4th and 5th graders have a tradition in math every spring. After spring break, when spring fever is high, it can be difficult to keep students engaged, learning and having fun. So, just to change their routines, I give them the “Izzi Puzzle Challenge.” The puzzle consists of 64 square tiles, each with a different black/white pattern. The only rule is that the edges of each touching tile must match – black touches black and white touches white. They must use all 64 tiles and make an 8 by 8 square. There are many solutions. In order to solve the puzzle, each class must work together to find the solution. If they correctly solve the puzzle, they earn Izzes for the class (sparkling fruit juice). It’s perfect: Izzes for Izzi!

The work involved is two-fold: solving the puzzle itself and figuring out how to work with a group. Students learn from each other. Any problem may have various parts, so students with different learning styles may all experience success contributing to a group solution. Math may also seem like a solitary subject as they are often expected to work independently. Some students prefer working alone and at their own pace; others love the interaction that working with a group offers. Students in 4th and 5th grade experience both. The Izzi puzzle requires visual thinking, spatial relationships, effective communication skills, problem solving skills, as well as persistence. What do they do when they’ve matched all but 3 remaining tiles and these 3 tiles don’t fit anywhere? Exchange tiles, start over, give up? Do they encourage and support each other? Each class is given a week to solve the puzzle and then it moves to the next class.

Adults know that learning the subject matter is important, but that it is not the only skill needed to succeed in the real world. When I can help students not only understand the problem, but also how to be a kind, involved and helpful team member, I have done my job.

-Kitty