My Kids are Puzzle-Solvers

The last week of school is madness! Teachers are busy taking things down, packing them away.  Kids are busy cleaning out their desks...some of them finding assignments I needed long ago. At our school, the last week is dedicated to letting kids be KIDS! We had a day dedicated to various activities like: watching movies, playing board games (NO technology), and reading all day.  It was so much fun.

On Board Games Day, I brought out a puzzle. I bought it from Goodwill many years ago thinking it would be good for indoor recess.  It got lost in the abyss, and it wasn't until I was packing up some books that I rediscovered it.  I shoved a table into the center of the room, sat down, and got to work. 


I didn't expect any of my kids to sit down and help - they were busy playing Monopoly, and Sorry!. I figured a puzzle would be "too boring." I was very wrong.  At one point, I had 6 kids helping out.  We worked non-stop for about two hours before we had to leave for lunch.  During those two hours, the crowd dwindled, the faces changed, more showed up. Here's the best part: I noticed how these puzzle-solvers were mathematicians.

The "I have a plan" kid...

This kid was the first one to jump in.  She pulled up a chair and immediately declared, "We need to find all the edge pieces and put that together first."  She sat down, and got to work! Without any help, she then started sorting the edge pieces by color.  She guided the other students on where to put pieces and how to lay them out.  Clearly, she had been exposed to puzzles and knew what worked best for her.  Thinking back to my small group meetings with her - it looked exactly the same.  She had background knowledge on word problems.  She had a foundation for strip diagrams.  She rarely needed prompting when working on anything.

The "I want to, but I need help" kid...

This student observed for a few minutes before pulling up a chair.  She noticed someone was already working on the frame, so she decided to work on the ocean. She said, "Mrs. Vu, I'm going to work on the waves in this corner...the ones crashing on the rock."  I could see she was gathering blue, and white water pieces, spreading them out on her desk. She started out strong, easily putting several pieces together.  Then, she just stopped. Suddenly, she wanted to work on the houses sitting on the hill.  So...she began gathering red and brown pieces, shoving the ocean ones aside.  Then, she said, "I really do want to work on the houses, but can you find the pieces and help me put them together?" Of course, I said, "Give it a try for a few minutes, and then I'll see what I can do." JUST like small group, I swear!  She would start off strong: answer statement, start a strip diagram, jot down a few notes...then she would freeze and declare that she didn't "get it." 

The "I'm going to test everything" kid...

He sat down from the beginning.  He quietly gathering all of the purple-pink pieces for the sky and just...did it. The sky is hard, especially when there are no clouds, and so there aren't very many options as far as "guess and check" is concerned.  This kid! Made guess and check into a system. He lined up allll of the purple-pink pieces and, starting in the corner, checked every. single. piece. If it didn't fit, it would go right back to its spot in line.  If it did fit, he would move on to the next empty spot and start from the beginning of the purple-pink line. It's true again - he works on puzzles just like he works with math problems - slowly, but with a method...and still very quietly, rarely asking for help.  I needed to check in with him frequently on what he was thinking.

The "I'm not doing that" kid...

You know this one.  He would walk by casually, hands in his pocket, shake his head and walk away.  Once, he actually sat down, pulled together some rocky pieces, and tried to smash two together.  When it didn't work, he was DONE. When he got up he said, "This is impossible! You're never going to finish."  And off he went to play Brain Quest.  Guys...EXACTLY like in small group.  For 17 to 23 minutes every other day, this kid would fight me on every task card, word problem, logic scenario imaginable.  It was a game of 53 questions to get him to baby-step it to then end of one problem.  When my station timer went off, he was the first one to move on.


After these few hours of working with my kids, I was amazed at how I could "see" my kids brains as they attempted this puzzle.  I decided it would make a great beginning of the year activity. I'm hoping it will give me some insight as to what kind of problem-solvers my kids are - but low on the mathi-ness dial.

I went back to my dear friend Goodwill and bought four puzzles, each at least 500 pieces. I think I want to put my kids in groups and just watch!  See who leads the way, who has a starting point, who guesses and checks, and who has already checked out.

Did I miss any one?  Is there another kind of problem-solver out there?

Three amazing things this week:
1. Teacher Prep week has started and I'm LOVING the sessions.
2. I tried this Italian sausage and peppers dish and it was a hit!
3. My "teacher clock" is slowing coming back to life.