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By Robin Marks, 2008.
Robin started his education career teaching Junior High and has now been teaching High School Math since 1991. He's also been a Cloud Kingdom Riddle and Game designer since 1988.
When did you start using riddles in the classroom?
It was in 1999 when Lair of the Sphinx came out. With 36 weeks in a school year, it made for an easy way to just pull out one a week to put on the board. Now that we have four different riddle books, finding the right mix of riddles is much easier.
Are you just putting it up on the white board?
Actually I have a bulletin board that I put them up on. I print riddles out on the computer in about 4" letters. On one side of the board I have this week's riddle and on the other side I have the riddle from last week together with its answer.
How do the kids like it?
They have a great time with it. I never use it as an assignment nor as extra credit (I don't give ANY extra credit). Once the kids get past the "what do I get for solving it" phase, they realize it's just for fun. About a quarter of the class are actively interested in the riddle each week.
Sometimes it does take a while to catch on. What's often fun is to see one of the kinds that hasn't really been trying to solve the riddles suddenly get one. They get very excited about it.
Does it ever interfere with the class?
Not really. When some of the kids come in on Monday, the first thing they do is write the riddle down so they can mull it over, but then we just get going.
Are these only for your Honors classes?
Definitely not. It's true that in general the Honors kids are more interested in it, it really doesn't exclude the others. The Honors kids tend to have more curiosity; they need to understand how everything fits together so they are naturally drawn to the riddles. For some of the other kids, they might need a hint or two to get them on track, but they can still solve and enjoy the riddles.
What about ESL kids?
Lots of the riddles have English idioms in them, so they're even more challenging for ESL (English as a Second Language) students. But - this is a great way to help them with that. The riddles are not for credit, so they're completely non-threatening. There's no anxiety about having to solve the riddle.
What kind of riddles do the kids like the best?
They like the riddles that are tough to solve, but when you do solve it there's this big "Aha!" feeling. The Deck of Card and the Dice riddles from Lair of the Sphinx are both good for this. They also like the clever word tricks we have in some of the riddles. For example there's one riddle that starts with: "Though not a kite, it needs a wind" but then the next line ends in "mind". When you first read it, you think that "wind" rhymes with "sinned" - but then the next line tells you something funny is going on. The kids really like that kind of word trick, where something incongruous shows up.
Any final comments?
Math isn't - or at least shouldn't be - just about completing your assignments. It should be about understanding the material and purpose of the math. Once you get past the basics, the importance of problem solving increases. You need to start thinking: what are my resources and tools and what needs to be done.
The same thing holds with a riddle. You look at the riddle to try to see what sort of answer it's looking for. You dissect it to see where the real clues are. You then try various answers that seem to fit in order to solve it. So although the riddles themselves aren't specifically oriented towards math, they are an excellent and non-threatening way to help the kids do well in math or in any other field of study.