- Associated Press - Sunday, December 6, 2015

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - Jon Melgaard wanted to bring geographic literacy into the 21st century.

The result was a colorful, 53-piece wooden puzzle. Each piece represents a different county in North Dakota and on the back of each puzzle piece is a quick response, or QR, code that can be scanned by a smart device to reveal a bit more online information about each county.

“Our goal was to get one of these into every single fourth-grade classroom in North Dakota,” said Melgaard, who launched the project when he was Entrepreneur in Residence at Fargo-based Kilbourne Group. The puzzle project grew into a nonprofit initiative that was hosted by the Fargo Moorhead Area Foundation of Fargo. It is now a volunteer-led initiative.

Melgaard said he had been working on the project for about two years, with the goal to develop a tool that complemented the North Dakota Studies Curriculum, which is taught to fourth-graders in classrooms across the state. North Dakota Studies teaches fourth-graders about the geography, history, government, current issues and citizenship of the state.

He researched interactive learning methods and tried to determine whether the best approach would be hands-on, tactile learning or one that incorporated the technology with which children are familiar today. Connected Puzzles is a combination of both, a project that respects the past while providing inspiration for the future, said Melgaard.

By the end of the year, Melgaard said 537 classrooms from 325 different schools in the state will be using the Connected Puzzles. Among them are fourth grade classrooms at Edison Elementary and other Minot schools. He said more than $45,000 was raised to produce the puzzles.

The Minot Community Foundation and Minot Public School Foundation were among the contributors, along with the Kilbourne Group, Forum Communications, BNSF Foundation, Grand Forks Community Foundation, West Fargo Public Schools, Fargo Public Schools Foundation, First International Bank & Trust, ND Community Foundation, Mandan Public Schools, Midcontinent, Border States Electric, Red River Teacher Center, Grand Forks Public School Foundation, and other individual contributors.

“Through the generosity of many donors, we’ve completed our campaign,” Melgaard told the Minot Daily News (http://bit.ly/1YFMMWA ). “It’s fun to see what happens when North Dakota comes together.”

After the puzzles are in classrooms, Melgaard said the group will focus on developing more curriculum content. When children scan the back of a puzzle piece, they will eventually find more immersive and engaging information online about a particular county. Melgaard said the group has worked with the North Dakota Heritage Center in Bismarck and other organizations to provide content.

Melgaard said other states are interested in the project, though so far there are only North Dakota puzzles.

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Information from: Minot Daily News, http://www.minotdailynews.com

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