Family Learning Forum

A Project of the USS Constitution Museum

Blog: Calling All Hands

by Family Learning Interns at the USS Constitution Museum

One Ship, One Crew, One Nation

Date: 8/9/211
Author: Molly Braswell

One of the interactive elements designed for the 1812 Discovery Center is a collaborative, table-top puzzle.  The puzzle is meant to convey the idea of “One ship, one crew, one nation,” one of the themes that will be represented in this exhibit. The puzzle requires teamwork, much like life aboard the ship. The puzzle is two-sided and there is a different image on each side. One of the images is of the ship and one of the images is of the USS Constitution's crew. The idea is that this puzzle will help visitors visualize the size of the crew, and see that operating the ship required many people to work together. Our goals for the puzzle are for visitors to work together, learn a bit about the Constitution's crew, and to have fun!


One Ship, One Crew, Lots of Pieces

Date: 6/23/2011
Author: Julia da Silva

Today was our first day prototyping another of the planned interactive elements for the 1812 Discovery Center that will open next spring. Sarah and I excitedly brought our two-sided puzzle out to the galleries for its big debut.

Ship side of puzzle

Ship side of puzzle


Crew side of puzzle

Crew side of puzzle

The puzzle's two sides show Constitution herself and her crew. Across the top of each row of blocks are quick facts about Constitution. (For instance, did you know that only one cook and two mates cooked for all 450 men aboard the ship?) Panels on each side of the puzzle highlight the 1812 Discovery Center's emphasis on the phrase “One Ship, One Crew, One Nation” by illustrating the diversity and size of Constitution’s crew, as well as her own symbolic importance to the young United States. In addition to the conveyance of this historical content, we hoped to provide an opportunity for museum-goers of all ages to work collaboratively, interacting with each other as much as anything else.

Today, we worked with sixteen different groups and got lots of interesting feedback. Overall, people had a lot of fun with the puzzle. We were able to get some interesting and illuminating feedback as well.

Our intention had been that groups would sit on either side of the puzzle and work together to complete it, using both images, and this was definitely not the reality. Visitors frequently focused almost exclusively on the ship side of the puzzle and treated the ship as the puzzle’s “front” and the crew as the puzzle’s “back.” This was a bias that we noticed in our own behavior towards the puzzle before we even began prototyping with the public, and it was interesting to see it confirmed so strongly in visitors’ experiences.

The good news is that people were still working together and engaging in conversations, so we’re on the right track. The trick now is to figure out a way to encourage visitors to use both sides of the puzzle. One idea that we’re thinking of testing when we give the puzzle its next run is alternating the direction of the text on the blocks.

Sentences on top side of puzzle blocks

Sentences on top side of puzzle blocks

Currently, all four sentences are oriented so that they can be read from the ship side. We hope that if we alternate the text’s direction, we may be able to illustrate that the puzzle actually has no “front” and “back.” Another idea would be to swap all the text so that it’s facing only the crew side of the puzzle. We’re unsure if this illustrates the puzzle’s lack of a front as eloquently, but it may perhaps prove less confusing than alternating directions.

On average, it took groups just under six minutes to complete the puzzle, with a couple of groups pushing past ten minutes. (The median time spent was also just under six minutes.) One group did not complete the puzzle and a number of others were clearly lagging by the end and it seems likely that they wouldn’t have finished if we hadn’t been there. Overall, it seems that the puzzle simply may be too complex for many of our visitors to complete quickly. Completing the bottom row was definitely the most time-consuming part for most visitors. Once they finished those six blocks, the others moved much more quickly. Therefore, for our next round of testing, we’re planning on affixing a few of the bottom pieces to see if this helps to set our visitors up for success.

All in all, not a bad first run for our puzzle! Visitors had fun, we had fun, and we hope that with just a few tweaks, we’ll have a great interactive on our hands. Stay tuned to see how things develop!


Stuck Like Glue

Date: 7/19/2011
Author: Sarah Budlong

This afternoon, Molly and I returned to the galleries to prototype the puzzle interactive. When we first tested the puzzle in June, visitors gave us encouraging feedback about it. We discovered that puzzles are very popular with kids, especially those in the 6 – 12 age range. The positive feedback we received taught us that the concept itself was strong and that we only had to change a few elements to make the game successful.

pieces glued into puzzle frame

Two pieces glued in to puzzle frame as a starting point for visitors

Before today’s prototyping session, we permanently affixed two of the pieces on the bottom row of the puzzle. We hoped that this small change would help visitors figure out how to start the puzzle more quickly. During the first round of testing we noticed that visitors were confused by the fact that each of the six-sided puzzle pieces had one side covered with text and two sides covered with images. Many groups had a difficult time figuring out that the text was supposed to run across the top side of each row and that the images were of two different puzzles. We thought that by gluing two of the pieces into the correct place, we could prevent unnecessary visitor confusion.

We were very pleased to see that our plan worked. None of the ten groups that we tested had a problem figuring out how to start the puzzle. We tested the puzzle with the pieces already assembled and completed disassembled. In both scenarios, visitors understood that the text was supposed to face up and easily figured out which way to put the sides that had images on them. Furthermore, by comparing the pieces in front of them with the pieces already glued onto the puzzle, the person on the ship’s side could easily see that the pieces with water in them were supposed to go on the bottom row. This allowed groups to complete the bottom row much faster than before, a key accomplishment that inspires groups to move forward and finish the puzzle.

Tipping Towards War Prototype Completed

Two lines that confused visitors

During the testing, we also noticed two additional problems with the puzzle that we want to change for the next round of testing. The first is that two of the sentences start with the words, “It took.” That confuses visitors because the pictures on the two blocks are similar and they can’t figure out which one goes where. We also discovered that the image of the crew has too much white space in it and that visitors don’t find it appealing. We want to test a version of the puzzle with a different crew image. The museum’s graphic designer suggested creating a collage of Constitution crew members engaged in different activities. A collage would cover more space and be more visually interesting than the current graphic, which is designed to illustrate the hundreds of crew members who served aboard Constitution at the same time.

Today we had two people choose to do the puzzle alone. Both were male, one was about seventeen and the other looked about eleven. The seventeen year old did the puzzle in less than four minutes and reported that it was easy and fun. The eleven year old struggled without someone to help him and completed the puzzle in thirteen minutes after some assistance from us. Although adults seem to have no problem working alone, it appears that children under eleven or twelve have difficulty visualizing the puzzle when they are working by themselves. Conversely, two pre-teen visitors working together completed the puzzle in five minutes and reported that they thought it was fun and “just hard enough to feel challenging.” Today’s biggest take-away is that it is easier and more fun for kids to do the puzzle with one or more other people. In our opinion, these findings reinforce the goal of the interactive, which is to convey the theme of teamwork and the message that the Constitution and her crew depended on each other to function.


One Puzzle, One Goal, One FINISHED Product

Date: 8/5/2011
Author: Molly Braswell

After just a few days of prototyping the puzzle interactive, we interns think that we have gathered enough information to create a successful final version.  We have tested the puzzle with visitors and have played it many times ourselves.  We think that once we make a few minor changes, the puzzle interactive will be ready to go!

One thing we would like to change, is the picture on the crew side of the puzzle.  We are happy with the picture of the ship, but we would like a new picture that represents the crew.  The current image has a lot of white, empty space, so we want a new image that is more colorful and visually interesting.  This will make it easier to assemble the puzzle from the crew side. 

We also decided that we would like two blocks to be permanently affixed to the bottom layer of the puzzle.  Our experiences prototyping showed us that this helps visitors quickly see the correct placement of the puzzle pieces.  Some changes also need to be made to the text on the side panels and to a few of the sentences that are written out on the top of the puzzle pieces.  These are just minor edits—we are mostly happy with the written elements of this interactive.

Overall, we are really happy with the way the puzzle interactive turned out.  We started with a clear goal for the game and a well-developed idea about what we wanted the puzzle to accomplish, and then the prototyping let us work the kinks out of the design.  The final product fulfills the learning goals we set out to address, so we consider the puzzle interactive to be a success!