Puzzle it Out – Recreational Maths

Recreational maths

As it’s almost the holidays, I thought it might be timely to post some ideas for recreational maths.  This may sound a tad geeky, but when we enjoy maths ourselves as teachers, we are much more likely to communicate that enjoyment to the children we teach.  So the ideas I’ll be sharing are mainly aimed at adults, but some of them would be accessible to older primary children too.

First of all, a very recent find in the app store.  Logic Games has several different types of logic games, all with many different levels.  I’ve only tried 2 or 3 of these so far and only the early levels but there’s plenty there to challenge.  Unlike some apps, the early levels are already quite challenging (or perhaps it’s just me in need of a holiday).  My husband and I are both hooked and I anticipate some healthy competition over the holidays.   I suspect these ought not to be beyond brighter children at the older end of primary school but they would need to be prepared to be patient and think pretty hard.  A few years ago, I ran an after school maths club which focused on recreational maths, and one of the activities we did was Sudoku puzzles, starting with some fairly easy ones and getting progressively harder.  I was amazed when one of the girls, (I’ll call her Sarah) turned out to be easily the best at these.  Sarah had struggled with maths throughout school and had a very poor grasp of number bonds and tables and only a shaky idea of basic calculation methods, and yet she could think through a Sudoku puzzle and come up with a solution much more quickly than some of the most able children.  It transpired that she had been doing the puzzles with her grandfather every Saturday afternoon for some time.  It also occurred to me though, that Sarah was used to finding things difficult and having to really think about them to arrive at a solution, whereas for some of the much brighter children in school, that was quite a novel experience.  They were used to grasping things quickly and not having to think too hard.  So I think it’s well worth giving our more able mathematicians something that they’ll find quite challenging and have to spend some time on.  The ‘Logic Games’ app is free, or for £2.99 you can install a version without adverts – very good value for such a lot of games.

Next, a really good book.  I’ve enjoyed the books of Ian Stewart and Marcus du Sautoy, but one of my favourites recently has been by Alex Bellos‘Alex’s Adventures in Numberland’ explores our relationship with numbers and mathematics and is very readable.  Bellos is a journalist and communicates the ideas involved very effectively without patronising the reader.

Finally, a book aimed at children.  Johnny Ball’s ‘Think of a Number’ is a very entertaining book about maths.  I’ve used several of the ideas from this in the classroom, including one where he imagines a world without numbers and features pages from a newspaper without any numbers.  So one story is headlined ‘Woman has some babies’ and attempts to tell the story of a mother giving birth to sextuplets without actually using any numbers (eg. “it’s quite common for a woman to give birth to a baby and another, but this woman has given birth to a baby and another and another and another and another and another.”)

Why not try one of these over the holidays?


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About supportingmaths

Teacher and independent maths consultant. Primary MaST and currently embarking on final year of masters study.

5 responses to “Puzzle it Out – Recreational Maths”

  1. srcav says :

    Fantastic post. I love Stewart and Du Sautoy, not managed to read Bellos book yet, but it’s top of the list (might try get a Us copy, the title “Here’s looking at Euclid” is just phenomenal!) Have you read any of Simon Singhs books? His “Fermats last theorem” is without a shadow of a doubt the best book (any type, not just maths book) I’ve ever read! Rob Eastaway books are always worth a read too.

  2. supportingmaths says :

    Thank you for your comment. Really appreciate the response. Would definitely recommend the Bellos book. I have read ‘Fermat’s last theorem’ and Singh’s books about Codes too. Really enjoyed them but found some of the maths a bit hard going even with a maths degree – although it’s perfectly possible to skip through those and enjoy the narrative. I’ve not read any Rob Eastaway books yet but have a couple on my shelf waiting to read.

  3. Alan Parr says :

    “It also occurred to me though, that Sarah was used to finding things difficult and having to really think about them to arrive at a solution, whereas for some of the much brighter children in school, that was quite a novel experience.”

    I agree 100%. When I’ve tested my problem-solving mathematical adventure games in oodles of schools it’s always the children who’ve gone through life finding it easy to get sums right who find it difficult to handle problems where they have to think about what they’ve got to do. They’re the ones who sulk and kick over the furniture. Those who are used to finding maths difficult know that EVERY situation is a problem to be solved and that they’re likely to experience failure before they succeed. (If you want to find good problem-solvers look lower down the ability range, not at the top!) Those who are at the top of the tree haven’t had the chance to experience initial failure; perhaps one of the things a good mathematical education should do is offer children chances to fail – and how to treat failure positively. Which I guess is pretty close to what we mean by “challenge”.

    • supportingmaths says :

      Thank you for your comment. It sounds like your experience is similar to mine. Definitely a good reason to make sure we are giving real challenges to all children. Learning to treat failure positively is also something I try to do in the classroom.

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