Category Archives: Critical Thinking

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. 😉

 

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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

 

Are Leprechauns Real?

My Kinder students have made leprechaun traps for the last few years, and it always amuses me as they get older and sadly reminisce that they didn’t catch any leprechauns.  I’m never quite sure who is fooling who – are they just trying to make me believe that they believe, or are we all just making believe?

Just in case your students have some residual doubt, you can assign them this Wonderopolis article.

Students in upper elementary might scoff at leprechauns, but may be interested in doing some St. Patrick’s Day magnetic poetry.  You can also try this free “Irish” creative writing kit.

With this search I did on Teachers Pay Teachers, I found several free St. Patrick’s Day logic puzzles for various ages.

For those kinesthetic/spatial students, here is a lesson on shamrock origami.

I always feel a bit cheated because Pi Day and St. Patrick’s Day fall during our Spring Break – but I’m sure I’ll find a way to sneak some of these activities in anyway!

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Digital Breakout Tools

“Digital Breakouts” are similar to the physical game, where students use clues to try to open locks.  However, in a Digital Breakout, the students input the lock codes online, usually into a Google Form, rather than using tangible locks.  One of our NEISD Instructional Technology Specialists, Heather Miller (@SATechieTeacher) recently used this technique for a PD she presented to our staff, and inspired me to try to create a few of my own for my students.  This “Fibonacci Thief” DBO (I’m guessing it was designed by a Mrs. VanKirk in Milton SD based on the URL) is an example of a Digital Breakout that uses Google Forms embedded in a Google Site.

If you haven’t used Google Sites, don’t be intimidated.  You can actually make a simple Digital Breakout just using Google Forms and inserting some images.  This excellent video explains how to create “locked” Google Forms in a matter of minutes.

This page offers more video tutorials if you want to add some complexity to your Digital Breakout, such as embedding the form in a Google Site with pages for different clues.  It also includes a crowd-sourced document of resources for making fun images and clues.  Kari Augustine’s Breakout EDU Pinterest Board is another place that you can find ideas for generating interesting graphics and codes.  A couple that I found over the weekend that I plan to try are:

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As soon as I create a couple of my own Digital Breakouts worth sharing, I will post them to this blog!

Dinkee

My daughter (15) and I love to play word games.  A couple of years ago, she received a game called, “Linkee” for Christmas.  “Linkee” has cards that give four trivia questions.  After answering the four questions, players try to figure out what the answers all have in common.  When they figure it out, they shout, “Linkee!”  If they are right, they win the card, which has a letter on the back.  The first person to earn all of the letters that spell “Linkee,” wins.

We love the game (even though no one else will play with us).  However, a lot of the references are a bit too difficult for elementary aged kids.  You can imagine my delight, then, when I discovered there is another version of “Linkee” specifically designed for younger children.  “Dinkee” is for ages 8 and up.  If you want to get a sense of the game, you can visit this site, where there are sample cards as well as a free downloadable version.

I played “Dinkee” with my eighteen 2nd grade students yesterday, and they loved it.  They worked as tables to try to earn the cards, and it seemed the only regret was that we didn’t have time to finish the game.  I’ll definitely be adding this to my list of recommended games for kids.

If you question the value of a game like this in school, then you might want to read this article, which gives a pretty compelling argument about the benefits of making connections.

To challenge your own brain in a similar fashion, you can also try the “Kennections” puzzles by Jeopardy champion, Ken Jennings.

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Dinkee is available on Amazon

Critical Thinking Bookmarks

I found this post from Melissa on Upper Elementary Snapshots.  She describes the Depth and Complexity icons developed by Sandra Kaplan, and includes a link to a free download for Critical Thinking Bookmarks.  The packet includes Melissa’s tips for how to use the bookmarks in class.  This is a nice resource for students in 3rd grade and up who are reading novels for literature circles or in other contexts.

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