It’s a puzzlement

How many of us in the K-12 science environment use word puzzles to help students review concepts and learn vocabulary? I haven’t been convinced of the value of find-a-words or jumble puzzles are effective learning tools, but crossword puzzles and others that ask students to think of words to fit the clues could be useful. Teachers spend many hours creating puzzles, finding ones online, duplicating them, and using class time to for students to complete them. How do we know if puzzles are effective learning strategies.

The March/April issue of NSTA’s Journal of College Science Teaching has an interesting study related to puzzles in the classroom. (As an NSTA member you do have access to this journal. Although the articles focus on college science learning, it’s worth it for K-12 teachers to browse the titles every other month.)

The authors of Utility of Self-Made Crossword Puzzles as an Active Learning Method to Study Biochemistry in Undergraduate Education put a different spin on puzzles. Rather than asking students to complete teacher-made puzzles, students were asked to create them using key concepts from the course. The article has the instructions for the puzzle-makers and an example. A majority of the students felt that the puzzles enhanced their learning of biochemical concepts and their exam scores were slightly higher (although no level of significance was included).

I had some questions that would make interesting action research at the K-12 level. What would happen if other students were given their peers’ puzzles to solve—would this additional level of review be helpful? Would this give feedback to the designer as to the clarity of the clues? What could this look like as a team project? From the example given, it appears that the puzzles were created manually with students manipulating the words and submitting a version in which they filled in the answers. Would there be a difference if the students were to use an online puzzle generator in which most of the work was done by the program? Hmmm…


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