I write content and conduct workshops for an education firm and also in schools where I try to make them realise how beautifully mathematics and rational thinking complement each other (on elementary level at least). For instance I team them up and design setups where they solve problems like

How many pluses we should put between the digits of $987,654,321$ to get a total of $99$ and where?


How to place numbers from $1$ to $9$ such along sides of a triangle such that sum of numbers along each side of triangle is $20$

Students enjoy these problems and teachers appreciate this idea. But I cannot convince parents about how solving such problems can be useful for students in their academics because at the end all that matters for them is their child perform good in their academics.

My question is how can I convince parents who do not know much mathematics and logic but are conscious about their child's academic that such mathematical puzzles will enhance academic performance of their children and is not a waste of time.

I hope I made myself clear. Also, I do not know suitable tag for this question so if you know some please add them to question.

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    $\begingroup$ Why do you use such questions? I assume you know why they are helpful, because you use them, unless you don't know why, or if they are helpful? I would assume you can justify your use of them, if you use them? If you can't justify why you do use them, then perhaps your question should be: "Do mathematical puzzles/games help students in their academics, too?" My point is, employ what is pedagogically sound, and which you you can justify using. Don't employ or use gut feelings, if you haven't a clue as to how you can justify their use. $\endgroup$
    – amWhy
    Dec 25 '19 at 20:50
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    $\begingroup$ @Namaste I think they are helpful because I have been solving them since my childhood and as I solve more I realize I become a better problem solver. It's not just my experience my friends my teachers all agree on same thing but when it comes to making someone else realise it's importance everyone of us fail. $\endgroup$ Dec 26 '19 at 8:36
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    $\begingroup$ I intend to answer this question soon. I also have trouble spelling this out sometimes. Short answer: Math is about thinking, and puzzles are about thinking. Students often think math is about following procedures, because that is what is taught in lessons. $\endgroup$
    – Sue VanHattum
    Dec 27 '19 at 17:24
  • $\begingroup$ The proof of the pudding is in the eating. What will convince parents who are also paying customers is that their children do indeed learn more and better and that this improvement is manifest according to the traditional measure of academic performance, namely classroom grades. What a mathematician or a mathematics teacher judges as increased understanding is likely to matter little to such parents. $\endgroup$
    – Dan Fox
    Dec 29 '19 at 9:07

Oh this is subtle and tough, in my opinion. It seems to me (and forgive the appalling over-generalizations I am about to present) ...

  1. In some vague but emotionally potent sense, math is seen as vital for "success" in life. Many parents fear that without a solid math experience, their children will be denied a vital opportunity. (Good for them for feeling that math is important!)

  2. Many people across the globe equate math with computation, and thus success in math is perhaps innately defined as "getting answers to many computation questions, with speed, being correct essentially the first time each tried."

  3. Assessments dictate classroom culture and practice. As much as we say we value "grit" and "growth" and "play with ideas" and "agility of thought", etc., if, in the end, assessment only assesses timed test taking, then that only reinforces the image and practice of point 2. Parents may see that "unusual" activity as worthwhile, but the YES BUTs that follow are right on point given this context.

  4. The counter YES BUT argument educators might offer: "But do you really expect a store clerk to get out pencil and paper and do the long subtraction algorithm the traditional school curriculum emphasizes to compute 10.00 - 8.37 when making change for a $8.37 item from a ten dollar bill, or do you want him/her be able to think through it?" is irrelevant. Emotions are potent. Yes, in the 21st-century we need to be teaching thinking and process and agility and flexibility of thought, just as puzzles do -- and not teach algorithms just as rote algorithms. (Nothing against teaching algorithms with thinking.) A clever citizen of this century, if really truly needing the answer 376 x 97, say, would just pull out her/his smartphone and ask Siri. (And perhaps have a sense if the answer seems about right.) We educators know the ultimate goal of math education, these days in particular, is not about getting answers to computation problems, actually.

  5. But emotions of fear and change are potent, and "different" is scary and dangerous - especially when it comes to opportunity in life for my child.

My only approach to answering your question is essentially going through the five points I just outlined; gently, of course, acknowledging and genuinely honouring the honest human emotion and process.


Well, at first, it is very useful for a parent to be transparent as far as the goals of your teaching methods are concerned. You should not just teach something because it once has worked for someone - whether that someone is you or some of your students etc. Deciding to introduce an activity in a class is a result of some considerations made about this specific class and, as a result, you need to make that clear to the parents.

Apart from that, using personal examples may also help them see the problem from your viewpoint. But, do not be too specific. If all your examples are of the form "I remember that this has/had helped me there" then you seem like you draw all you techniques from your personal experience, which is not always considered to be a good practice. Instead, try to find examples beyond your current ones and integrate them to your teaching routine.

In general, being confident and sure about your methods, as well as well informed about them and aware of the reasons you use them is the best way to convince a parent about your suitability as a mathematics instuctor. It is not the theoretical background you have, but the sense of confidence you create to them.


A spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down. Children (and adults!) are not silicon robotic philosophical drill machines. We are organic, social animals. Engaging our sense of play helps us engage with topics. (I speculate that there is something instinctive related to our hunter gatherer origins and our social collaboration/mating behavior that makes us this way. We also have emotions...and stuff.)

I like the Boris answer with the comment of looking to more than just yourself as an example (although it is still one to start with). You could also add the example of Richard Feynman, looking with huge fondness at his high school algebra team, well after being a Nobel Prize winner. And also having a love of riddles and safe cracking and Mayan hieroglyphs and the like. It's still an appeal to authority, but at least a second one, and one that seems to click with many, many people.


It also seems like a pattern that some of the creative mathematicians and physicists and the like seem to have been interested in games and puzzles and contests. Look at John Nash inventing Hex.


  • $\begingroup$ Agree. Too many people apply the if-then phraseology of mathematics to people. We aren't robots. $\endgroup$
    – Karl
    Dec 26 '19 at 21:44

OP: "such mathematical puzzles will enhance academic performance"

Such puzzles will. But to my mind, what is more important is fostering an aesthetic sense, an appreciation of the beauty of mathematics, and of understanding something beautifully intricate. Concerning beauty, Bertrand Russell famously said,

"Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty—a beauty cold and austere..."

Concerning understanding, William Thurston said:

"Mathematics is not about numbers, equations, computations, or algorithms: it is about understanding."

So, in reply to the OP's question,

OP: "how can I convince parents ...?"

I would suggest: Emphasize appreciation of (a) beauty, and of (b) understanding, rather than an instrumental focus on academic performance.

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    $\begingroup$ And, before Thurston, Richard Hamming said "The purpose of computing is insight, not numbers." $\endgroup$ Jan 4 '20 at 20:22

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