Let Students Figure It Out

Posted on May 3, 2012


This may be one of the simpler ways to explain education through puzzles and The Puzzle School:

A great educational puzzle enables the students to figure it out for themselves.

Rather than presenting the student with information or presenting them with a problem and giving them instructions on how to solve that problem, puzzles are intended to create an environment where the solution is not obvious or simply a matter or following instructions, but a student can still figure out the solution without any help.

It’s incredibly motivating for a student (of any age) to figure something out without any outside help. It may be as simple as unscrambling letters in order to translate a word in Italian Scramble, but the process remains the same. It is infinitely more satisfying to sit down to something where you don’t know the answer, but, with creative effort, you are able to figure it out.

Ikea has known this for a long time. There is even research on The Ikea Effect that details how people value things that they create more than things that are created by other people. Ikea is even giving you an instruction manual (although anyone who has put together any Ikea furniture can attest to the fact that the instructions are more like puzzles than instructions). At the end of the day the effect is the same. If you are able to figure out a challenge by yourself without any outside help you are will value that effort more, the learning that took place during that time will be more poignant.

The effect holds true in groups as well. As long as someone who already knows the answer isn’t helping. If everyone involved is starting with the same sense of “I don’t know the answer, but I think I can figure it out” then the benefits will be the same.

Of course the danger is that someone might say, “I can’t figure it out”, leading them to give up. A good puzzle will should ideally never put someone in a place where they say “I can’t figure it out”. It may take that person a very long to figure out the solution, but they should always be thinking “I know I can figure this out”. If you can create an environment that causes people to feel challenged but think “I know I can figure this out” then you’ve got a great puzzle and a very effective way to approach education.