When teaching, I try (with mixed results) to keep my students interested in the topic at hand. Sometimes I motivate them by giving them a project where they discover a mathematical relationship with minimal help and minimal direct instruction from me. Or a project that demonstrates a deep connection between the real world and the mathematics we use to describe it!
However, sometimes the topic is not all that inherently interesting, or students just need a great deal of practice to really hone a skill. For example, the skill of solving quadratic equations. At this point in the course, I’ve already taught them how to solve quadratic equations by factoring, by working backwards, and by the quadratic formula. To liven things up a bit, I’ll next challenge my students to complete this quadratic equations puzzle (partly pictured at right).
The way it works:
- Cut up the triangles (in the picture and linked document, they are already mixed, not in their correct final locations).
- Give each student (or pair of students) a batch of puzzle pieces.
- Students match each quadratic equation edge to another edge that contains its zeros. They can tape them together as they go.
- When complete, it makes a large hexagon, like this:
For extra fun, do the puzzle yourself first, then write a secret message on the backs of the pieces. Cut it back up into its component pieces, and make double-sided copies so each tile has a letter on its back. Only students who complete the puzzle correctly will be able to read your secret message!
For example, I have written [one letter to a puzzle piece]: “BRINGTHISTOMRYFORACOOKIE” (Bring this to Mr. Y. for a cookie!), and then I had cookies available for the students as they finished. When the first student finishes, brings it up and gets a cookie, the other students sit up and start working harder!
Here’s another puzzle I designed as review of Algebra1-style equations (for my engineering students, to gauge their math strengths and weaknesses in the first week of class). It could also be used to wrap up an Algebra 1 course, or to refresh students’ memories during the first weeks of Algebra 2.
These puzzles are made with Formulator Tarsia software, which is available for free download. Developing these puzzles is a bit labor-intensive, in that it takes a good 1.5 – 3 hours to create a good puzzle, including the secret message.
Puzzles (and food) create a nice change of pace in the classroom, every now and then. I encourage you, gentle reader, to use either of the two I have created, and to download the software to create more yourself! Happy puzzling!