzzles were complete.

I am constantly looking for new ways to challenge my students, and expose them to new experiences. While puzzles are not something original or new, it was a new experience for many of my students. As a teacher I think it is important that we not just teach our students facts from a book, but also help them learn to independently think, and WONDER. I wonder if any of them will start to solve puzzles now that they’ve had a taste?!?

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