Elspeth’s Idea

A Lower Elementary Share from Mrs. Anna Schwind:

A few weeks ago, I needed to offer the children a chance to do some critical thinking, so I decided to show them how to solve sudoku puzzles.  Sudoku is a logic-based, combinatorial number-placement puzzle, which I greatly enjoy and knew many of the children would likely enjoy as well.

I found some easy 4 x 4 grid sudoku puzzles on the internet and started giving the lessons.  When I invited Elspeth, she commented that she already knew how to do these puzzles because she did them frequently with her father.  She asked, “Aren’t they supposed to have 9 x 9 grids?”

“Yes, yes, they are,” I admitted.  She completed and enjoyed the sudoku, even if she found it a bit simple.  I explained that for people who are not used to doing it, a smaller grid is helpful at first, and that I had some harder ones that I would put out in a few weeks.  A day or two later, she came up to me and asked, “Is sudoku a math work?”

“Ah,” I said, “what an interesting question.  I did put it over there on the math shelf, didn’t I?  And, it does have numbers…”

“So, it *is* a math work?”

“Let me ask you this.  Could we have a sudoku that didn’t use numbers?  Could it have letters?  Or shapes?  Or colors instead?”

She thought about it.

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“So then, is it a math work?”

She mulled this over.

“I think it’s logic,” she said.  I promise I did not give her that vocabulary- she already had it.

I smiled, “You certainly could say it was logic.”

There’s not actually a logic shelf in my classroom, so I put the work on the math shelf as math and logic are so closely interrelated.  Then again, in the Montessori classroom, *everything* is interrelated.

She walked away.

About twenty minutes later, she came back.

“Could I *make* a sudoku?  With something other than numbers?”

I double smiled, “Yes.  Yes, you can.”

Elspeth and I sat down together, and I gave her the first step of making a filled-in sudoku, which followed the rules for the puzzle with her choice of items.  Elspeth chose shapes.  She completed that.  Then I told her she had to make an empty sudoku with just a few clues taken from the first filled-in one she had just made.  She did that and returned to me.  Then, I told her to copy that one and solve it without using the original to see if it would be solvable for others.  She did that third step as well.  After that, it was a question of copying it, cutting it to size and putting it on the shelf.

Pretty soon students were asking me, “What’s that shape sudoku thing on the shelf? Can I have a lesson on that?”

I replied, “Oh, if you are interested in that, ask Elspeth.”  After two or three of these iterations, I wrote the above message on the board to simplify things.

Since then, Elspeth has made a letter sudoku with one friend and joined with two other friends to make a color sudoku.  They are very popular with the children, and many are now asking if they can make their own sudoku puzzles.  I send them to Elspeth to learn how.

To my mind, this is an example of where work can go if the children are given the ability to think about and create their own work.  It’s also where work can go if it doesn’t have to fit in a “subject” box.  Is it math?  Sure!  Is it logic?  Of course!  Is it art if I must draw the shapes that fit the puzzle when I make it?  Probably.  Is it a lesson on how to use the copier?  Absolutely.