The Power of the Puzzle


I was working recently in my consultancy role, advising schools in Moldova on the work we have been doing here at the Extraordinary Learning Foundation™. One question that kept coming-up, time and again was, “But Tait, what does it really mean to Make Learners Extraordinary?” This, of course, is a profound question; a deep question, not a surface question. It is the sort of question that, in itself, indicates one of the key facets of Making Learners Extraordinary ™ and I felt so proud to be asked it.

So I decided to start this blog – a stream of consciousness about the process of nurturing, encouraging and releasing the natural talents of the world’s learners. I decided to start this blog so that others may learn from me and set out on their own journey towards Extraordinary Learning. May I be your guide!

At the Extraordinary Learning Foundation™ we believe that all children can learn; that every unique individual is unique and individual and has Extraordinary potential. Often, this potential is untapped. The rigours of our production-line education system stamp the Extraordinary Individuality™ out of our children, die-casting them like shrink wrap. This loss of individuality leads to a measurable loss of creativity. Yet, like Pandora’s box, all that is required to set Extraordinary Individuality™ free is to find the right key.

Over the next weeks and months I will be expanding on the Five Keys ™ that we at the Extraordinary Learning Foundation™ believe will unlock the potential of every child in every class. These extensively researched principles will enable you to deliver on that promise that you made yourself when you first started out as an educator; that promise to do your small bit to help children learn and change the world! They are based upon sound science; such as the cognitively developed process of talk-it-out to promote active rather than passive thinking.

However, today I would like to start with the foundational principle; the reason why we learn.

Principle One: The Power of the Puzzle™

The motivation of all learners ultimately comes down to the Power of the Puzzle™. Without a sense of wonder we have nothing. Without a wish to know the stars, we cannot even see the stars. And so this is Principle One.

The key to any good puzzle is in its authenticity. Real puzzles come from real questions based upon real-life everyday problems. There is nothing more motivating to students than to consider problems rooted in their everyday reality. So this is where we start; we start with the everyday reality and we make it extraordinary. And this is where you come in. Come on guys! You know where the community vegetable garden is and you can make contact with the communities and groups with authentic, everyday problems to solve that will engage and motivate your learners.

Children can handle the complexity of real life; they live in the real world! Cut those guide-ropes. The textbooks break things down into automated chunks to be delivered by the production line. Real life is not like that! Real mathematicians have real problems to solve. Real historians have to dig for history with their own fingernails.

And there are real professionals who understand this; professionals like Tracy Mee who I had the pleasure to meet just the other week when I was consulting in Alberta. Tracy was so open to Making Learners Extraordinary™. She is such a vital force and a pleasure to work with! After 3 hours straight of working together, it was with a sense of immense pride that I looked upon her as she stood at the front of her grade 8 science class, holding a wet rubber glove and posing the question, “what could we do with this?” And then to see reflected in the children’s faces; every educator’s dream moment; that look of utter puzzlement.

Tait Smoogen

West Bay University

Founder and CEO of the Extraordinary Learning Foundation