Math Puzzles

Novel ways of presenting Math to be future-ready

Steve Sherman
While outdated education limits the opportunities for Gen Z learners, evolved Math practices can transform the scenario
• Focus needs to be put into problem solving, creativity and critical thinking
• Coding and Entrepreneurship with the aim of boosting the student’s skills sets to match the needs of the future workforce

There is an image that is circulating in social media that teachers who are born in the 20th century, presenting a curriculum developed in the18th century to students that are living in the 21st century. The big question that is on everyone’s lips: Is today’s education adequately preparing youth for the ever-changing world around them? Is the national curriculum of your respective country keeping up to date with the ever-changing world around us?

The 4th Industrial revolution is not coming soon, it has arrived! Some examples to ponder: banks are closing many branches as most of the services that clients require can be done via a cellphone app. Students are now able to study at some of the world’s top universities via the internet. TV and music is now instantly accessible by streaming services. Cars are driving themselves. Doctors are performing operations from remote venues while using robots to assist. We can now 3D print organs! I could site hundreds of more examples. So what skills will we need when we leave school?

According to the World economic forum, “The Future of Jobs” top 10 skills in demand for 2020. Here is their list.

  1.  Complex problem solving
  2.  Critical thinking
  3.  Creativity
  4.  People management
  5.  Co-ordinating with others
  6.  Emotional intelligence

It helps students…

  • Reflect on their own understanding
  • Make sense of and critique others’ ideas
  • Link prior knowledge to current understanding
  • Deepen and extend conceptual knowledge
  • Build mathematical confidence
  • Stay engaged, focused, and motivated

It helps teachers…

  • Evaluate what students understand and their misconceptions
  • Be aware of gaps in students’ knowledge
  • Guide students to discuss concepts more precisely
  • Monitor math language development
  1.  Judgment and decision making
  2.  Service orientation
  3.  Negotiation
  4.  Cognitive flexibility

Now we need to ask ourselves honestly, does our current school curriculum and teaching methodologies address these skills? Maths is an essential tool that will help students gain the top three skills – but not if it is only taught the current way!

More focus needs to be put into problem solving, creativity and critical thinking – as opposed to repetitive exercises. The third skill of creativity is so overlooked. At a pre-primary level we used to finger paint and bring home artwork. Our refrigerators at home were our art galleries.

As we progress towards the higher grades, the focus shifts to the more academic subjects with the end goal being university. Creative endeavours are not given the time they deserve. We need to fuse the arts and creativity into the maths curriculum. I believe this is what many countries are grappling with. Some have taken bolder steps than others while many are adopting a watch and wait approach.

There is need to allow maths to cross-pollinate with other disciplines. In forward thinking classrooms, global collaboration is a powerful tool. Through these interactions, students get to connect with their peers all over the world.

They learn to communicate, solve problems, collaborate, share, grow and these skills help to make learning more engaging. Some countries, including my own, are introducing new compulsory subjects like Coding and Entrepreneurship with the aim of boosting the student’s skills sets to match the needs of the future workforce.

Some countries are introducing new compulsory subjects like Coding and Entrepreneurship with the aim of boosting the student’s skill sets to match the needs of the future workforce

Some parents are already shaking their heads. With a smile on their faces they question the need for all these changes. They often think “we went through the old system of maths and we turned out ok”. Your point would be valid if your kids were growing up in an analogue world. Their experience of youth is very different in a digital age.

As an NGO, we have been in operation for 25 years. We have been teaching problem solving, critical thinking skills and creativity. We have always felt that these are the necessary tools to empower the youth for tomorrow. With problem solving skills, they will be able to adapt to a wide range of situations. They begin to build resilience and independence.

I would encourage your child to spend time trying to solve brainteasers and puzzles. They should be rewarded for participating in “recreational maths” and maths competitions. As they engage in maths which is challenging but not for marks, they will become more adventurous. These are the best conditions to help a learner grow their problem solving proficiency. Some teachers might ask how we can make maths more applicable and more relatable.

Here are just a few novel ideas to present maths:

1. Have schools from around the world complete a survey to list what they pay for items that can be found in all the countries (eg. Can of Coke, Big Mac meal, etc.) and once you list all the amounts on a spreadsheet, then you can convert the amounts to your own currency. Which country would appear to be cheaper? This would involve global collaboration, problems solving and real life applications

2. When a nearby location is renovating or building, get the students on board to help with the design options and the costs associated with the designs. This allows them to see real life application of the maths and feel like they have played an important role in the completion of the building, especially if it is a local shelter, school, community venue, etc.

How Do You Nurture a Discourse-Rich Classroom?

  • Students and teachers acknowledge and discuss errors and the reasons behind them, in addition to correct answers and strategies.
  • Students questions each other and explain their reasoning using mathematical language.
  • Students reach and justify conclusions based on their own mathematical knowledge, without relying on the authority of teachers.
  • Students engage in productive schedule with appropriate scaffolds for support.

3. Find a problem in your local community: Traffic congestion, flooding in specific areas, air pollution, water shortages, etc and then make it your mission to encourage your learners to find innovative solutions to help their local community. Why stop there? Look at problems in countries around the world. Collaborate with your peers to find solutions.

4. Give learners an hour or two each week to work on a personal passion project. Something that is not for marks but the learner gets to work on something that makes them excited. Encourage passion projects that need to solve a problem – Eg: Building an app to help seniors or designing and 3D printing prosthesis for an amputee.

Learners need to engage with maths coupled with a purpose. This will give them a greater appreciation while boosting their problem solving abilities, encourage critical thinking skills and allow them to explore their creativity Make use of the many digital tools that are available to assist with research, collaboration, presentation and assessment. Good Luck!

Check this


What mathematical symbol can be placed between 5 and 9, to get a number greater than 5 and smaller than 9?


Can you arrange 9 numerals – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 – (using each numeral just once) above and below a division line, to create a fraction equalling to 1/3 (one third)?


Junior: decimal point – 5.9

Senior: 5832/17496 = 1/3

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