A new public innovation school in the exploratory stage
Based in Cambridge, MA

What would a day in the life of a student look like?

This is the most frequent question we receive regarding the design of The Puzzle School.

Below is an attempt to describe day to day activites and how they connect to the overall philosophy.

A Sample Schedule


Students may engage with The Puzzle School in different ways. One student may follow a more traditional pathway, taking courses and doing assignments, while another student may engage with the school in a self-directed manner, leveraging the school's resources in order to accomplish goals that are personally important to them.

The schedule provided here shows a possible design for coordinated activities (e.g. a class or a club). All of these scheduled activities are optional. Students could, for example, engage in an independent project or an internship for the entire day.

All students will be expected to meet with an advisor 1:1 at least one hour per week and all students will have to meet the required state standards, although we expect that many of The Puzzle School's activities will support student toward state standards without explicit instruction.

Day To Day
8am - 10am
  • Flexible Arrival / Independent Projects
10am - 11:45am
  • Program / Class Time
11:45am - 12:30pm
  • Lunch Time
12:30pm - 1:30pm
  • Flex Time (experimental programs, club meetings, etc)
1:30pm - 3:15pm
  • Program / Class Time
3:15pm - 5:15pm
  • Extracurricular (sports, clubs, etc)
5:15pm - 6pm
  • Flexible Departure
Important Notes
  • This is not a definitive design, just one possibility. Many factors may change this design before the school is opened.
  • All scheduled programs are optional. Students can use any time slot to engage in an independent project, internship, etc.
  • At some point each week each student will meet with an advisor 1:1 for an hour.

Respect, Ownership, and Self-Direction


The primary goal of The Puzzle School is to support students toward taking ownership of their education, their lives, and the school itself, with an eye toward their future and their community.

There are two primary aspects of this goal that we focus on:

  1. The hypothesis that human beings do their best work when they feel respected in their environment and have control of their lives, their decisions, etc.
  2. The observation that there are skills, processes, and techniques that can help all people be more observant and intentional in their lives, supporting their ability to navigate the world in a self-directed manner.

It is important to note that this does not imply that students should simply do what ever they want. Their decisions affect other people and the decisions of other people affect them, so they need to be conscious of how their decisions interact with and affect their community, their future, etc.

Day To Day

There are a number of techniques we hope to leverage to support students toward greater ownership and self-direction.

  • Feedback
    We will seek feedback from students in numerous ways, asking them for their observations about programs, resources, how the school runs, etc. and inviting them to help us improve everything. As they come to trust that their feedback and ideas are respected, we believe they will become more empowered and will take greater control over all aspects of their education.
  • Self-Directed Pathways
    Every student will have at least one self-directed pathway they have designed for themselves with the help of an adult advisor. These pathways can range from an independent project to an internship to an online course to a book club with friends to starting a company. The important part is that they have designed it themselves or with a group and have ownership over the ideas and process.
  • Negotiated Competencies
    Students will be encouraged to challenge the requirements and develop a rational for why their educational experience should be different with regard to their plans for the future. The goal will be to find alignment between students, parents, and the school with regard to any requirements.

Appreciation for the Present vs. Preparation for the Future


Finding the right balance between learning and creating in an effort to gain acceptance to college or build a resume vs. thriving in a healhy manner and enjoying the present moment is one of the greatest challenges we all face, but it is a particularly distinct challenge for students.

The puzzle-solving process provides support for navigating this challenge. As students become more thoughtful about their goals, both short term and long term, more observant of their own behaviors and intentional with their actions the specifics of what they are learning become less important. The underlying critical thinking skills they are learning will help them approach learning anything more effectively.

The Puzzle School combines this with requirements and dialog with advisors in order to help students think about their future more effectively. While this does not guarantee a successful balancing of these concerns, it does provide multiple ways for students, teachers, and parents, to iterate toward an effective balance.

Day To Day

Students, advisors, and parents will engage in frequent dialog around how to find the best balance between thriving in the present and preparing for the future (ideally achieving both):

  • Personal Interests
    One primary strategy will be to explore both current personal interests and ideas about future interests. Even younger students may have a sense of what interests them or what kind of life they want to live in the future. That exploration can both help to prepare for the future while ensuring that students are appreciating the present.
  • Generally Relevant Challenges
    Students may be interested in helping to run the school, exploring how the school budget is spent or how discipline works, etc. Or they may be interested in saving up for a big purchase, such as a car. Many of these present day goals will help students prepare for their future through contexts that are relevant and interesting today.
  • Fun, Relaxation, and Direct Preparation
    Sometimes, though, it will be necessary for students to engage in something that is more directly about preparing for the future or thriving in the present. As a school we will try to support both necessary relaxation, socialization, and fun that is crucial to healthy development (even with older students), as well as future skills, such as test taking, completing assignments on time, etc., that are worthwhile preparation even if not directly tied to current interests.

Personal Interests vs. Requirements


The Puzzle School feels there is nothing more important than a student who understands who they are and has a healthy perspective about their ability to grow and change. A student who is reflective about their strengths, weaknesses, interests, goals, etc. can be more intentional and honest with their lives. Supporting students in this exploration and the activities that arise out of this exploration is a big part of The Puzzle School experience.

At the same time there are challenges ahead that students are not always aware of and challenges the school faces such as state standards and general operational concerns that students must be conscientious of.

In general we believe that dialog presents the best opportunity to navigate these challenges. We believe that students, when treated with respect and provided opportunities to make informed decisions with the support of competent adults are capable of navigating these challenges. As such The Puzzle School will present students with the best description of the challenges they may face in their future or that the school faces today and will work with students to develop and iterate on strategies for overcoming these challenges.

Day To Day

The Puzzle School will explore a variety of strategies for providing students with opportunities for dialog with adults who can help them think about their future and make thoughtful decisions in the present. Some of these strategies will include:

  • Advisor Discussions
    Weekly discussions with advisors will ensure that students have someone to discuss their personal exploration with who can help them brainstorm on how to move toward personal goals. Advisors will also be responsible for ensuring students do not slip through the cracks and are making progress on their competencies.
  • Recent Graduate Mentorship
    As soon there are graduates from The Puzzle School we will seek to connect them with current students to provide advice on college and life after The Puzzle School from the perspective of a recent graduate.
  • Community Mentorship & Internships
    Meeting with other adult mentors or leaving the school to engage in an internship both provide opportunities for students to gain exposure to the requirements of college, jobs, and life after The Puzzle School.

Flexible and Responsive vs. Structure and Stability


The Puzzle School will practice the puzzle philosophy itself. We will constantly seek to become more flexible and responsive to student needs as they come up.

At the same time it is important to provide an structured environment that effectively utilizes resources and is organized and coordinated so that students get the help they need while developing their skills for self-direction.

Day To Day

Between structured programs, negotiated competencies, feedback processes, self-directed pathways, and mentorship in various forms, The Puzzle School will seek to create a healthy environment that students and parents appreciate.

Maybe most importantly, though, The Puzzle School will listen to students and parents and will attempt to find solutions as problems arise. If something isn't working well for a student then every effort (within the resource constraints of the school) will be made to find a new path that works more effectively for the student.

This process, of constant iteration and improvement, will be a daily experience for students and families. We believe it will help us identify problems earlier and maintain healthy communication between students, teachers, and parents.

“So this was the big secret historians keep to themselves: historical research is wildly seductive and fun. There's a thrill in the process of digging, then piecing together details like a puzzle.”

~ Nancy Horan

“As a kid, I was into music, played guitar in a band. Then I started acting in plays in junior high school and just got lost in the puzzle of acting, the magic of it. I think it was an escape for me.”

~ Michael J. Fox

“When you write non-fiction, you sit down at your desk with a pile of notebooks, newspaper clippings, and books and you research and put a book together the way you would a jigsaw puzzle.”

~ Janine di Giovanni

“I tell people all the time, as I was going through my process of being a comedian or being an actor and a writer at 'SNL,' I tell people that everything you do is all a piece of your puzzle to determine where you're going to end up at.”

~ J. B. Smoove

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