Jigsaw Puzzle Champs and Schools That Work: Arne Duncan, Here’s Another Before the School Year Starts Story

Our family has a Jigsaw Puzzle Expert. Catherine.

She turns the pieces face up, puts together the edge pieces to make a frame, sometimes sorts the remaining pieces into piles, red here, blue there. Sometimes she does the pile puzzles first, or not. She’s a problem-solver.

During the few days that it takes to do a puzzle, different members of the family “help” her. We wander over to puzzle center, hunker down to chat and fuss with fitting pieces.

It’s a nice way to visit, sort of like quilting or husking corn.

But Catherine’s the champ. We revere her. She never just picks up a piece and places it in the exact correct position and then picks up the second piece and puts it in the correct position. She has a strategy (edge pieces, color piles, etc.) and then she does lots of creative fumbling. Foremost though? Biggest tactic? She looks at the picture on the jigsaw box cover. She knows what the puzzle will look like from the outset.

Remember the Solved Sample Problems in your high school math books? I used to sweat over them while I waited my turn for Extra Help on Tuesday with Mr. Cohen, my long-suffering Algebra teacher. He’d pull me away from the Solved Sample Problem page and make me fumble. Get yourself a strategy, Patricia, is what he’d say in his quiet-patient-I’m-not-quitting-on-this-girl voice. Try something and change it if it doesn’t work. He’d coach me through my fumbles.

Those Sample Problem segments are like completed jigsaw puzzles, but just like Catherine doesn’t place the exact pieces in the exact right places from the very first, nobody solves problems by just writing the correct equations, correctly reasoning it through and making correct connections the first time. (Well, Howie Z. did, but he was special) The Sample Problem is an end product; it doesn’t show the process involved.

The stories about my school are going to show what a high performing high poverty school looks like–jigsaw cover picture–AND how it all gets pieced together–watching Catherine figure out how the puzzle pieces fit. (I know Arne Duncan is going to want to see these teachers in action; I can’t wait.)

Patty 8/30/12

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