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Where’d California Go?

Who passes on an NFL game?

The fast paced action! The scrumptious snacks! The excitement of watching some of the best athletes in the world compete against each other!

I did!

I chose to stay home with our three-year old son while my wife and daughter went to watch the Washington Redskins play in our nation’s capital. I know that may sound hard to believe. But I have to be honest. I simply wanted to stay home, take it easy and rest.

A lazy Sunday at home with my son sounded pretty good to me.  I could read, relax, and maybe even write a blog post. My son and I played with action figures, watched some tv and then…

It was puzzle time.

We always start the puzzle together, but within a minute or two I am usually the only one still working on the puzzle. In all honesty, the puzzle is probably too hard for him anyway. You’d think I would know this already. This wasn’t the first time we had attempted to solve the puzzle together.

What usually happens is that my son loses interest and will find some other activity to play near me while continue to work on the puzzle. At this point it becomes more about me and less about him as I work to successfully complete the puzzle.

Don’t worry.

I always solve it.

Sometimes it takes me ten minutes and other times it takes me fifteen. But I always solve the puzzle successfully. And why wouldn’t I? I know how it is supposed to look when I’m done. Well this time something amazing happened. It was so cool that I took out my phone and recorded it.

As you can see from the video, my son had a different idea of what it meant to successfully complete the puzzle. Since the puzzle pieces were made of foam, he was actually able to mash some of them together in ways that I would have never imagined. When I witnessed this I continued to correctly put pieces together and he continued to mash some of the pieces together. But after a while I just stood back and let him finish the puzzle.

Now I knew that the puzzle should’ve been in the shape of a perfect rectangle when it was completed. And some of the cities and states ended up in places that I had never seen them before. Poor ol’ California got displaced completely.

But so what?

My son finished the puzzle.

By himself.

His way.

And for that moment in time he felt successful.  When he connected the last piece he was convinced that he had successfully completed the puzzle. If you listen carefully you can actually hear him say, “there”.  And who’s to say he’s wrong? As a nation we have been changing shape for quite a while now. Maybe he knows something we don’t.

us1820Image of the US in 1820 courtesy of

Watching my son put this puzzle together caused me to reflect. How often do we think that there is only one right answer? Taken a step further, how often do we think we are the only ones with the right answers?

Don’t get me wrong. I understand that as educators, one of our jobs is to help kids see what we see. But I also think, no I know, that we need to do a better job of seeing what they see. We need to realize that oftentimes there is more than just one right answer. Kids often see the world through different lenses than we do.

That is great!

We need not be the keepers of the answers. Our aim should be to encourage our students to come up with solutions that we have never even thought of. They won’t always be right and they won’t always make sense.

And that’s okay.

Our classrooms need to become giant drawing boards. Places where children feel safe taking risks and making mistakes. Places where new ideas and novel approaches are encouraged. This won’t happen if we immediately dismiss ways of thinking that don’t align with ours’. Just imagine all the great ideas that have never even reached the surface for fear of being rejected. That is a shame!

So as I sit back and reflect on my puzzle experience, I can’t help but think that I should have given my son this space long before that day. I don’t recall, but I am quite certain that he has tried to mash pieces together before.

And most likely I stopped him and told he wasn’t doing it the right way.

Instead of just sitting back

and learning

and watching

so that for once

I could see

what he sees

and not

what I think he should see.

“Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes…The ones who see things differently—they’re not fond of rules…You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things…They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

Steve Jobs



3 comments on “Where’d California Go?

  1. robudy79 says:

    Awesome! So important to create a classroom environment that promotes alternate solutions. The resulting dialoge can open so many doors! Nice post.

  2. I love how the video shows your son’s determination to find just the right spot as well as his satisfaction with the decision he made! As educators, we can’t be satisfied with just one right answer but need to pass the baton to our students and have them share their thinking and processes more often.

  3. susansverdi says:

    Jon- I’ve often wondered why teachers shift their thinking from “my students” to “my class.” From my observations, somewhere about 3rd or 4th grade, the kids have to start fitting into the class. It belongs to the teacher, and it goes a certain way. Your post made me think of this again. Still mulling it over. Thanks for sharing your ideas.

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