Sudoku is a number puzzle game that, on the surface, should be ideal for kids to practice their math skills. Yes and no. Although students manipulate numbers to solve the puzzle, they don’t have to add, subtract, multiply, or divide any of these numbers. So how does playing Sudoku help with math?
First, math is more than arithmetic skills. Many of the skills necessary to succeed in math go beyond arithmetic, and sometimes these skills aren’t practiced enough at school or home. Some of these skills are in use when playing Sudoku. Let’s take a look.
These are some of the skills that Sudoku can help with:
Sorting. The challenge of Sudoku is to arrange the numbers 1 through 9 across every row and column of the grid, along with those same numbers in smaller 3 x 3 grids within the larger grid. No number can appear more than once along any row, column, or 3 x 3 grid. While completing the puzzle, a student needs to sort, arrange, and rearrange these numbers. This requires a level of organization and concentration that has benefits beyond math.
Visualization. While new Sudoku players will write, erase, and rewrite numbers as they solve the puzzle, the more adept player can visualize an arrangement of numbers before writing anything down. Visualization is such an important skill in math. Whether it’s visualizing a geometric transformation or the next step in the solution of an equation, this skill, so underrated, will provide students with a great deal of confidence as they solve problems. Visualization is a higher-order thinking skill.
Problem Solving. A student who completes a Sudoku puzzle has solved a fairly intricate problem. The average Sudoku puzzle is far more complex than a typical word problem in arithmetic, algebra, or geometry. While students may not believe this, most word problems focus on specific skills. Deciphering the text to get at the math concept is the same process as solving a puzzle. In addition, Sudoku encourages students to use these math problem solving strategies: guess and test, look for a pattern, solve a simpler problem, and use logical reasoning. Use Sudoku to enhance these problem solving skills in a low-stakes way.
By far, the most important facet of playing Sudoku is that students will have fun with numbers. This goes a long way toward removing math anxiety, or keep it from ever taking hold. Developing a facility with numbers is a great stepping stone to working with abstract concepts like variables and equations.