• Alex Box

Maths without words puzzles - provoking thought and fun

Updated: Jun 5

Meeting James - the creator of Maths Without Words


It was the Maths Association of Victoria conference 2020 where I met James Tanton.


Well, I didn't meet him exactly - but he has such a vibrant and dynamic manner of presenting which really feels like we're having a conversation.


If you'd like a quick dose of James Tanton energy, check out this fun and mindblowing (!) clip where he talks about dots and beautiful math. -->


Anyhoo - soon after the conference, I found some of James' Maths Without Words puzzles. I'd been dabbling in instructionless tasks as an idea, to get kids thinking, reasoning and becoming more independent. So finding these aptly and succinctly labelled tasks had me kinda excited to say the least. Or should I say speechless...😉



What are Maths Without Words puzzles?


Maths Without Words are a unique bunch of visual maths puzzles that pack a rich punch.


Before responding to the puzzle itself, puzzlers have the job of figuring out what the puzzle is. This requires putting a bunch of verbs into action like noticing, questioning, sense-making, conjecturing...mathematical 'doing' that I'm trying to bring more of into everyday practice.


Maths Without Words puzzles provide a mathematical visual to think about, and respond to.


Essentially there are two significant steps: Step 1: Work out...What is the puzzle? Step 2: Respond...What’s your response to the puzzle?

When first playing around with these, for step 2 I was asking... What's your solution to the puzzle? Then when I saw James' use of response in the tweet above, it stood out as inviting even more than solutions; making the discussion more inclusive and process-driven.


Here's another: What's the puzzle? What's your response to the puzzle?

Featured at facebook.com/MathsTeacherCircles and https://twitter.com/MathsCirclesOz

And another - Cannonballs! What's the puzzle? What's your response to the puzzle?

Featured at facebook.com/MathsTeacherCircles and https://twitter.com/MathsCirclesOz

Incorporating Notice & Wonder


I'm an avid Notice & Wonder fan and see it as a potential value-add to support sense-making Maths Without Words puzzles.


1. What do you notice?


What do you wonder?









Did you have something similar or different to Michaela?

So...given that: What's the puzzle? What's your response to the puzzle?


Maths Without Words is still a relatively new activity for me. I know there'll be more to discover and continue to make sense of. If you have thoughts, experiences or ideas to share on these beauties, please let me know! :)

If you'd like more tried and tested task ideas to engage all students in maths, and would like to meet and learn with James Tanton, consider joining us at the next online Maths Teacher Circle on Thur 15th April, 2021. Learn more and secure your spot here.


To have the latest Maths Teacher Circles tasks, tools and tips delivered straight to your inbox, join the Maths Teacher Circles community.







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