Worksheets have their place, but math becomes real when students can hold it in their hands. Beyond standard math operations such as adding and subtracting, math involves logic and reasoning. These puzzles and games challenge kids (and adults for that matter) to use their math skills in a whole new way.
A game that goes back centuries, marble solitaire requires logic and strategy. The game board has several holes to hold the marbles. Every hole is filled except the center hole. The game is played by jumping marbles, one at a time, and removing the jumped marble. The object is to jump marbles in such a way that only one marble remains. The challenge is not to leave any marbles stranded. This game is also available as a peg board, with pegs instead of marbles.
A much newer math puzzle is Rubic’s cube. Each side of the cube has three rows of nine squares. All six sides of the cube can be rotated in any direction. Each square will have one of six colors. The game begins with colors around the cube at random. The object is to rotate sides in such a way that each side has all nine squares the same color. Variations include games shaped like a triangle or hexagon, and squares with a 2×2 pattern or 4×4 pattern instead of the traditional 3×3 pattern.
This classic Chinese game works with seven basic geometric shapes to form pictures such as a rabbit, bird or other shape. Generally, a picture is outlined on a card and the player manipulates the seven tangram shapes to create the picture. Tangram sets can be purchased, or the pieces can be made out of craft foam or wood.
This 3-D version of the original game takes building to new heights. Game pieces are similar to Tetris shapes, of varying colors, each representing a player. Players use their game pieces to build a structure, taking turns adding on to the structure. At the end of the game, points are won for squares visible on the top of the building, and lost when pieces are still left in that player’s pile.
Another classic game is thousands of years old. Mancala boards have two rows of six cupped sections, and two larger sections at each end where players collect their pieces. An identical number of pieces are placed in each of the smaller sections.
During a turn, a player removes all pieces from a section and, moving around the board counter-clockwise, drops one piece in each section thereafter until he is out of pieces. Pieces in the end sections are not removed, but belong to their respective players. The goal is to clear the board and have the most pieces in your section. Pieces vary, but smooth stones or gems are traditional.