Central Tendencies Puzzles

Central Tendency Puzzle templates for you to check out. I’d love to hear some feedback on these.

Data management is becoming an increasingly important topic as our students try to make sense of news, social media posts, advertisements… Especially as more and more of these sources aim to try to convince you to believe something (intentionally or not).

Part of our job as math teachers needs to include helping our students THINK as they are collecting / organizing / analyzing data. For example, when looking at data we want our students to:

  • Notice the writer’s choice of scale(s)
  • Notice the decisions made for categories
  • Notice which data is NOT included
  • Notice the shape of the data and spatial / proportional connections (twice as much/many)
  • Notice the choice of type of graph chosen
  • Notice irregularities in the data
  • Notice similarities among or between data
  • Consider ways to describe the data as a whole (i.e., central tendency) or the story it is telling over time (i.e., trends)

While each of these points are important, I’d like to offer a way we can help our students explore the last piece from above – central tendencies.

Central Tendency Puzzle Templates

To complete each puzzle, you will need to make decisions about where to start, which numbers are most likely and then adjust based on what makes sense or not. I’d love to have some feedback on the puzzles.

Linked here are the Central Tendencies Puzzles.

Questions to Reflect on:

  • How will your students be learning about central tendencies before doing these puzzles? What kinds of experience might lead up to these puzzles? (See A Few Simple Beliefs)
  • How might puzzles like these offer your students practice for the skills they have been learning? (See purposeful practice)
  • How might puzzles like this relate to playing Skyscraper puzzles?
  • What is the current balance of questions / problems in your class? Are your students spending more time calculating, or deciding on which calculations are important? What balance would you like?
  • How might these puzzles help you meet the varied needs within a mixed ability classroom?
  • If students start to understand how to solve one of these, would you consider asking your students to make up their own puzzles? (Ideas for making your own problems here).
  • How do these puzzles help your students build their mathematical intuitions? (See ideas here)
  • Would you want students to work alone, in pairs, in groups? Why?
  • Would you prefer all of your students doing the same puzzle / game / problem, or have many puzzles / games / problems to choose from? How might this change class conversations afterward?
  • How will you consolidate the learning afterward? (See Never Skip the Closing of the Lesson)
  • As the teacher, what will you be doing when students are playing? How might listening to student thinking help you learn more about your students? (See: Noticing and Wondering: A powerful tool for assessment)

I’d love to continue the conversation about these puzzles.  Leave a comment here or on Twitter @MarkChubb3


Whose problems? Whose game? Whose puzzle?

TRU Math (Teaching for Robust Understanding) a few years ago shared their thoughts about what makes for a “Powerful Classroom”. Here are their 5 dimensions:

Looking through the dimensions here, it is obvious that some of these dimensions are discussed in detail in professional development sessions and in teacher resources. However, the dimension of Agency, Authority and Identity is often overlooked – maybe because it is much more complicated to discuss. Take a look at what this includes:

This dimension helps us as teachers consider our students’ perspectives. How are they experiencing each day? We should be reflecting on:

  • Who has a voice? Who doesn’t?
  • How are ideas shared between and among students?
  • Who feels like they have contributed? Who doesn’t?
  • Who is actively contributing? Who isn’t?

Reflecting on our students’ experiences makes us better teachers! So, I’ve been wondering:

Who created today’s problem / game / puzzle?

For most students, math class follows the same pattern:

This pattern of a lesson leaves many students disinterested, because they are not actively involved in the learning – which might lead to typical comments like, “When will we ever need this?”. This lesson format is TEACHER centered because it centers the teachers’ ideas (the teacher provides the problem, the teacher helps students, the teacher tells you if you are correct). In this example, students’ mathematical identities are not fostered. There is NO agency afforded to students. Authority solely belongs to the teachers. But there are ways to make identity / agency / authority a focus!

STUDENT driven ideas

Today as a quick warm-up, I had students solve a little pentomino puzzle.  After they finished, I asked students to create their own puzzles that others will solve.  Here is one of the student created puzzles:

Here you can see a simple puzzle. The pieces are shown that you must use, and the board is included (with a hole in the middle). Now, as a class, we have a bank of puzzles we can attempt any day (as a warm-up or if work is finished).

You can read about WHY we would do puzzles like this in math class along with some examples (Spatial Reasoning).  

What’s more important here is for us to reflect on how we are involving our own students in the creation of problems, games and puzzles in our class.  This is a low-risk way to allow everyone in class do more than just participate, they are taking ownership in their learning, and building a community of learners that value learning WITH and FROM each other!

How to involve our students?

The example above shows us a simple way to engage our students, to expand what we consider mathematics and help our students form positive mathematical identities. However, there are lots of ways to do this:

  • Play a math game for a day or 2, then ask students to alter one or a few of the rules.
  • Have students submit questions you might want to consider for an assessment opportunity.
  • Have students look through a bank or questions / problems and ask which one(s) would be the most important ones to do.
  • Give students a sheet of many questions. Ask them to only do the 3 easiest, and the 3 hardest (then lead a discussion about what makes those ones the hardest).
  • Lead 3-part math lessons where students start by noticing / wondering.
  • Have students design their own SolveMe mobile puzzles, visual patterns, Which One Doesn’t Belong…

Questions to Reflect on:

  • Who is not contributing in your class, or doesn’t feel like they are a “math student”? Whose mathematical identities would you like to foster? How might something simple like this make a world of difference for those children?
  • Does it make a difference WHO develops the thinking?
  • Fostering student identities, paying attention to who has authority in your class and allowing students to take ownership is essential to build mathematicians. The feeling of belonging in this space is crucial. How are you paying attention to this? (See Matthew Effect)
  • How might these ideas help you meet the varied needs within a mixed ability classroom?
  • If you do have your students create their own puzzles, will you first offer a simplified version so your students get familiar with the pieces, or will you dive into having them make their own first?
  • Would you prefer all of your students doing the same puzzle / game / problem, or have many puzzles / games / problems to choose from? How might this change class conversations afterward?
  • As the teacher, what will you be doing when students are playing? How might listening to student thinking help you learn more about your students? (See: Noticing and Wondering: A powerful tool for assessment)

I’d love to continue the conversation about students’ identities in mathematics.  Leave a comment here or on Twitter @MarkChubb3

Skyscraper Puzzles – printable package

An area of mathematics I wish more students had opportunities to explore is spatial/visualization. There are many studies that show just how important spatial/visual reasoning is for mathematical success (I discuss in more depth here), but often, we as teachers aren’t sure where to turn to help our students develop spatial reasoning, or now to make the mathematics our students are learning more spatial.

One such activity I’ve suggested before is Skyscraper Puzzles. I’ve shared these puzzles before (Skyscraper Puzzles and Skyscraper Templates – for relational rods). With the help of my own children, I decided to make new templates. The package includes a page dedicated to explain how to solve the puzzles, as well as instructions on each page.

For details about how to solve a Skyscraper Puzzle, please click here

New Puzzles can be accessed here

*The above files are open to view / print. If you experience difficulties accessing, you might need to use a non-educational account as your school board might be restricting your access.

You’ll notice in the package above that some of the puzzles are missing information like the puzzle below:

Puzzles like these might include information within the puzzle. In the puzzle above, the 1 in the middle of the block refers to the height of that tower (a tower with a height of 1 goes where the 1 is placed).

You might also be interested in watching a few students discussing how to play:

A few thoughts about how you might use these:

As always, I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to write a response, or send me a message on Twitter ( @markchubb3 ).

Spatial Puzzles: Cuisenaire Cover-ups

Foundational to almost every aspect of mathematics is the idea that things can be broken down into pieces or units in a variety of ways, and then be recomposed again. For example, the number 10 can be thought of as 2 groups of 5, or 5 groups of 2, or a 7 and a 3, or two-and-one-half and seven-and-one-half…

Earlier this year I shared a post discussing how we might decompose and recompose numbers to do an operations (subtraction). But, I would like us to consider why some students are more comfortable decomposing and recomposing, and how we might be aiming to help our students early with experiences that might promote the kinds of thinking needed.

Doug Clements and Julie Sarama have looked at the relationship between students’ work with space and shapes with students understanding of numbers.

“The ability to describe, use, and visualize the effects of putting together and taking apart shapes is important because the creating, composing, and decomposing units and higher-order units are fundamental mathematics. Further, there is transfer: Composition of shapes supports children’s ability to compose and decompose numbers”

Contemporary Perspectives on Mathematics in Early Childhood Education p.82, Clements and Sarama

The connection between composing and decomposing shapes and numbers is quite exciting to me. However, I am also very interested in the meeting place between Spatial tasks (composing/decomposing shapes) and Number tasks that involve composing and decomposing.

A few years ago I found a neat little puzzle in a resource called The Super Source called “Cover the Giraffe”. The idea was to cover an image of a giraffe outline using exactly 1 of each size of cuisenaire rods. The task, simple enough, was actually quite difficult for students (and even for us as adults). After using the puzzle with a few different classes, I decided to make a few of my own.

After watching a few classrooms of students complete these puzzles, I noticed an interesting intersection between spatial reasoning, and algebraic reasoning happening…. First, let me share the puzzles with you:


To complete a Cuisenaire Cover-Up puzzle, you need exactly 1 of each colour cuisenaire rod. Use each colour rod once each to completely fill in the image.

Below are the 5 puzzles:

Assessment Opportunities

Knowing what to look for, helps us know how to interact with our students.

  • Which block are students placing first? The largest blocks or the smallest?
  • Which students are using spatial cues (placing rods to see which fits) and which students are using numerical cues (counting units on the grid)? How might we help students who are only using one of these cueing systems without over-scaffolding or showing how WE would complete the puzzle?
  • How do our students react when confronted with a challenging puzzle?
  • Who is able to swap out 1 rod for 2 rods of equivalent length (1 orange rod is the same length as a brown and red rod together)?
  • Which of the following strands of proficiency might you be noting as you observe students:
Adding It Up, 2001

Questions to Reflect on:

  • Why might you use a task like this? What would be your goal?
  • How will you interact with students who struggle to get started, or struggle to move passed a specific hurdle?
  • How might these puzzles relate to algebraic reasoning? (try to complete one with this question in mind)
  • How are you making the connections between spatial reasoning and algebraic reasoning clear for your students to see? How can these puzzles help?
  • How might puzzles allow different students to be successful in your class?

I’d love to continue the conversation about how we can use these puzzles to further our students’ spatial/algebraic reasoning.  Leave a comment here or on Twitter @MarkChubb3

If interested in these puzzles, you might be interested in trying:

Skyscraper Templates – for Relational Rods

Many math educators have come to realize how important it is for students to play in math class. Whether for finding patterns, building curiosity, experiencing math as a beautiful endeavour, or as a source of meaningful practice… games and puzzles are excellent ways for your students to experience mathematics.

Last year I published a number of templates to play a game/puzzle called Skyscrapers (see here for templates) that involved towers of connected cubes. This year, I decided to make an adjustment to this game by changing the manipulative to Relational Rods (Cuisenaire Rods) because I wanted to make sure that more students are becoming more familiar with them.

Skyscraper puzzles are a great way to help our students think about perspective while thinking strategically through each puzzle.  Plus, since they require us to consider a variety of vantage points of a small city block, the puzzles can be used to help our students develop their Spatial Reasoning!

How to play a 4 by 4 Skyscraper Puzzle:

  • Build towers in each of the squares provided sized 1 through 4 tall
  • Each row has skyscrapers of different heights (1 through 4), no duplicate sizes
  • Each column has skyscrapers of different heights (1 through 4), no duplicate sizes
  • The rules on the outside (in grey) tell you how many skyscrapers you can see from that direction
  • The rules on the inside tell you which colour rod to use (W=White, R=Red, G=Green, P=Purple, Y=Yellow)
  • Taller skyscrapers block your view of shorter ones

Below is an overhead shot of a completed 4 by 4 city block.  To help illustrate the different sizes. As you can see, since each relational rod is coloured based on its size, we can tell the sizes quite easily.  Notice that each row has exactly 1 of each size, and that each column has one of each size as well.

To understand how to complete each puzzle, take a look at each view so we can see how to arrange the rods:

If you are new to completing one of these puzzles, please take a look here for clearer instructions: Skyscraper Puzzles

Relational Rod Templates

Here are some templates for you to try these puzzles yourself and with your students:

4 x 4 Skyscraper Puzzles – for Relational Rods

5 x 5 Skyscraper Puzzles – for Relational Rods

A few thoughts about using these:

A belief I have: Teaching mathematics is much more than providing neat things for our students, it involves countless decisions on our part about how to effectively make the best use of the problem / activity.  Hopefully, this post has helped you consider your own decision making processes!

I’d love to hear how you and/or your students do!

Zukei Puzzles

A little more than a year ago now, Sarah Carter shared a set of Japanese puzzles called Zukei Puzzles (see her original post here or access her puzzles here).  After having students try out the original package of 42 puzzles, and being really engaged in conversations about terms, definitions and properties of each of these shapes, I wanted to try to find more.  Having students ask, “what’s a trapezoid again?” (moving beyond the understanding of the traditional red pattern block to a more robust understanding of a trapezoid) or debate about whether a rectangle is a parallelogram and whether a parallelogram is a rectangle is a great way to experience Geometry.  However, after an exhaustive search on the internet resulting in no new puzzles, I decided to create my own samples.


Take a look at the following 3 links for your own copies of Zukie puzzles:

Copy of Sarah’s translated Zukei puzzles
Extension puzzles #1
Extension puzzles #2
Advanced Zukei Puzzles #3

I’d be happy to create more of these, but first I’d like to know what definitions might need more exploring with your students.  Any ideas would be greatly appreciated!

How to complete a Zukei puzzle:

Each puzzle is made up of several dots.  Some of these dots will be used as verticies of the shape named above the puzzle.  For example, the image below shows a trapezoid made of 4 of the dots.  The remaining dots are inconsequential to the puzzle, essentially they are used as distractors.


If you enjoyed these puzzles, I recommend taking a look at Skyscraper puzzles for you to try as well.