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Finding My Mathematical Muse

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When I was in fourth grade, I ordered a copy of Martin Gardner’s Perplexing Puzzles and Tantalizing Teasers through my school’s book order program. I remember reading the book many times—memorizing the puzzles and their solutions and sharing them with my friends and family (who were probably much less enthusiastic about my discovery than I was). Two years later, I received my first copy of what was a new periodical, Games Magazine. Since then, I have been hooked.

These publications tapped into an interest that had already begun for me. I created word searches and mazes starting in third grade. I had teachers who cultivated my interests—including letting me create more puzzles for my classmates or designing a game as part of a school project. But then my world was opened up to other puzzle types. And as much as I enjoyed crossword puzzles, acrostics, and other language-dependent puzzles, it was the occasional logic puzzle that really caught my interest. And as Sudoku (originally appearing as Number Place) and other language-independent logic puzzles slowly made their way into Games and Games World of Puzzles, I was struck by how these puzzles spoke to me.

I loved the mathematical structure that lay beneath the surface of these puzzles. I was intrigued by their uniqueness and the creativity behind their creation. When Gardner’s books introduced me to the field of recreational mathematics, I discovered that I had a language for talking about why mathematics was my favorite subject in school.

But as a teacher, I learned that not all students have the same enthusiasm for puzzles that I have. When I shared puzzles with my middle school students, reactions were mixed. I was reminded that students are truly individuals—that each person has different interests and triggers that get him or her excited about learning. And I learned that part of my job as a teacher is to help students find what it is that ignites that spark.

So I thought it would be fitting to end with a puzzle that I have created for this blog entry. It is a Sudoku puzzle that uses the letters in the phrase “MODERN FIT.” When the puzzle is completed, two words appear in the shaded diagonals, each of which completes the phrase “A teacher is a ___________.”


 Sodoku Puzzle: A Teacher is a _________ 

Jeffrey WankoJeffrey J. Wanko teaches mathematics methods courses at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. He is interested in the development of students’ logical reasoning skills using puzzles.


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