Category Archives: Critical Thinking

Iterationists

I would like to give Krissy Venosdale (@krissyvenosdale) credit for the awesome image below, and possibly for coining a new term: “iterationist.”  When I saw the image tweeted by her the other day, I knew right away it would be a new mantra for me.  Considering the experience I described from our robot camp on Monday, Krissy’s quote perfectly states what I need to encourage more from my students (and myself).

“Iteration”  is a word that is used quite a bit when people discuss Design Thinking.  Anyone who has created something of substance will agree that a new work goes through many drafts before the maker feels satisfied.  Those iterations are important to the process; in fact some even argue that they are more important than the final product.

What I learned from my robot camp experience is that I not only need to make students more aware of the importance of iterations, but also how to learn from them.  As I mentioned, some of the teams had no problem trying again when their designs didn’t work. However, they didn’t spend enough time on trying to figure out why they weren’t working, and subsequent iterations tended to be just as inefficient.

In school, we usually don’t give students time for multiple iterations, unless we are preparing them for a standardized writing test or telling them to correct failed assignments. If we could make “iterationism” a habit, rather than a consequence or forced strategy, students would be more comfortable about taking risks and we would see a lot more “bravery.”

by Krissy Venosdale
by Krissy Venosdale

 

Tell Your Students to Get Lost

I was driving between appointments yesterday, and considered taking a potential shortcut.  After a quick internal debate, I decided to stick to the route I knew even though I would barely arrive on time.  Why didn’t I take the shortcut?

Because I had a guess it would be quicker, but I wasn’t absolutely sure where it would take me.  If it worked, I would get there earlier and be able to use it many times in the future.  But, if I got lost…

So, even though I’ve often thought about using that shortcut, and it would be awesome if it worked because I could forever use it, I haven’t.  I never have time when I think about it that I’m willing to give up if I get lost.

This is what we often do to our students.  We show them the way to do something that we want them to achieve, and we never give them time to discover their own route to the destination.  There is no time for them to stray from the path we prescribe.  If they start wandering, we quickly re-direct them.  Or, we sometimes tell them they obviously can’t read this map so they should just give up and move on to the next destination. It doesn’t matter that they might have found a more efficient way, or even a more scenic route, if given time.

As my students meander their way through their Spy School Missions in our Undercover Robots camp this week, I chuckle at their circuitous routes and congratulate them on discoveries that don’t necessarily relate to the mission.  I wonder what schools would be like if more learning could happen this way, if we told our students frequently, “Get lost.  And be sure to tell me all about it.”

Flickr image from Ian Wilson
Flickr image from Ian Wilson

 

Group Games and Activities from ThinkFun

I am hosting an “Undercover Robots Camp” in my home starting today, and I was scouring the internet for some fun games to play when we are taking breaks from the robots.  As a big fan of ThinkFun, I was surprised to come across a part of their site I hadn’t explored.  The “Group Games and Activities” page offers free resources for playing life-size versions of some classic puzzles.  For example, you may have seen ThinkFun’s one-player game, “Hoppers.” But substitute humans on a big piece of tarp, and you can now have a multi-player game! (Kind of Harry-Potter-Wizard’s-Chess if you need a visual.) If you are looking for some different ideas for getting children active, definitely check out ThinkFun’s Group Games and Activities page!

Full Disclosure: From time to time I receive games from ThinkFun to review, but I do not receive any compensation.  

photo from Elmira College on Flickr
photo from Elmira College on Flickr

 

The L.E.A.D. DoSeum

Mrs. Lasher’s incredible 5th grade GT students are currently hosting a “pop-up” museum at their school.  Inspired by San Antonio’s new hands-on children’s museum, the DoSeum, the students designed their very own interactive exhibits, and invited select guests to visit.  Here is the invitation they designed.

The L.E.A.D. (Learn, Explore, And Discover) DoSeum consists of three rooms: The Seeker Space, Puzzle Parlor, and Tech Town.  You can see descriptions of the rooms in the invitation linked above.

LEAD DoSeum

Mrs. Lasher chronicled the process of creating the L.E.A.D. DoSeum from its inception.  You can read her blog posts and see pictures of the DoSeum here.

I think that this is such a wonderful idea, giving students the opportunity to take charge and plan with an authentic audience in mind.  It’s also nice to do near the end of the school year, as other teachers on the campus will probably be more than happy to take their students on a tour!  Even if you don’t have 3 rooms to spare, you could consider working with other teachers for the last couple of weeks of school to split your students into teams to each design an interactive museum room in their classroom.

Thanks for sharing this, Mrs. Lasher and 5th grade GT students!

 

Reflecting on the Whatzit

Critical Squares: Games of Critical Thinking and Understanding, is a book written by Shari Tishman and Albert Andrade for Harvard’s Project Zero.  One of the games I like to use in my classroom is “Whatzit Tic-Tac-Toe.”  We generally play it to think deeper about novels that we have read, but I decided to try it as an end-of-year reflection activity yesterday.

We don’t play the game as the rules state in the book.  I put the grid up on the interactive white board and all of the prompts are covered.  The students are divided into teams, and I start the game by uncovering one of the prompts.  Then all of the teams have 5 minutes to write down an answer.

The prompts all have the word, “Whatzit” in them, and we substitute our topic for that word.  So, yesterday, we substituted GT (Gifted and Talented Class) for “Whatzit.”  For example, one of the questions is, “List three important features of the Whatzit,” and the students wrote 3 important features of our GT class.

After 5 minutes, all teams submit their answers without any names on them.  I shuffle them, and read all of the answers out loud, then select the one that “Wows” me the most (kind of Apples to Apples style).  The winning team members reveal themselves and they get a point.  Then they select the next topic.

Students are always engaged when they play this.  Plus, they are super quiet because they don’t want the other teams or me, the judge, to hear their answers.  But what I love most about this game is the variety of answers and what I learn about myself, my class, and the students.

One prompt is, “List two very different kinds of features of the Whatzit.”  The winning team wrote, “Learning and fun.”  I wasn’t sure whether to be happy or cry because this could be interpreted to mean that learning and fun don’t usually coincide in their lives.

I would like to be proud that a team listed me as one of the important features of GT, but that was probably a strategic move more than a heartfelt one😉

I must say that, having dealt with intermittent internet for the last few weeks, I was definitely in agreement with the team that, in answer to, “Which feature of the Whatzit is hardest to understand?” responded, “When technology doesn’t work.”

Yep, definitely top of my list of things that are hard to understand in my class.  Well, that and why kids always move faster when you start counting even when you don’t tell them what number you’re counting to and what terrible thing will happen if you get there.  I seriously will never understand that – but like technology, it comes in handy sometimes…

Whatzit?

Can You Solve the Bridge Riddle?

TED-Ed has a fun animation of the traditional bridge riddle using everyone’s contemporary worst fear – zombies.  I would recommend using the video with students in 3rd grade and up, and definitely pause in the middle to give them time before showing the solution.  I took a screen shot of some of the vital information to leave on-screen for the students as they try to solve the puzzle.  Can you solve the bridge riddle? Search for “riddle” on TED-ed to find even more perplexing puzzles for your brain!

screen shot from TED-Ed, "Can You Solve the Bridge Riddle?"
screen shot from TED-Ed, “Can You Solve the Bridge Riddle?

Everyone is a Maker

Mark Barnett is one of San Antonio’s true treasures.  Known as @Maker_Mark on Twitter, Barnett’s passion for education and the Maker Movement has ignited our community. He is the genius behind “The Geek Bus,” a mobile maker space that visits schools and events throughout the San Antonio area, and has devoted his time and resources toward giving students access to STEM with cutting edge technology and project-based learning.

In Mark Barnett’s recent presentation at TEDx San Antonio, he notes the huge divide between the schools that have and those that do not.  His goal is to “democratize” making, and his Geek Bus is only one of the many ways Barnett has contributed to this cause. Watch this video, and learn more about Barnett’s dedication to giving everyone access to STEM and Maker Education.

For more resources about Maker Education, check out my page of essentials and my “Make” Pinterest board.  You should also definitely follow @Maker_Mark on Twitter!

makermark