[caption id="attachment_795" align="alignright" width="300"]Prep Puzzle playtest, December 2014:  A classroom intent on puzzling. A classroom intent on puzzling.[/caption] The kids' feedback was mostly positive, but otherwise all over the place - which was great. I'd hoped to create a toy that was flexible, such that different people could each approach it in their own way, and the variety of feedback suggests that I've achieved that. So, while my classroom activity design had some flaws, I feel like I'm on the right track. I wrote a letter to the kids in response to their feedback. I think lots of people offer empty thanks, and I wanted to make it clear to them that I valued their time, and that I valued them as people. I also thought it was only fair - having given them a homework assignment of writing for me, it seemed only fair that I do some writing in return. This is my letter:

December 7, 2014

To the eighth grade class at Flintridge Prep, Thank you all for your time and your feedback. After asking for your help, I think it only fair to share with you the ways in which your ideas have had an impact on both me and on this project. I've got lots of thoughts, I'll just share a few of them here.

The top three new tile ideas

Best learning-related idea: One group put themselves into the Puzzle by creating a tile to represent one of the group members. I think that asking young kids to create 'Me' tiles would be very effective in helping them to notice how they are connected to the world, and how the effects of their choices ripple outwards. Like many great ideas, this one was very simple - I wonder why I didn't think of it myself. Most creative theme: One person used the blank tiles to create a life-map, showing how different life choices could lead to different life situations. Some choices led towards "the good life", while other choices led to "the bad life." This person's design inspired a small argument on the relationship between money and happiness - which was great! All good art inspires discussion and controversy. Most surprising theme: One group went with a zombie-unicorn theme. They created tiles with zombies, unicorns, zombie-unicorns, and more. The unicorns generated sunlight, and plants grown in the light of the unicorns grew fruit that could cure zombie-ism. Changes inspired by your ideas and feedback:
  • I will update all of the activity idea sheets (Zombies, Bugs/Birds/Snakes, and Cities) so that all of them include some sort of 'Me' tile.
  • I will add a social/emotional idea to the set of suggested activity ideas. I'm not yet sure exactly what this will look like, but it'll be inspired by the life-map idea.


Most of you were somehow engaged with the Puzzle and with each other, and the classroom atmosphere was one of positive conversation and productive motion. I thought this was very encouraging, because I think that engagement is the key to good learning, and to having a good experience in school.

Structure vs. Freedom

About a third of you said that you felt confused for at least part of the day, and would have liked to have more structure or direction. Two people specifically said that, next time, I should begin with a demo. I think some confusion is a good thing. The world is a confusing place, so it is useful to learn to be comfortable with uncertainty. That said, there was more confusion than was useful, and this was especially true of the City activity. Changes inspired by your ideas and feedback:
  • Next time, if there is a camera-projector in the room (as there was at Prep), I'll do a demo where I use puzzle tiles to illustrate the ideas behind my words. I'll also think about how I might be able to do a demo in a situation without this sort of nifty technology.
  • I'll add more details to the City task. I'll include a detailed description of at least three possible new pieces, and then a loose description for three other possible pieces.

Game-type structure

Eight people said that the Puzzle would have been better if it were presented as a game. Only one group chose the game-making option, but they had a good time. This group designed a time-trial type game, where players took turns racing to create a puzzle that supported the most humans. Another person suggested a scrabble-type game, where you start with a single piece, and then take turns adding new pieces onto the pieces already in play. Changes inspired by your ideas and feedback:
  • I'd already planned to include a small booklet in the game box, and in that booklet, I'd planned to include rules for a strategy-type game. You've made me realize that my thinking around games was too narrow-minded. I'll expand that original plan so as to include at least two games in the booklet, and maybe three. I'll also make sure that the games are of different types, so that there is something for everyone.

Tile design

Some of you said that you gained some factual knowledge from the tiles, some ideas about who eats whom, but most of you said you gained little-to-no factual knowledge. Several of you suggested that I include some sort of written info about each tile, perhaps printed on the back side of the tiles. If you flip a tile from front to back, you'll find that the design on the back of the tile is a mirror image of the design on the front. This two-sided mirror-image design is actually a necessity for puzzle-solving. So, unfortunately, I can't print words on the back. I can, however, can create a Tile-o-pedia, where you can look up information about each tile. I might be able to include a Tile-o-pedia as a separate booklet within the game box, and I could certainly create an online Tile-o-pedia. Changes inspired by your ideas and feedback:
  • I'll look into the possibility of including a printed Tile-o-pedia in each puzzle box.
  • I will be sure to include a Tile-o-pedia as part of the puzzle website.
Again, thank you all for your time and ideas. Hopefully, I'll see more of you in the future, perhaps at the Prep Science Fair, and perhaps elsewhere as well. - Tim