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Creating the world in four schooldays

Tuesday, September 7, 2004 Creating the World in Four Schooldays

Think the world was created in seven days? Some fourth graders in North Carolina might argue that they’ve done it only four! The ‘world’ these students created was actually a giant-sized puzzle made from 60 Link-a-Pix puzzles which the kids solved, colored, and pieced together. The finished product, a 6-foot-long map of the world, was completed in only four school days, and hung with pride in the school hallway for the remainder of the year.

It all started last fall when their teacher (that’s me!) began to provide Conceptis puzzles as challenge activities for a few gifted students who tended to finish their regular classwork early. Soon other kids saw the fantastic pictures being created and asked for a try at the puzzles as well. By winter break, most of the class was solving the puzzles in their free time and our room was decorated with fantastic displays of puzzle art.

Really big puzzle (1)

Meanwhile, a discussion was taking shape on the Conceptis website about making some puzzles that worked like jigsaw puzzles; you could solve each individual puzzle to get one jigsaw piece, then put them all together to make one (larger) picture. I believed that this could be best accomplished with a group of puzzlers working together, so I offered to volunteer my class as guinea pigs.

In the months that followed I worked with the people at Conceptis to develop just the right puzzle for my class. We used feedback from my students about which puzzles were too big, too small, too hard, or too easy to come up with what we considered an appropriate size for each students’ individual piece (20 by 20). We chose Link-A-Pix puzzles because, in our experience, they provided (for fourth graders) just the right balance of challenging work and the potential for ultimately solving the puzzle. And finally, the team of artists at Conceptis helped to draw a world map, in color, at just the right size to be divided up into 60 smaller puzzles.

The “Really Big Puzzle” Becomes a Reality

Really big puzzle (2)

When the puzzle arrived in my classroom, each piece was labeled simply as Mystery Puzzle A1, A2, and so on. I cut a large piece of butcher paper and covered the board at the front of the room, then marked off 10 columns and 6 rows. Each square on the paper was labeled with the proper coordinates. I printed the puzzles at a fairly large scale, so that each student’s piece was about 7 inches square. The puzzles were shuffled and handed out, and everyone got to work. After the first day (about 45 minutes of puzzle time) several puzzles were already completed and glued onto the paper. By the end of Day 2, a few students had identified the picture as a world map, and word quickly spread. On Day 3 most of the continents were filled in and emotions were high. The pride in the room was palpable, as every student was encouraged by the others to try his or her hardest, and many garnered spontaneous applause when their piece was added. By the end of Day 4, the puzzle was completed and hanging in the school hallway, and praises were already streaming in from neighboring classrooms.

Anyone who has visited an elementary school in recent years will recognize many of the great learning activities that were going on with this project. We were reviewing the countries we had studied earlier in the year and their relationships to each other, as well as the map skills involved in finding and identifying them. We practiced using a coordinate grid system, and saw an authentic, real-world use for them (besides just playing Battleship!). We opened up conversations about neighboring countries and life in the far corners of the world. And, of course, the puzzles themselves provide rich problem-solving and number sense opportunities.

So what’s next?

Detail: World Map puzzle by Mr. Sharp's class

Given more time, I would have encouraged my students to investigate their piece of the world in greater detail. They could hang writing pieces down the hall surrounding the map; “In my corner of the world you can find Thailand, Vietnam, and part of China. Many languages are spoken here, including…” and so on. If my new fourth graders show a similar interest, I’d love to see it this year.

Imagine what can happen in other classrooms using these giant-sized jigsaw puzzles. Second graders could share their knowledge of parts of a plant using a giant-sized version of Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers”. Fifth graders might re-create the signing of the Declaration and identify each delegate appearing in their piece of the puzzle.

Sounds like a good idea? Tell someone’s teacher about this project and the Conceptis website. Try it at home yourself or with your kids. The world puzzle can still be found and more giant-sized jigsaw puzzles are in the works. Let us know what you think about giant-sized puzzles in the Puzzles and Kids forum. I hope we’ll see you there soon!

About the author

Mike Sharp is a former IBM programmer, now in the 8th year of his second career as an elementary school teacher in grades 3, 4, and 5. Mike is also a moderator of the Conceptis Puzzles and Kids forum.

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