The Value of Puzzles

I love puzzles. Don’t you?

Here are several examples of river-crossing puzzles you and your kids can try. They date back at least to the time of Alcuin, the famous scholar from the court of Charlemagne.

I wish someone would write a whole math curriculum devoted entirely to puzzles.

W.W. Sawyer on the Value of Puzzles

Master teacher W.W. Sawyer didn’t write a curriculum, but he often used puzzles in the classroom.

“It is quite possible to use simultaneous equations as an introduction to algebra. Within a single lesson, pupils who previously did not know what x meant can come not merely to see what simultaneous equtions are, but to have some competence in solving them.

“No rules need to be learnt; the work proceeds on a basis of common sense.

“The problems the pupils solve in such a first lesson will not be of any practical value. They will be in the nature of puzzles.

“Fortunately, nature has so arranged things that until the age of twelve years or so, children are more interested in puzzles than in realistic problems.”

—W. W. Sawyer, Vision in Elementary Mathematics

Then he gives this example:

“A man has two sons. The sons are twins; they are the same height. If we add the man’s height to the height of one son, we get 10 feet. The total height of the man and the two sons is 14 feet. What are the heights of the man and his sons?”

Try This at Home

Not only can children solve puzzles like this, but even better — they can make up story puzzles of their own. You could spend a whole week or more making up silly height puzzles for each other to solve. By the time you were done, your kids would have a great introduction to algebra!

Maybe I never grew up. Because I still prefer puzzles over “real world” math problems.

What are your favorite kinds of puzzles? Please share in the comments section.

CREDITS: “Boat puzzles” comic from xkcd.com.
[THE FINE PRINT: I am an Amazon affiliate. If you follow the book link and buy something, I’ll earn a small commission (at no cost to you). But this book is a well-known classic, so you should be able to order it through your local library.]

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