Solving the Puzzle of Social and Emotional Learning

Solving the Puzzle of Social and Emotional Learning

During the pandemic, parents and teachers have searched for new ways to teach and reach students where they are. But not every student learns the same way, and each child’s personality impacts how they learn, act, and succeed.

But what if there WAS a way to help them learn how to control these responses and channel their emotions into positive behavior and long-term success in school and life? New research shows there is an approach that may do just that.

You may have heard of Emotional Intelligence. Certainly, it’s something that has become a buzzword in corporate boardrooms and has trickled down to schools. But the latest developments from childhood education during the last decade have evolved this idea into something that expands more broadly into the core personality. It’s called social and emotional learning, or SEL.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) is working to make this evidence-based social and emotional learning methodology a part of education for kids from preschool through secondary school. Federal programs such as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) are now factoring social, emotional, and behavioral measures into accountability metrics as well.

SEL 101

So, what is Social and Emotional Learning, and what kinds of activities can reinforce this kind of teaching?

According to CASEL, SEL goes beyond emotional intelligence by bringing in the element of self-awareness, empathy, and skills for problem solving and teamwork. These cognitive, emotional, and interpersonal skills transfer in life beyond the classroom into the workplace, relationships, and life as a citizen.

A recent report in Yale Medicine found that the pandemic has brought the need for these skills to the surface as students (and teachers) are looking for new ways to navigate uncertain times as emotions run high. Researchers with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence said, “the philosophies associated with SEL are vital in helping students cope.”

And a Wallace Foundation study by the Harvard Graduate School of Education of 25 leading SEL programs found that “high-quality, evidence-based SEL programs produce positive outcomes for students.”

Great Activities for SEL

CASEL says that the “goals of SEL are more likely to be achieved when evidence-based approaches are used to reach students in all settings where they spend their time.” That includes activities that require cooperation and teamwork through group participation in games, sports, or other learning activities.

The Harvard Foundation report found that 17 instructional practices were vital in developing SEL skills. Among them were discussions, art/creative projects, visual displays, games, and skill practice.

When we created StickTogether puzzles years ago, one of the key features that we wanted to encourage was fostering student engagement and teamwork. Each StickTogether puzzle also requires critical thinking and decision making – both skills that are centered in the SEL approach.

StickTogether mosaic sticker puzzles are like paint-by-numbers but with stickers. Each design comes with a grid coded poster grid, a simple color key—and thousands of brilliantly colored stickers.

The standard size puzzles have nearly 4,000 stickers and measure 36’’ x 40’’. A larger grid measures at 60” x 36” grid and takes more than 7,000 stickers to complete the image.

The group matches the colors to the letters in the color key and watches as the pixels slowly come together to form the hidden image.

The activity is an easy and relaxing way for students to share, connect, take turns, collaborate and work toward a common goal.

Along the way, teachers can incorporate lessons about math, art, colors, geography, or history as it relates to the puzzle. There is no limit – just the imagination of the students!

“Teaching Moments” Guides

So how can you start? No one has time to redo lesson plans completely. So, we’ve put together easy Teaching Moments guides to show you how to use StickTogether to guide lessons, whether you’re teaching in the classroom or in the living room. Just sign up for our newsletter for great tips!

And watch this space as we talk more about SEL and other emerging educational trends.

Need more ideas or want to connect with other teachers or people who love our sticker puzzles? We’re socially distanced (and socially active) on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest. And as always, feel free to send an email to

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