Questions and answers are simply mathematics

If you find the study of mathematics dreadfully boring, it is time to play a little. In “Amusements in Mathematics” by Henry Ernest Dudeney (published by David Gaddy, Nov 2011),  plenty of mathematical fun is crammed into 640 pages. According to the author, this collection of puzzles and mathematical problems was created so that the user of the book could tap into the pleasure of “doing math”.

Henry Ernest Dudeney (1857-1930), an English mathematician, is best known as a master of logic puzzles. The author views mathematical puzzles as perplexing questions begging our answers. The reader is drawn into the hunt for solutions and answers to these questions. Asking and answering questions is a part of human life, and comes naturally to us all. When mathematics is viewed as the process of asking and answering questions, we allow ourselves to bypass any existing “number” prejudices and start to enjoy what comes naturally.

Amusements in Mathematics” also includes a discussion on the psychology of puzzles and the application of math in our daily lives.  It is an excellent resource for mathematics teachers seeking a readily accessible collection of “questions” that will spice up a lesson. However, this puzzle book is just as useful to anyone seeking a little mental stimulation – after all, we can all answer questions and should not shy away from the challenge of doing so often. This extensive collection of puzzles and problem-solving exercises is now available from  The book can be purchased at a saving of 20% until the end of February 2012 using the following coupon code: 20% off books – Enter code FEBBOOKS12 – Save up to $25 – Offer ends 2/29/12


Are Puzzles Too Old Fashioned for Modern Kids?

Puzzle building is a lost art, pushed aside by electronic gaming and dvd watching. Should you as a parent or teacher make any attempt to resurrect this lost art? Experts in the field of early learning tell us that young learners will benefit significantly from opening that puzzle box and putting the pieces together.

According to the article “Puzzles and Games for Preschoolers” by Alvin Poussaint, M.D. and Susan Linn, Ed.D., puzzles serve various educational functions in the development of young learners. Standing head and shoulders above the other advantages of playing with puzzles, is the fact that puzzle-building helps kids develop problem solving skills. And who doesn’t want a child who can think for herself and figure out solutions to every day problems?

Problem solving is a skill that goes well beyond the realms of mathematics and science. Without the ability to problem solve, relationships become dysfunctional and workplaces become a source of deadly stress. According to psychologist Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein in his article “Two Essential Skills for an Emotionally Healthy Life“, the ability to problem solve is critical for effective management our lives. Why then would anyone withhold opportunities for their children or students to develop this vital skill?

Poussaint and Linn suggest that trying to fit the puzzle pieces together helps children “learn the value of flexible thinking and persistence”. Moving and placing the pieces develops fine motor skills. Puzzle building also stimulates deductive reasoning and inference. The process of assembling a puzzle helps children understand that big things can usually be broken down into smaller parts. This realization is a critical element in successful problem solving.

Is it time for our children to put aside the gaming console for a little while and pick up an old fashioned box of puzzle pieces? To help young learners face life with well developed life skills, you cannot afford to procrastinate. Unpack that old jigsaw puzzle today.


Solving Linear Equations is the Game to Play

Linear Equation Jigsaw PuzzlesBad experiences with linear equations can brand algebra as the subject to hate. Many a middle-schooler has adopted this negative attitude during the early stages of exposure to algebra. As countless high school mathematics teachers will attest, changing this perception of algebra as being a “boring and difficult” subject is not easy. But solving linear equations need not be the doorway to mathematical doom and darkness. Repetition is certainly necessary to develop problem-solving skill, but the unexciting repetition that usually kills any interest in algebra can be presented as something fun and challenging. How this goal is achieved is limited only by the imagination of the teacher. A favorite for me is to present the activity of solving linear equations as a jigsaw puzzle. The puzzle may be offered as an individual or a team challenge, depending on the objectives of the teacher.

Linear equation jigsaw puzzles are the game-players’ alternative to solving pages of equations. These puzzles take advantage of all the skill-developing attributes of puzzle building, but do this on top of developing algebraic problem-solving skills. Before the second piece of the puzzle can be laid, a linear equation must be solved. While some students may be hesitant to embrace the challenge of a page of linear equations begging solutions, few will back down from the chance to build a puzzle.

The rate at which the puzzle can be built is primarily determined by the speed at which the student can solve the linear equations. The linear equation jigsaw puzzle therefore has the potential to serve as an informal speed test, but teachers should be cautioned against using these puzzles for formal tests. Since jigsaw puzzle building depends on the hand-eye co-ordination and the spatial perception of the students, timed test results may be indicative of more than just the student’s ability to solve linear equations.