Category Archives: Critical Thinking

Turing Tumble Review

I think I’ve finally come to terms with my Kickstarter addiction.  Basically, I choose an item to “back”, and wait until that product arrives on my doorstep before I find something else to invest in.  Most of the items I fund take around a year to get manufactured, so this seems to be a compromise that my bank account can handle.

Last summer, I wrote about my latest Kickstarter purchase, the Turing Tumble. I expected to receive it in January, but a few obstacles were encountered during production that delayed it to the summer.  Sadly, this meant that only the few students that attended my robot camp got a chance to test it out, but I think I got a pretty good idea of its impact from them and my 15 year old daughter.

Paul and Alyssa Boswell, who invented this unique game, kept their Kickstarter backers very well-informed during the production process.  Packaging is a huge part of getting products like this into the hands of consumers, and there were a lot of bumps along the way.  However, I think they got it right in the end.  Turing Tumble arrived in a substantial box that has a customized insert for all of the pieces.  It will definitely make it easy to store.

Speaking of pieces, there are a lot, including tiny red and blue marbles that are “tumbled” in the games.  The quantity of small pieces is a definite reason you should not ignore the age rating of 8 to Adult.    I would caution anyone with young children or pets (like mine) who are living vacuum cleaners to set up this game in an area where accidental flying marbles won’t be immediately ingested .

The Turing Tumble is basically a mechanical computer.  The different pieces represent what happens in a computer when a program runs.  The set comes with a puzzle book that is written in the form of a graphic novel.  Players are given 60 different objectives (challenges) throughout the story to complete using the pieces.  (You can see an excellent description of the game, along with pics and video, on their Kickstarter page.)

A few of my students, ages 8-10, got to try out the game.  Despite the beautiful images by Jiaoyang Li that accompany the story in the puzzle book, the students skipped straight to the challenges.  Once they understood the basic structure of the book (each challenge has an objective, a picture of the starting setup, and the available parts you should add), they began to cruise through the scaffolded puzzles.  A small crowd gathered around whenever they “started a program” by pressing the lever to release the first marble, and everyone watched in fascination as red and blue marbles fell in patterns determined by the placement of pieces.

My daughter was equally interested in the game.  We sat at the dining room table working our way through the puzzles, and I ended up being the gatherer of pieces as she mentally visualized where to place them in order to accomplish each new objective.  I was the one who finally stopped that night – mainly because I was feeling a bit grumpy about her solving the puzzles much more quickly than I ever could.

The good news is that anyone can now buy the Turing Tumble – and you don’t have to wait a year to receive it.  It is available directly through their website, from Amazon, or Gameology (for New Zealanders and Australians).

Turing Tumble also has an education portion on their website, which includes a practice guide.  You can submit your email address if you want to hear from the company when they release their Educator Guide.

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image of Paul and Alyssa Boswell with their invention, from Turing Tumble Press Kit
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Reflecting with Hexagons

I think that the deepest discussions I ever hear in my classroom happen when we do Hexagonal Thinking.  If you haven’t heard of this strategy, I explain how I use it with my 4th graders in this blog post.  Last year, I did a post on using Hexagonal Thinking to reflect on the school year.  In the past, my 3rd-5th graders have used Hexagonal Thinking.  This year, on a whim, I decided to try it with my 2nd graders.

My 2nd graders have never done an activity like this before.  It was our last day of class together, and I wanted to help them sum up the things they have learned in our Gifted and Talented class this year.  Because they were new to Hexagonal Thinking, I conducted the activity in a slightly different way.

First, I went to this awesome Hexagon Generator, and asked the class to help me brainstorm words that represented things they have learned in GT.  Here is what they came up with:

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I did this right before their recess time, so I could make some quick copies for everyone while they played.

When we got back to the classroom, I paired up the students and gave them the paper.  Now this is where I really departed from my traditional lesson.  Instead of asking them to cut up the hexagons and place them where they wanted on a new sheet of paper, I asked them to make connections between words that were already sharing sides.  We went over a couple of examples so they could understand that I didn’t want them to say things that used the words in the explanation, (such as creativity goes with problem solving because you need to be creative to problem solve) but to think about the qualities that each word shared.

You know how you sometimes come up with an idea right before class and you start executing the idea and realize about 3/4 of the way through explaining it that it was the dumbest idea ever and now you need to figure out how to get through the next 45-minutes without anyone crying – including you?

That’s how I felt as I started monitoring the partner discussions.  Expecting 2nd graders to “go deep” on the last day of class was not a brilliant decision on my part.  There were comments like, “Well, bridges goes with stability because they need to stay up or they will fall down.”  True, but not what I was going for.

And then something kind of magical happened.  I heard partners saying, “No, no, that’s not what she wants.”  And I started reading some of their notes.  And I realized that these kids can think deeper than I can when given the opportunity.

A few of their comments:

  • Stability and Support – “You have to be strong and stand up for your friends.”
  • Creativity and Perspective – “You have to think the way others think to make them happy.”
  • Perseverance and Adaptations – “They both don’t give up trying to survive.”
  • Perseverance and Adaptations – “Sometimes you need to change to work together.”
  • Ethics and Perspectives – “When you don’t look at different points of view, sometimes you get in a fight.”

You can see the working drafts one pair used below.

The great thing about this activity was hearing the students use the vocabulary, like “ethics” and “perspectives” correctly, and being able to tell from their comments if they really understood these topics.

If you still have some time with your students before closing out the year, I definitely recommend this activity!

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Photo May 30, 1 36 51 PM

 

 

Nothing VENNtured…

Venn Diagrams are pretty ubiquitous in school.  Most students have seen and used the common form of a Venn Diagram that you see below in order to compare/contrast two things.

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image from Wikipedia

To be honest, after a bazillion years of teaching, I’ve gotten quite bored with using this graphic organizer.  However, there are a few people who have thought up some interesting variations on this theme, and I thought I would share some with you.

First up, Venn Perplexors are a series of workbooks that have levels suitable for Kinder and up.  Level A sticks with the concept of students grouping pictures and words into diagrams, but the other levels challenge students to use Venn Diagrams to solve math problems.  It’s an unusual way to do algebraic thinking that is great for students who need some math enrichment.

I’ve posted about “Logic Zoo”, a PBS Cyberchase game here.  It’s fun to play on the interactive board with students in Kinder and 1st.

Another interactive board possibility (for a bit older children) is this one.

Anaxi is a unique game that I included in my Gifts for the Gifted Series in 2016.  Players use translucent cards to create Venn Diagram categories that require some creativity to fill.  It’s challenging, so I would use it with 2nd grade and up.

Today, I had an interesting discussion with my 3rd graders with this puzzler from Math Pickle.  I think this has been my favorite Venn Diagram activity so far.  The free printable has 13 different blank diagrams and a list of 13 groups of 3.  Problem solvers must find which diagram matches which group.  For example, what would the diagram for “reptile, crocodile, and female” look like?  The great thing is that the answers are NOT provided, so we were all trying to figure out the answers and debating our solutions.  I loved the critical thinking that was used for this activity, though it might be better suited for 4th grade and up.  I could definitely see making some of these up for other subjects, too, like geography or social studies.  Also, Math Pickle has some other Venn Puzzlers which look wickedly fun here. (I want to try the polygon ones!)

Lastly, here are some fun and creative Venn Diagrams that are probably best for middle and high school students – or even your adult friends.  Along the same lines are these humorous ones from Math with Bad Drawings.

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image from XKCD

25 Challenging Riddles

My students have a love/hate relationship with riddles.  They groan and complain that I’m asking them to do the impossible, but as soon as they solve one they beg for more.  This is a good time of year for these fun puzzlers from Reader’s Digest.  There are more than a few that are new to me and I plan to add to my repertoire.  The one below, from Cydcor on Flickr, is a variation of a student favorite in my classroom.

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image from Cydcor on Flickr

Causal Modelling

I’ve been lately trying to use more Integrative Thinking in class.  It bring about really deep discussions, and I like to see the students make visual models of their thoughts.  In the past few weeks, I have been working on “Causal Modelling” with my 3rd-5th graders with varying degrees of success.

You can see a short video of Causal Modelling in action here.  Basically, students try to consider all of the possible reasons for a particular situation or problem.  In the video, the topic is, “People Struggling to Afford Food.”  With student input, the teacher makes a web with this topic in the center and several nodes that name possible causes.  It quickly develops in complexity as the students volunteer causes for the causes and begin to see connections among causes.

This blog post by Heidi Siwak shows several examples of causal models diagrammed by her 7th graders for issues varying from gun violence (very topical!) to unfinished homework.

To start causal modelling with my own students, we worked on creating a class causal model about why Nemo gets lost in Finding Nemo.  Then I put students in groups to generate causal models about the fiction we were reading in each grade.  For my 5th graders, this meant they explained an event from The Giver.

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After doing group causal modelling about fiction, I asked each grade level to apply it to “real life.”  My 3rd graders brainstormed recurring problems, such as a sibling interrupting them when they are playing with friends, and came up with multiple causes.  After breaking it down this way, they could see potential ways to avoid some of the precipitating events (sibling needing attention, for example), and potential solutions.

With my 5th graders, I had a different idea.  After reading this post from Heidi, I realized that the personal manifesto activity they were working on was the perfect opportunity for them to get a picture of why they believe what they believe.  Since we were about to have a 3-day weekend when many would be visiting with extended family, I sent them home with a rare homework assignment: pick one of your belief statements and do a causal model for why you believe it.  Think about your own experiences, what your parents believe, and even ask your grandparents and parents why they believe it (if that’s where it came from).

One student said to me, “What if it’s not from your parent?  What if it’s from you?”  I asked, “What’s the belief?”  She said, “Taking risks.”  So I explained how, when I was young, I had volunteered to do a monkey bar race at an amusement park.  Sneakily, the proprietors had greased the bars, so I fell off when I reached for the 2nd bar, landing in a pool of water.  I was humiliated.  Afterward, my mother bought me a coveted stuffed animal in the souvenir shop – not to make up for the embarrassment, but to reward me for trying.  That’s when I learned that it’s more important to try and fail than to do nothing at all.

The students came back from their weekend, nearly all having done the assignment in one form or another.  Some wanted to share it publicly, and some wanted to have a private audience with me to speak about the personal reasons for their beliefs.  I would definitely say that I learned a lot about each of them, and I hope that they learned more about themselves.

Overall, causal modelling helps students to grasp that “wicked problems” (as Heidi calls them) cannot be solved with sweeping generalizations.  “Why don’t they just…” rarely addresses all of the causes, or all of the deeply held beliefs that led to those causes.  It might help a few of our current leaders to keep this in mind. 😉

 

Feebo, Not Chee

Feebo, Not Chee is my latest attempt at doing a Digital Breakout.  Like the previous one, this one is designed for 4th grade students.  Ideally, they would work on it independently.  The pages are not in the same order as the clues, and there are a couple of links to external sites on this one.  If you are an educator who needs answers to this breakout, please e-mail me at engagetheirminds@gmail.com

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Feebo, Not Chee! Digital Breakout Link

The Culture Code

After receiving a tip from my former principal, John Hinds, about “The Next Big Idea Club,” two of my colleagues and I decided to share a subscription.  Every three months, we will receive two new, non-fiction books selected by Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel Pink, Susan Pink, and Adam Grant.

We just received our first package, and it included a bonus book.  The books we received were: The Culture Code, by Daniel Coyle, Endure, by Alex Hutchinson and Malcolm Gladwell, and When by Daniel Pink.  I dove into The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, first.

The Culture Code may very well turn out to be my favorite book of the year, despite the fact that it is not written specifically for educators.  Coyle begins the book with an interesting case study that illustrates what he believes to be the three characteristics all successful groups do: Build Safety, Share Vulnerability, and Establish Purpose.  He continues to give evidence and examples for each criteria, referring to the practices of some of the world’s most famous organizations, like Pixar and the San Antonio Spurs.

So much of The Culture Code can be applied to classrooms, schools, and districts.  I alternated between shouting, “Yes!  That’s what I try to do with my students, too!” and, “Wow!  We should try that!” throughout the entire book.

Some big “yes” moments:

  • “Group performance depends on behavior that communicates one powerful, overarching idea: We are safe and connected.”
  • “To create safety, leaders need to actively invite input.”
  • “Building purpose in a creative group is not about generating a brilliant moment of breakthrough, but rather about building systems that can churn through lots of ideas in order to help unearth the right choices.”
  • “It’s about building ownership, providing support, and aligning group energy toward the arduous, error-filled, ultimately fulfilling journey of making something new.”

One interesting idea that I think would be helpful to use more in education would be the concept of “Red Teaming.”  This is a strategy, according to Coyle, used by the military to test potential solutions to a problem.  The “Red Team,” which is comprised of people who were not involved in proposing the original solution, lists any way they can think of that would derail the plan.  This helps the leaders to uncover vulnerabilities and prepare for them ahead of time.  The purpose of the Red Team is to make the plan stronger, and the only way that it can work is in an environment where the participants feel safe and connected.

Coyle makes an interesting distinction between organizations that are designed for proficiency and ones that have a creative purpose.  His insights about the different leadership required for each type of organization reminded me of what I believe to be one of the fundamental problems in education – we are structured around proficiency, but we bemoan the lack of creativity.  Coyle talks about two leaders who have clear, but diverse messages based on the divergent purposes of their companies: “Meyers needs people to know and feel exactly what to do, while Catmull needs people to discover that for themselves.”  I honestly think that we regularly convey both of these messages to our students – to their detriment.

After reading The Culture Code, I found that it certainly reinforced the beliefs that many of us have about classrooms needing to be places where students feel safe and connected.  The biggest problem that I think that education faces today is that we seem to have difficulty agreeing on the purpose of education and communicating that consistent message to our students.

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The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, by Daniel Coyle