A puzzle in the making

When designing our media space, I really wanted to have a place where people could come together and work on a shared project. A place where they saw that each contributor was part of a bigger picture. A place to talk. A place to feel safe. A place to escape. A place to decompress. So, if you happen into our Workshop of Wonder,  you'll be greeted with a puzzle table. Yup. A jigsaw puzzle.

Our collaborative puzzle table often will have a group of students huddled together, trying to figure out what goes where. What's the best part? Listening to their conversations:

S1: Could I have the light green pieces?
S2: Could I have the plaid pieces?
S3: Those look like they go together, but have you tried turning the piece?
S4: Hey, have you read......

Whether the conversation is about books, their research projects, or just plain old problem solving- they are important. With the help of a jigsaw puzzle, kids are learning to cooperate, to communicate, and to think.

Sometimes, the puzzle table takes a different form. It becomes a place for chilling out. Taking a brain break for some of our kids in the midst of a stressful day. Some cannot understand how jigsaw puzzles can be relaxing. For them, they are stressful. But I did a little research to figure out why they might be relaxing for some, and stressful for others. What I found made perfect sense! For people who operate with a lot of emotion, to decompress, they need logical tasks to complete. It forces them to think differently. (As a Myers-Briggs person with a strong F indicator, I can truly say this works.)

And so, the puzzle table becomes a place of resetting. It's a safe haven in a storm for some of my students. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to sit and make a puzzle with a student who was having a tough day~ his mood changed, he relaxed, and was ready to go back and finish the day.

While collaboration, problem solving, safety, and emotional resetting are all important parts of the puzzle table, learning is at the core. Making a puzzle work has far-reaching implications on developing learners. At the end of the day, developing learners is part of who I am.

But how can the act of making a jigsaw puzzle impact learning? Visual perception, manipulation of shapes and images, sequencing are all fundamental parts of brain development which impacts reading. Consider: if you can't ground what direction the shape should go, then how much harder does it become to make sense of the shapes of letters making words? The act of looking at an image and replicating it in a larger form yields mathematical thinking: scale drawings and ratios applied. Depending on the selection of the puzzle, background knowledge development! Wonder where the scene is? Let's figure it out- what clues are in the puzzle? What time of year is it? The list is endless~ the opportunities to discover are incredible!

If you worry about losing pieces. Don't. Our first puzzle had 3 missing pieces at the end. What did I do? Create a maker opportunity. Kids traced the spots, colored the patterns, and created new pieces for our puzzle. Learning? Fun.


  1. Hey Pal,

    I totally love this! Such an easy way to create a collaboration opportunity for students.

    What matters most is every interaction that kids have is a chance to learn more about the simple behaviors that go into respecting and appreciating those who are around you. Those behaviors aren't hard to identify, but they only become habit with tons and tons of opportunity -- something that we don't often make time for in schools anymore.

    Thanks for the inspiration! Now I have to see if I can find ways to make this kind of thing happen in the construct of my 50 minute class periods.

    Any ideas?
    Bill Ferriter

    1. Hey Bill,

      So glad you love the puzzle idea!

      Do you have a space in your room you can leave a table with a puzzle? let kids across the classes work on it ~ see the progression of cooperative work? Set up a Jenga table?

      Another great way to produce this conversation and cooperation is through #makerkitchen. I attended a great session on this at GAFE this summer, and can hook you up with more info. While not puzzles, it's a quick maker lesson- designed to be 45 minutes or less.

      Centers? They're a lifesaver in elementary- lets me help kids with what they want to work on while others are self directed- and they can be tons of different activities: puzzles, games, independent research, maker, etc.

      Let me know if you want to talk more- I'm game!
      Mary Alice


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