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That is what a student asked while working on the intro activity today for my systems unit. Got it. Note to self: start more units with puzzles, kids like them.

So, I got the idea from Kathryn (her post here) who got the puzzles from Mimi (her post here). Here’s the direct link to the handouts Mimi so kindly shared in the comments section of her blog.

As I liked the order of the puzzles and the wording of the questions, I just used them as is. Here’s a completed example from today:

I just had to blog about this because it went so beautifully. First of all, that one kid who asked why we don’t always start with puzzles was not the only one excited about the activity. Most kids took to it right away, including some who normally groan at the sight of anything that might require them to think. Second, they really learned a lot by doing these puzzles. They not only noticed that finding the value of one shape allowed them to substitute into another row/column, but some also started to notice that by eliminating certain shapes from a pair of rows/columns, they could find the value of a shape.

One girl wasn’t getting it though. She had heard others describe this tactic of noticing the differences between columns/rows, but it wasn’t clicking. Enter the color discs!!

The best thing about using these here is that it forced the student to focus on two shapes at a time.

Anyway, so I asked her to build the first row and first column of this one:

And she did it like this:

I moved that one yellow disc a little bit as a hint, but still nothin. So then we moved them into two columns, like this:

Eureka!! That was it. The light bulb that went on above that girl’s head was so bright, you could see it for miles. The circle has to be this because that. So obvious to her now, she didn’t stop when the last puzzle gave her a bit of trouble. With her new puzzling skills, she persevered and nailed it.  I watched her math confidence go up right before my eyes, it was amazing. She is gonna do just fine with systems, and all it took was playing with some color discs (and a cleverly designed set of puzzles, thanks for that Mimi and Kathryn).