NECC 2009: PlacePuzzles


Notes from Bernie Dodge’s Wednesday morning session. He’s a confessed map nerd.

How can we use maps in a way that takes pedagogical sense and doesn’t take a lot of effort to do?

It’s all about place, it’s a powerful idea. It’s a way to glue things together and a motivator.

Spatial ability is located in your hippocampus in the brain.

Method of loci: memorization by association, by connection with place.

Geocaching and scavenger hunts as a way to use place.

PlacePuzzle: a way to do it faster and easier, but does not require the project-based and higher level work that a traditional WebQuest does.

map-based activity designed to encourage close reading of a complex text. It uses a limited physical space to provide a context for learning and includes short answer clues that require recall and creative interpretation.

Critical attributes:

  • resources to be studied ahead of time
  • map of a related place of limited size (walkable distance, maybe short drivable)
  • clues on the map that relate the map to the resources and require both recall and ideation

Optional attributes:

  • scores kept based on speed and accuracy
  • roles to divide up the reading
  • publicly posted leaderboard
  • clues made available one at a time based on performance
  • communication channel allowing players to communicate in real time.

Example: “chaos in Tehran”. Become familiar with significant places and people in the capital of Iran.


  • Intro
  • Links to read first
  • Map
  • Communication channel (tinychat)

The real shoe-string way is to use tools like Google Maps, Google Sites, Google Docs, tinychat (and maybe Google Wave in the future).

Example: Watergate

Clue Possibilities:

  • Visual: Google Street View
  • Visual: Photos from panoramio
  • Text: wikipedia
  • Proximity: What’s nearby

Resources for writing clues for scavenger hunt clues galore on the web: it’s like backwards design.

Curricular opportunities:


  • timed special event
  • self-promotion
  • interschool competition/collaboration

Design steps:

  • Pick topic
  • Identify resources
  • Pick locations
  • Define clues

Dodge is working on an interface for this.

Inside or outside? It can be done in both ways (but I think the outdoor version will have more of an impact). The indoor version is being developed first. Dodge added to this the fact that we may be raising a generation of kids that tend to be indoor people. However, he did say that the power of PlacePuzzles will be the outdoors version, with the projected growth of mobile learning. will have tutorials, examples, authoring tools, and a forum. Will be live on July 21, 2009, 3:59 pm PDT (really!!).

Image credit:


2 responses to “NECC 2009: PlacePuzzles

  1. Nice summary! One correction: I mistyped the URL during the presentation. The correct one is (singular). Somebody snagged the plural version the day after NECC and is squatting on it.

    The site will go live tomorrow with bare bones content and and lot more will be added over the next month.

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