Puzzle Pieces

My wife and I have been doing jigsaw puzzles lately. In April, we finished a puzzle that had been languishing in its barely-started state for years. Then, we moved on to others, and have just completed our third puzzle.

We have a lot of strategies that we use to fit the pieces together. We group pieces by color or texture. I’ll take a group of similar-looking pieces and try to fit them together into an island, and then figure out where that island goes in the larger picture. Sometimes, I’ll take an individual piece and compare it to the photo on the box to try to determine where it goes. Other times, we’ll have a hole, and will search through all the pieces until we find the one that fits in that particular spot.

I think this is skin. Or maybe part of a stone stair.

Working on the puzzles, I’m always amazed at how fuzzy the pieces are. Is that part of a boat? This looks like the corner of a building. No, I think it’s part of an animal foot. You would think that if they’re going to bother making a jigsaw puzzle, they’d start with a picture that’s in focus. Why are these trees so blurry?

And then, magically, we get up from the table and look back at the picture. It all fits together and snaps into sharp focus. All those fuzzy, blurry pictures come together to make a clear picture. I know the brain is filling in the gaps. It’s still amazing.

A few months ago, we grabbed a handful of puzzle pieces on our way out the door. They were blurry. And I don’t think we had all of them. And we didn’t have the box, so we only had a vague idea of what the picture was supposed to look like. Some of the pieces were easy to fit together. The Chromebook and Google Classroom and Gmail and Calendar pieces all fit nicely. The Zoom piece goes over here, as part of the synchronous area. Edpuzzle and Flipgrid and Padlet fit together in this student engagement part of the picture, but the pieces are pretty blurry, so we have to keep turning them and trying different combinations until we get it right.

I have these pieces for Screencastify and Vocaroo and Screencast-o-Matic, but I’m not even sure they all belong to the same puzzle. Where did this Office 365 piece come from? When we’re done with this, I think we’re going to have some pieces left over.

Then, there’s the dreaded, monotonous part of every puzzle. It’s always there. Look at this whole part of the photo that’s just sky. Or water. Or black. How are we ever going to get that done? Those are the assessment pieces. Or the differentiation pieces. They’re art without art supplies. Music without instruments. Physical education in a video conference. There’s a lot of trial and error in this part of the puzzle. We spend a lot of time trying to build into this area from the other parts that are already done. How do we connect all of these black pieces? Start at the shadow by that bridge and work from there. Be patient. Be persistent.

For me, puzzles work best when I pick at them in small pieces over a long period of time. I’ll work on it for half an hour or so, and then move on to something else. It’s important to have that luxury of time to work on things, and then set them aside. Sometimes the gaps give us a fresh perspective, and it’s easier to get things to fit together. Summer’s a great time for that.

Photo credit: Wirawat Lian-udom on Flickr.

I think it’s also really important to have the picture on the front of the box. While it would be cool to put a puzzle together without knowing what the picture is, I don’t think it would be very much fun. And it would take a really long time. So maybe that’s how we approach the dawn of summer. What does the picture look like? What are the pieces we’re going to need to make that picture? Then, start looking for edge pieces, and see how things fit together.