Regular readers of this blog will know what a big fan I am of Tarsia puzzles. If you don’t know what Tarsia puzzles are just visit this page on Craig Barton’s blog for a full explanation of how to get the free software and lots of pre-made puzzles to download.

Until recently I had just used Tarsia puzzles as an individual or paired activity. I saw the option of printing the puzzle much larger (one piece per sheet of A4) and decided to give the one large puzzle to the class to solve collaboratively. The result was the following:

This puzzle, about multiplying and dividing by 10, 100 and 1000 was completed by a bottom set year 8 class with about 10 pupils there that day. I gave them a mini-whiteboard each to do their workings on and did not allow them use of a calculator. Pupils were reasonably proficient at this skill entering the lesson having spent two lessons using my kinaesthetic resource for this topic. This was the first time they had done it without the manipulatives as aids however.

What was most pleasing about the wonderful achievement of this class during this lesson was the engagement of the pupils. They were all committed to completing the puzzle and there were lots of wonderful discussions about the concepts of this digits moving left or right. At times some pupils were teaching each other. The teamwork the class showed was superb and I congratulated them on this aspect, just as much as their mathematical achievement.

I would thoroughly recommend using whole-class Tarsia puzzles as an activity to engage pupils. It promotes discussion of concepts, reasoning and a work ethic where everyone is pulling towards a common goal. If you have a large class you might like to divide it into two and give each half a puzzle and get them competing to see which team can correctly finish it first.