How “Why’s” Can Make You Wise

When I introduced Genius Hour to my 3rd graders this year, they were really excited about creating “missions” about anything that interested them.  The week after they set their goals for their projects, they came into class and I announced that we were going to switch gears.  We have been working on a unit on Systems Thinking, and I had a new idea to actually apply that unit to a real life problem in a real-life system – our school.

“What do you think are some problems around our school?” I asked them.  They brainstormed a list.

(There are 4 students in my 3rd grade GT class, by the way.  I’m telling you this for a couple of reasons: so you won’t think that I’m an extremely brave teacher for trying this experiment and so you will realize that my “class” probably needed to get some more perspectives on this question.)

“Do you think we should get some other opinions?” I asked the students.  They agreed that might be a good idea.  So, I showed them how to make a Google Form to use to survey the school, and we sent it to the staff to share with the students.

This week, we took a look at the summary of results.  Almost half of the respondents had agreed that the biggest problem at our school is the noise in the cafeteria.  The two girls in my class decided to take that on for their Genius Hour project.  The two boys chose to work on the problem of garbage on the cafeteria floor.

One of the boys had either misunderstood our discussion before Spring break or was so enthusiastic about it that he decided to create a solution before we even chose our problems.  He came to class yesterday with a game he had designed in Gamestar Mechanic to teach kids why leaving food on the floor was not a good idea.

“So, do you think the reason they are doing that is because they just need to be educated about the consequences?” I asked him. He nodded.

We had just finished reading a chapter of Billibonk and the Big Itch,  where the main character learns the importance of getting to the root of a problem so you’re not just treating the symptom.  I asked the students to use the method that Frankl suggests to Billibonk in the story – to keep asking, “Why?”  Frankl recommends doing this 5 times, or until you just can’t do it anymore.

Through a series of “Why’s” the girls decided that the reason for the noise in the cafeteria is related to people talking loudly for attention.

The boys came to two different conclusions about why there is so much garbage on the cafeteria floor.  One of them ended up believing it is due to disrespect for the adults in the room, and one of them feels that it is actually due to a lack of self-confidence.  The boy who designed the Gamestar Mechanic solution realized that this was not going to solve the problem he had just identified.  Of course, he is still determined to use Gamestar Mechanic to fix it 🙂

I have absolutely no idea where this is going next.  Now that the students have done their best to identify the causes of the problems, they are going to use some other Systems Thinking concepts to try to develop solutions.  This is a grand experiment for all of us!

While I was writing this post, I was attempting to multi-task, and listening to one of the videos from yesterday’s Learning Creative Learning class.  During the video, Mitch Resnick stated how important he believes it is to “solve problems in context of a meaningful project that you’re working on.”   That is exactly what we are attempting to do, so I hope that it is a good learning experience, no matter the results.

Here is a great article by Mitch Ditkoff for the Huffington Post that reinforces this idea of continuing to ask, “Why?” with a real-life example. (Be sure to read it before you share with students, as it does mention insects mating – with other synonyms for the word, “mating.” 🙂 )

5 thoughts on “How “Why’s” Can Make You Wise”

1. Brett H says:

Great learning going on! Very practical and relevant for the kids!

1. Not really brave. I don’t think I would have tried this with a regular-sized class!