Unlocking secrets of math through puzzles

Intermediate students at McGuffey Foundation School are caught up in a trend that is sweeping the nation: solving KenKens, numerical puzzles from Japan.

The puzzles — which the New York Times, Reader’s Digest and dozens of other periodicals recently began carrying — require problem-solving and logic skills while reinforcing the four main mathematical functions: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

“The kids love them,” said Heidi Schran, a math teacher at McGuffey. “They often ask me if they can take home two, instead of just one, for homework.”

The goal of a KenKen is to fill a grid with numbers with no number appearing more than once in any row or column and so that the digits in each outlined box, called a cage, also go together. Japanese educator Tetsuya Miyamoto invented KenKens six years ago when he was looking for a way to excite children about learning math.

Engaging kids with math was also on the minds of Schran and Marcia McIntosh, another McGuffey math teacher, when they decided to incorporate the use of KenKens and other puzzles into their curriculum.

“When the kids see that math is about solving a puzzle rather than just a set of problems, a big switch occurs,” McIntosh said. “They suddenly think math is fun.”

The two also like to have their students solve Numberix puzzles, which are published in Parade magazine each week and are created by Marilyn vos Savant, famous for her genius IQ.

Madison Fantelli, a McGuffey third-grader, likes the puzzles. “They’re very tricky and they make my brain work,” she said, adding: “Sometimes when I’m at home and I figure one out, my mom will say ‘Wow, how did you do that?’”

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