Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Transformation Tuesday: Engaging Critical Thinking Activities- The Puzzle Box


Throughout the month of May, I am highlighting my favorite critical thinking activities to help keep your students engaged during these last few weeks of school. Today's activities are critical thinking puzzles and have been among my students' favorite activities. While I tend to find puzzles everywhere, my favorite source for puzzles is AIMS Education's Puzzle Corner. Check it out here. 

I use puzzles in many different ways, such as for fast finisher activities and menu work. I keep them in a file box that I call The Puzzle Box. The box has hanging files inside where I store all of the puzzles. Storing the puzzles this way serves several purposes. First, it keeps all of the puzzles in a convenient location. Second, it allows students to search for a task that matches their ability level. For this reason, I keep the puzzle box at the back of the room on a shelf with a variety of manipulatives, like centimeter cubes, toothpicks, and pattern blocks, students can use to support them while they are working through the puzzle tasks. 

During this time of year, puzzles can be a great whole-class challenge where students work with a partner to complete the tasks, or they can be used as individual or fast finisher challenges. Because understanding the puzzles can initially be a challenge for students, you can remove this barrier by introducing one or two puzzles at a time and giving the students time to play with the task before placing them in the box. Students can then determine whether or not to continue with the challenge or to try another puzzle. I typically introduce two or three new puzzles during each grading period and then add them to the box for students to complete throughout the year. 

The students love the puzzles and when they find the right "fit," they are willing to invest the time to complete the task. After students complete a puzzle, I review the work and provide a reward of some sort, such as extra credit, classroom cash, etc, for correct solutions.

Below are two examples of the puzzles I include in my Puzzle Box. 
This puzzle came from an AIMS book called Solve It! 4th where students use the clues
 to complete the boxes with specific numbers. 


The picture below shows a Blockout Puzzle from AIMS where students shade adjacent boxes 
whose sum equals the number above the large square, i.e. 9a, 9b, 9c, or 9d.

Here are some of my favorite AIMS puzzles: 
Note: To use them, copy and paste the problem into a word processing document or print the downloadable activity sheet. 

Freebie Alert! You can also find a variety of activities to include in your puzzle box using the "Problem Solving and Critical Thinking" link my my file cabinet. Click here to check it out!

Sound Off! Which puzzle is your favorite? Why?

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