Model: Game or Puzzle

Context: You teach subjects where realistic applications of concepts are not always obvious or may be too complex for students.


Problem & Forces: You need engaging examples that contain important elements of a concept or problem but minimize distractions. Patterns like EIA Learning Cycles, Solution Before Example, and Mission Impossible develop abstract concepts from examples. A Model with Authentic Data can motivate students, but can also discourage them if it is too complicated, or involves concepts that are unfamiliar or distracting. A Model with Synthetic Data focus on the relevant characteristics, but may seem unrealistic or boring to students.


Solution & Consequences: Therefore, use a game or puzzle that captures the essence of the problem as the model for EIA (Explore, Invent, Apply) Learning Cycles. Questions will guide students to explore the game or puzzle and notice things that an expert would see, and then to invent their own understanding of the concept, which they then apply. This will take more time than a lecture or reading about the concepts, but an appropriate game or puzzle can help students to understand concepts apply them more effectively in the future. Thus, this approach can be more engaging than a Model with Synthetic Data and more manageable than a Model with Authentic Data.

Discussion: A Game or Puzzle can be familiar, interesting, or engaging for students – a Colorful Analogy. If they try to play the game or solve the puzzle themselves, it may be easier for them to consider effective strategies or to apply the same concepts in other contexts, including later models in the same activity. Use a Game or Puzzle when it captures key elements of the concept being developed, particularly when a more realistic example might be too complicated or distracting, at least at first. Avoid games or puzzles with too much extraneous information.

It might help to have several models with successively more complex versions. Consider that students have different cultural contexts, and may not be equally familiar with a given Game or Puzzle, even if you consider it an Acquaintance Example. Thus, describe it in enough detail to be clear to someone unfamiliar with it.

Examples: The left figure shows a game that is part of a POGIL activity on design tradeoffs and algorithm analysis used early (often the first day) in an intro CS course to introduce students to several important CS concepts. The right figure shows a puzzle that is part of a POGIL activity on search strategies. Questions guide student teams to explore the possible moves, representations for those moves, a tree of accessible states for the puzzle, and different strategies to search that tree (depth first, breadth first, best first, etc.). The same activity uses several other puzzles (e.g. magic square, eight Queens) to apply concepts in other contexts, and to invent related concepts.

Hi-Lo is a child’s number guessing game with simple rules.

  • There are two players – A and B.
  • Player A thinks of a number from 1 to 100.
  • Player B guesses a number.
  • A responds with “too high”, “too low”, or “you win”.
  • B and A continue to guess & respond until B wins.

An 8-puzzle has a 3x3 board with 8 tiles and 1 space. The goal is to move one tile at a time (up down, left or right) until the tiles form a familiar picture or sequence.











Figure : Sample Models – Game (left) and Puzzle (right).

Typical DCV (Directed, Convergent, Divergent) Questions:

  • D: How many moves are possible from ? Prompts students to study the rules.
  • D: Play the game with your team, and write down any questions or concerns.
    Prompts students to study and become familiar with the rules before answering later questions.
  • C: Describe or show a sequence of moves starting from .
    Guides students to use their understanding of the rules, which might help to develop a new concept.
  • C,V: What would happen if ? Prompts students to apply concepts in other contexts.

Author: Clif Kussmaul

Publication: C Kussmaul. 2016. Patterns in classroom activities for Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL). HILLSIDE Proc. of Conf. on Pattern Lang. of Prog. 23 (October 2016).

Contributors to this page: Clif Kussmaul .
Page last modified on Sat November 11, 2017 12:50:11 EST by Clif Kussmaul. (Version 3)