Technology / Research & Development

Clarification

People sometimes mistake The Puzzle School for an online learning effort or a school where the curriculum would be primarily through online resources.

In reality The Puzzle School seeks to be a physical school that offers students a wide range of experiences. We are trying to create a school where students have greater ownership over their environment and education, where they develop meaningful relationships with teachers and mentors, and where they have time to explore their interests and engage in a wide range of studies, projects, and real world experiences such as internships.

The primary puzzle will be how we can piece everything together, from programs to technology to community resources in a flexible and responsive manner to best serve the needs of each individual student.

Technology will play a role in supporting this vision, but it is far from the only concern.

Infrastructure

The following websites have been developed to help with infrastructural challenges at The Puzzle School, including better communication between students, teachers, and parents as well as better ways of connecting with the community and exploring student interests.

EdContext

We've partnered up with Jack Schneider, an assistant professor at Holy Cross and the Director of Research with the Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment to build a text-messaging service that will allow The Puzzle School (and other schools) to collect feedback from students, parents, and teachers throughout the year on a wide-ranging set of questions about their experiences with the school.

We believe this will help The Puzzle School (and other schools) more effectively listen to everyone involved in the school, helping to ensure that the loudest voices are not the only opinions considered. We hope the EdContext tool can help foster a more supportive, communicative, and involved community by collecting feedback from everyone in the community and making that feedback, aggregated to protect privacy, available for everyone else to see and act on.

Status: Initial pilots in Cambridge and Somerville Public Schools

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ThoughtfulRecommendations
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The primary goal of ThoughtfulRecommendations is to provide students with more visibility into the interests, hobbies, and passions of the teachers at The Puzzle School and other adult mentors in the community. The website makes it easy for someone to create a profile and list out everything they've discovered in the world that they really appreciate, that they would recommend to just about anyone. When you list something you also provide a "thoughtful recommendation", so there's a description of why you would recommend it.

This allows students to discover fascinating resources and experiences that their teachers and other adults in their life really appreciate. It also allows students to get a more intimate idea of who the adults in their life are and how complex their interests and lives may be. They may even discover that they share some interests and then the student can explore the recommendations or even connect with the teacher around that interest.

Students could also create profiles for themselves, building up a list of high quality resources along with thoughtful recommendations about each one. This could help a student share their observations about the world around them and their interests with teachers, colleges, and future employers.

Visit: ThoughtfulRecommendations.com

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Curriculum

The following projects are explorations around creating high quality resources that support students in their learning through the puzzle-solving process that The Puzzle School is built around. Each resource is designed to be interactive, iterative, and scaffolded with high quality feedback loops.

Again it should be stressed that these projects would not be the only learning resources used in The Puzzle School. They simply represent our ongoing exploration around creating high quality programs and resources to support students in diverse learning pathways.

Circuitous

Circuitous is a fully functional circuit simulator. We've layered on top a series of challenges that people can help direct a student's learning, but students can simply play around with the simulator as well.

Each challenge has a series of hints, an example solution, and a video explanation of the challenge and solution.

Visit: Circuituous

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XYFlyer
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XYFlyer is a simple puzzle app that provides a series of challenges around constructing equations. With each equation constructed you can immediately see the resulting graph and how different changes to each equation affect the graph.

We've created over 200 levels that get more and more challenging. They can help students gain a better visual intuition about how equations graph out.

You can also create your own levels with the Level Editor

Visit: XYFlyer

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Drawing In Code

The Puzzle School is collaborating with David Ng, the founder of Vertical Learning Labs, to develop an online resource designed to support an exploration of artistic observation and computational thinking. Essentially students will learn how to teach a computer to draw and design games. We are currently using the resource as one pathway for students to explore in our programs.

Through a series of challenges students will develop their ability to observe their physical world and translate that into code so that a computer can draw it. From there students will be able to animate their drawing and make them interactive (games).

Drawing In Code is still in development. The eventual goal is to support students toward projects of their own design that can then be shared with friends and family.

Visit: Drawing In Code

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Peanutty
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Peanutty provides an interesting physics-based puzzle-solving environment where you can interact with a challenge by dragging, dropping, and drawing, and, with each interaction code is generated. Then you can edit the code to affect the interaction.

Drop a ball and then change the dimensions of the ball to be much bigger and watch it drop again. Develop creative solutions to puzzles and then develop your own puzzles by tweaking or rewriting the level code.

Visit: Peanutty

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Code Puzzles

Code Puzzles provides a series of puzzles that can help you learn how to code.

Each puzzle has a lesson and hints to provide guidance, but you can also just mess around with the code and see what the results are. A number of lesson paths have been provided as well, such as creating a calculator in javascript.

Visit: Code Puzzles

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Language Scramble
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Language Scramble is a simple puzzle meant to help people learn a new language (right now we just have Italian).

You're presented with a foreign (in this case Italian) word and need to unscramble the letters to form a correct translation in English.

It's a little limited right now, focusing on traslation of written words, but has the potential to feature images and audio in the future.

It's also limited in its availability right now. Although it does work on iPhones and iPads, you have to have a connection to the internet for it to work, but we're working on fixing that as well.

Visit: Language Scramble

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Light It Up

Light It Up was inspired by the fractions game, Refraction, developed by the University of Washington's Center for Game Science

While we loved Refraction, we wanted to make a few changes.

  • We wanted to create puzzles that would teach students fractions more directly, so we reduced the number of obstacles in our levels, making the puzzles more about the fractions than the obstacles.
  • We created a level editor that allows teachers to easily create custom levels to teach a specific fraction-based idea. The level editor also allows students to create their own puzzles, improving their mastery of fractions while creating puzzles as well as solving puzzles.
  • We wanted to add in a feature that would walk you through the solution to the puzzle if you got stuck. We wanted to make the game more about learning then about solving the puzzles, so we focused on creating more levels with the ability to get help on any level that is too hard.

Visit: Light It Up

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“So this was the big secret historians keep to themselves: historical research is wildly seductive and fun. There's a thrill in the process of digging, then piecing together details like a puzzle.”

~ Nancy Horan

“As a kid, I was into music, played guitar in a band. Then I started acting in plays in junior high school and just got lost in the puzzle of acting, the magic of it. I think it was an escape for me.”

~ Michael J. Fox

“When you write non-fiction, you sit down at your desk with a pile of notebooks, newspaper clippings, and books and you research and put a book together the way you would a jigsaw puzzle.”

~ Janine di Giovanni

“I tell people all the time, as I was going through my process of being a comedian or being an actor and a writer at 'SNL,' I tell people that everything you do is all a piece of your puzzle to determine where you're going to end up at.”

~ J. B. Smoove

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