Common Sense Review
Updated February 2014

Portal 2 Puzzle Maker

Mind-bending level editor for beloved physics game
Common Sense Rating 4
  • The tabula rasa: Students begin with a mostly empty room.
  • Through experimentation, exploration, and experience, students build their own Portal 2 test rooms.
  • Rooms don’t have to be puzzles. Here, a student has built a random number generator.
  • Outside of "author mode," in player mode, students get to play, solve, and troubleshoot creations.
Students get to build pro-quality levels for a beloved franchise while building invaluable skills.
The teacher community features showed a lot of promise but seem to have lost support.
Bottom Line
For STEAM educators with the right tech and know-how, it'd be puzzling not to use this tool.
John Sooja
Common Sense Reviewer
Classroom teacher
Common Sense Rating 4
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 5

It's easy to forget something so fun is packed with learning potential. Students and teachers will enjoy testing, tweaking, and sharing their creations.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer? 5

Gets students thinking and creating like designers and engineers, making STEAM-infused Portal 2 levels that provide a true feeling of accomplishment and pride.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 3

In theory there's a teacher community, but it's difficult to access, unintuitive, and not well supported. The tool itself, however, is well crafted.

About our ratings and privacy evaluation.
How Can Teachers Use It?

The most obvious use for Portal 2 Puzzle Maker is to teach physics, and just about every introductory concept can be covered, from testing the effects of friction on falling objects to calculating acceleration due to gravity. Teachers can build their own lessons and test chambers or challenge students to design, develop, test, and iterate levels that demonstrate concepts. Teachers could also ask students to build machines or apparatuses in test chambers that "do" things, like Rube Goldberg machines, oscillators, and logic gates. This will help student see how complex chains can work toward a simple goal (like getting a cube from one end of a room to the other with no player interaction). If designing something new sounds too ambitious, check out the selection of ready-to-go lessons from expert teachers.

Keep in mind, though, that sharing of levels is still technically challenging, and some lessons may require a pre-constructed test chamber that students play and experiment with. If this is the case -- and building the level isn't part of the lesson -- students or teachers will need to build the levels prior to the meat of the lesson, and/or swap computers that have a particular pre-built test chamber saved locally. For this reason, many of the lessons on the Teach with Portals site have students create the test chamber as part of the lesson.

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What's It Like?

Portal 2 Puzzle Maker is a game design and learning tool that allows educators and students to create test chambers -- or puzzle levels -- in Portal 2, a hugely popular and influential first-person physics puzzler with a great sense of humor and mind-bending challenges. In Portal 2, players use a handheld "portal device" that places interconnected "portals" on walls, ceilings, floors, and other objects. Go in one portal and you come out the other. There's also catapults, lasers, and other physically simulated objects to make things more fun and more complex. With Portal 2 Puzzle Maker, teachers and students can create levels just like they see in the game.

By solving custom-built learning levels designed by teachers (or other students), the incredibly engaging platform of Portal 2 can be laser-focused on core learning content. By making levels, students must think not only as players and problem solvers, but designers and engineers. And since everything students do in game relies on the game's modeling of physics, students must understand and use concepts like oscillation, momentum, gravity, mass and weight, 2D and 3D geometric concepts, parabolas, and terminal velocity to create and solve levels.

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Is It Good For Learning?

In 2012, Valve, the company that developed and published Portal 2, created an education version of Portal 2 and Portal 2 Puzzle Maker that was free and included a separate teacher community called Steam for Schools. The idea was to get teachers and students creating and sharing lesson plans and levels. This community still exists but hasn't received much support. For instance, it's still difficult to share levels, and there's very little activity in the community forums. There are some superstar teachers creating great content, however. And even without a robust, supportive teacher community and lesson-sharing resource, the Portal 2 Puzzle Maker is a remarkable tool that truly stretches students' brains and encourages them to be creators and problems solvers. There are endless possibilities, making it feel Minecraft-esque, but with a more obvious focus on core learning, especially physics.

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See how teachers are using Portal 2 Puzzle Maker