Friday, May 13, 2016

Tarsia Puzzles

I love word problems and multi-step problems, and I have been focusing most of my effort on these higher-level questions that students need to pass the Algebra FSA. But every once in a while, you need some good, old-fashion practice. My absolute favorite way to accomplish this is with a Tarsia Puzzle. And once they figure out how to put them together, the students love them too. I have lots to check out in my TpT store, including a free one to practice Pythagorean Theorem!



One of my favorite things about this type of practice is the self-checking aspect. If students make a mistake, I don't want them to continue - I want them to stop and fix their mistake. If they continue to practice incorrectly, their misconception will be more difficult to correct. Students know right away if they don't find a puzzle piece with their answer, they have made a mistake or maybe someone else made a mistake and has their answer piece, which leads to my next favorite part of these puzzles.
This student noticed his mistake when he tried to solve another problem and his answer is already matched -
leading to great discussion of what the coefficient in front means. 


This activity forces students to work together. They have to develop a team-work strategy to get the puzzle correctly assembled. They also have to check in with one another when they do not agree one the correct answer or when someone already has the puzzle piece that they need. This aligns perfectly with Mathematical Practice 3: "Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others." They also have to work together on a strategy for actually putting the puzzle together to make the shape. I hear some great conversations when students are working together on these assignments - conversations I never heard when students practiced with worksheets. Kinesthetic learners especially benefit from this tactile learning activity.


Some tips for using these puzzles in your classroom:

  • Store the pieces in plastic bags. I originally used envelopes, but they fit so much nicer into sandwich size bags. When I am finished with the lesson, I put the answer key, table and all the bags in a page protector to store for next year. 
  • Print on colored paper. I have used some of these puzzles for three years now and they hold up just fine on regular paper, there is no need to splurge on cardstock.
  • Print the table and solution picture. When students need help, it is much easier to find the correct problem and solution on the table than on the solution picture.
  • Use a piece of showerboard in the middle of the desks so that students have a common flat surface to work together.
  • I also like to show a copy of the outline of a finished puzzle as they work, so they can strategize. 
I hope your students enjoy this fun way to practice math!

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