20 Best Math Puzzles to Engage and Challenge Your Students
- A list of 20 interesting (and sometimes amazing!) puzzles, inspired by both classic math thinking and modern classroom techniques
- Research on why math puzzles are a great idea for your classroom
- Tips on how to effectively use them in the classroom
Math Puzzles for Kids:
1. Math crossword puzzles[caption id="attachment_3240" align="aligncenter" width="648"] Puzzles to Print[/caption] Take a crossword, and make it math: that’s the basic concept behind this highly adaptable math challenge. Instead of words, students use numbers to complete the vertical and horizontal strips. Math crossword puzzles can be adapted to teach concepts like money, addition, or rounding numbers. Solutions can be the products of equations or numbers given by clues.
2. Math problem searchHave students practice their addition, subtraction, multiplication and division skills by searching for hidden math equations in a word search-style puzzle. It can be adapted to any skill you want students to practice, and promotes a solid understanding of basic math facts.
3. Math riddlesDo your students love word problems? Try giving them some math riddles that combine critical thinking with basic math skills. Put one up on the board for students to think about before class begins, or hand them out as extra practice after they’ve finished their work.
4. ProdigyProdigy is a free, game-based math platform that students love to use while they're practicing math skills! While it’s not a math puzzle in the traditional sense, Prodigy uses many of the same principles to develop critical thinking skills and mathematical fluency. Students complete curriculum-aligned math questions to earn coins, collect pets and go on quests. Teachers can deliver differentiated math content to each student, prep for standardized tests and easily analyze student achievement data.
5. KenKen[caption id="attachment_3196" align="alignnone" width="600"] KenKen[/caption] KenKen is a “grid-based numerical puzzle” that looks like a combined number cross and sudoku grid. Invented in 2004 by a famous Japanese math instructor named Tetsuya Miyamoto, it is featured daily in The New York Times and other newspapers. It challenges students to practice their basic math skills while they apply logic and critical thinking skills to the problem.
6. Pre-algebraic puzzlesPre-algebraic puzzles use fun substitutions to get students ready to perform basic functions and encourage them to build problem-solving skills. They promote abstract reasoning and challenge students to think critically about the problems in front of them.As an added bonus, students who suffer from math anxiety might find the lack of complicated equations reassuring, and be more willing to attempt a solution.
7. Domino puzzle board[caption id="attachment_3201" align="aligncenter" width="648"] Games 4 Gains[/caption] There are hundreds of ways to use dominoes in your math classroom, but this puzzle gives students a chance to practice addition and multiplication in a fun, hands-on way. You can have students work alone or in pairs to complete the puzzle.
8. 2048[caption id="attachment_3198" align="aligncenter" width="739"] 2048[/caption] This online game and app challenges players to slide numbered tiles around a grid until they reach 2048. It’s highly addictive and not as easy as it sounds, so consider sending it home with students or assigning it after the rest of the lesson is over. It encourages students to think strategically about their next move, and it’s a great tool for learning about exponents.
9. Kakuro[caption id="attachment_3205" align="aligncenter" width="648"] Math in English[/caption] Kakuro, also called “Cross Sums,” is another mathematical crossword puzzle. Players must use the numbers one through nine to reach “clues” on the outside of the row. Decrease the size of the grid to make it easier for younger players, or keep it as is for students who need a challenge. Students can combine addition and critical thinking and develop multiple skills with one fun challenge.
10. Magic square[caption id="attachment_3202" align="aligncenter" width="648"] Wikipedia[/caption] Magic squares have been around for thousands of years, and were introduced to Western civilization by translated Arabic texts during the Renaissance. While magic squares can be a variety of sizes, the three by three grid is the smallest possible version and is the most accessible for young students. This is also a great math puzzle to try if your students are tactile learners. Using recycled bottle caps, label each with a number from one to nine. Have your students arrange them in a three by three square so that the sum of any three caps in a line (horizontally, vertically and diagonally) equals 15.
11. Perimeter magic triangleThis activity uses the same materials and concept as the magic square, but asks students to arrange the numbers one to six in a triangle where all three sides equal the same number. There are a few different solutions to this puzzle, so encourage students to see how many they can find.
12. SudokuSudoku is an excellent after-lesson activity that encourages logical thinking and problem solving. You’ve probably already played this classic puzzle, and it’s a great choice for your students. Sudoku puzzles appear in newspapers around the world every day, and there are hundreds of online resources that generate puzzles based on difficulty.
13. FlexagonThere’s a pretty good chance that by now, fidget spinners have infiltrated your classroom. If you want to counter that invasion, consider challenging your students to create flexagons. Flexagons are paper-folded objects that can be transformed into different shapes through pinching and folding, and will keep wandering fingers busy and focused on the wonders of geometry.
14. Turn the fish[caption id="attachment_3199" align="aligncenter" width="841"] Transum[/caption] This puzzle seems simple, but it just might stump your students. After setting up sticks in the required order, challenge them to make the fish swim in the other direction -- by moving just three matchsticks.
15. Join the dots[caption id="attachment_3203" align="aligncenter" width="648"] Cool Math 4 Kids[/caption] This puzzle challenges students to connect all the dots in a three by three grid using only four straight lines. While it may sound easy, chances are that it will take your class a while to come up with the solution. (Hint: it requires some “out of the box” thinking.)
16. Brain teasersWhile they don’t always deal directly with math skills, brain teasers can be important tools in the development of a child’s critical thinking skills. Incorporate brain teasers into a classroom discussion, or use them as math journal prompts and challenge students to explain their thinking. Bonus: For a discussion on probability introduce an older class to the Monty Hall Problem, one of the most controversial math logic problems of all time.
17. Tower of HanoiThis interactive logic puzzle was invented by a French mathematician named Edouard Lucas in 1883. It even comes with an origin story: According to legend, there is a temple with three posts and 64 golden disks. Priests move these disks in accordance with the rules of the game, in order to fulfill a prophecy that claims the world will end with the last move of the puzzle. But not to worry -- it’s going to take the priests about 585 billion years to finish, so you’ll be able to fit in the rest of your math class.Starting with three disks stacked on top of each other, students must move all of the disks from the first to the third pole without stacking a larger disk on top of a smaller one. Older students can even learn about the functions behind the solution: the minimum number of moves can be expressed by the equation 2n-1, where n is the number of disks.
18. Tangram[caption id="attachment_3197" align="aligncenter" width="648"] Wikipedia[/caption] Tangram puzzles -- which originated in China and were brought to Europe during the early 19th century through trade routes -- use seven flat, geometric shapes to make silhouettes. While Tangrams are usually made out of wood, you can make sets for your class out of colored construction paper or felt. Tangrams are an excellent tool for learners who enjoy being able to manipulate their work, and there are thousands of published problems to keep your students busy.
19. Str8ts[caption id="attachment_3206" align="aligncenter" width="648"] Str8ts[/caption] Similar to Sudoku, Str8ts challenges players to use their logic skills to place numbers in blank squares. The numbers might be consecutive, but can appear in any order. For example, a row could be filled with 5, 7, 4, 6 and 8. This puzzle is better suited to older students, and can be used as a before-class or after-lesson activity to reinforce essential logic skills.
20. Mobius bandIs it magic? Is it geometry? Your students will be so amazed they might have a hard time figuring it out. Have them model the problem with strips of paper and see for themselves how it works in real life. With older students, use mobius bands to talk about geometry and surface area.
Why use math puzzles to teach?
Math puzzles encourage critical thinkingCritical thinking and logic skills are important for all careers, not just STEM-related ones. Puzzles challenge students to understand structure and apply logical thinking skills to new problems. A study from the Eurasia Journal of Mathematics, Science and Technology Education found that puzzles “develop logical thinking, combinatorial abilities, strengthen the capacity of abstract thinking and operating with spatial images, instill critical thinking and develop mathematical memory.”All these skills allow young students to build a foundation of skills they’ll draw on for the rest of their lives, no matter what kind of post-secondary route they pursue.
They help build math fluencyMath games can help students build a basic understanding of essential math concepts, and as another study shows, can also help them retain concepts longer.In the study, early elementary students gradually moved from using the “counting” part of their brains to complete math problems to the “remembering” part that adults use, suggesting math puzzles and repeated problems can help build the essential skill of math fluency.Many of the math puzzles above allow students to practice essential addition, subtraction, multiplication and division skills, while advanced or modified problems can be used to introduce pre-algebraic concepts and advanced logic skills.
Math puzzles connect to existing curriculaNo matter what curriculum you’re using, there’s a good chance it emphasizes problem-solving, critique and abstract thinking. This is especially true of Common Core math and similar curricula. [caption id="attachment_3204" align="aligncenter" width="738"] How Math Skills Impact Student Development[/caption] Math puzzles allow students to develop foundational skills in a number of key areas, and can influence how students approach math practically and abstractly. You can also tie them into strategies like active learning and differentiated instruction. Instead of just teaching facts and formulas, math puzzles allow you to connect directly with core standards in the curriculum. You can also use them to provide a valuable starting point for measuring how well students are developing their critical thinking and abstract reasoning skills.
Tips for using math puzzles in the classroom
Now that you’ve got some great math puzzles, it might be tricky to figure out how to best incorporate them into your classroom. Here are some suggestions for making the most of your lesson time:View this post on Instagram
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