Jerry Martin: A powerful universal teaching tool |

Jerry Martin: A powerful universal teaching tool

In many places in the world Sudoku is popular, but not here.

I guess that only 10 percent of Californians comprehend Sudoku enough to finish a beginner’s puzzle. I hope to persuade educators to recognize the powers of this very affordable and potentially popular training tool, though it’s ignored now.

Sudoku appeals to both genders equally. Our past children’s Team Sudoku tournament attracted 71 boys and girls on 20 teams, most of which were comprised of a mix of both genders. A team of two girls and a boy won first place. A team of four boys placed second. And third went to another team of two girls and a boy. Both genders are equal in ability, a rarity among humanity’s many activities.

Sudoku attracts almost all age groups. Six year olds can do it and I’ve heard of a 92-year-old woman who does two puzzles every day. And of course all ages between 6 and 92 (or older) do puzzles regularly.

We need to learn and acknowledge that Sudoku skills are necessary for success in all STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) subjects, making it applicable in a huge range of human activities.

Sudoku is not dependent on any particular language. It is available and doable in any language. This is particularly advantageous in our multi-cultural California society. A team speaking different languages could do well solving a Sudoku puzzle together.

Unlike many puzzles, such as crosswords, you don’t need to know facts or trivia to do Sudoku. It’s all logic and critical thinking. There is no math involved. If you can count to 9 you can do Sudoku. It teaches how to think, not what to think. Consequently, Sudoku is applicable to all STEAM subjects.

We live in very politically decisive times, with Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, unable to agree on anything. But Sudoku is beyond this division. Neither party disapproves; both factions agree that rational thinking is admirable and worth pursuing.

Sudoku is immune from any differences that favor any religion or race. There’s nothing in Sudoku that violates any religious dictate or that any race would find advantageous or the opposite. This makes Sudoku more universal.

Sudoku is very cheap and available to everyone. For $10 anyone can buy a book of 300 puzzles of all difficulties, and by making copies from the book you can stretch its usefulness to many years. It’s possible to get Sudoku on your cell phone or iPad, but you don’t need them. It’s always available in paper form in most newspapers, so it can be folded and carried to wherever is convenient. And working on a puzzle can happen over many days. It never gets stale.

Generally, competition is good for humanity, inspiring us humans to improve in performance over many years of contests. We always try harder when keeping score. Almost all competitions pit humans against each other, either one against one (chess, checkers, tennis, boxing, some card games, etc.) or teams against teams (baseball, basketball, football, bridge, etc.). After a match there’s always one winner and one loser, in equal amounts.

But Sudoku is different. It’s one or more humans against a non-human opponent, a puzzle. So either all humans win or all humans lose, if they fail to correctly complete the puzzle. This changes the nature of the competition, removing the pain of loss. Loosing to a kid sister or young offspring or friend can be embarrassing and even humiliating to many people. But loosing to a puzzle is easy. We just discard it and try again.

Sudoku can be done alone, and usually is, but a new development, originating here in Nevada County, Team Sudoku, proves that it can also be done in small teams of three or four people, working cooperatively together against a common opponent, the puzzle. But when many teams gather in a tournament, competing against each other to finish one or two puzzles most quickly, only then does Team Sudoku fit the form of other competitions, with humans against other humans.

It’s rare for young boys and girls to work together. Usually their different interests and proclivities, along with established cultural mores, create separate activities. In most events, girls compete against girls, boys compete against boys. But Team Sudoku brings them together, teaching them the commonalities and capacities for the two genders to cooperate to achieve a mutual goal. This is good practice for future relations, early training of elementary students to produce better understandings and appreciations. They learn early to understand and work with the opposite sex.

In these fractured times it seems that humans frequently disagree and argue in extended confrontations on many subjects. But Team Sudoku brings us together, with team members working cooperatively to solve a common problem. Every decision is either right or wrong, and easily proved, so disagreements are quickly settled without subjective feelings.

From natural disasters, to pandemic diseases, to attacks by aliens or zombies, we humans do best when we come together in common opposition. Sudoku is ideal for training children to learn these collaborative skills against a mutual conundrum. Working together helps develop peaceful problem-solving, and encourages children to work cooperatively, effectively.

When we humans wake up to its value, teaching us how to think most effectively, Sudoku and Team Sudoku will be incorporated into our educational system as much as spelling or music or running or throwing a ball or solving equations or knowing the three branches of our government.

We need to learn and acknowledge that Sudoku skills are necessary for success in all STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) subjects, making it applicable in a huge range of human activities. Learning how to think, while avoiding unnecessary mental errors, is applicable to all subjects, useful in almost everything we accomplish throughout life.

And solving, shoulder to shoulder, trains children the joy of teamwork and its belonging and friendship.

Jerry Martin is president of the Nevada County Sudoku Society. He lives in Grass Valley.

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