Category Archives: Depth and Complexity

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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Pickle – An Ethics Podcast for Kids

Thanks to Sonya Terborg (@terSonya) sharing a tweet from @FriedEnglish101 this weekend, I discovered Pickle this weekend.  Pickle is an ethics podcast for kids produced by WNYC.  The episodes look to be an average of about 20 minutes, and cover topics like, “Would an Elephant Visit a People Zoo?” and “The Friendship Formula.”

Pickle is hosted by two adults – Shumita Basu and Carl Smith – but they consult the “BrainsTrust” of kids during each episode.  I would guesstimate the target age group for this podcast would be 8 years old and up based on the topics and episode lengths.  It seems ideal for family discussions and enrichment classes, and individual topics could be integrated into curriculum as well.

Pickle currently has only 6 episodes (from December 2017), so I’m not sure what the future holds for this podcast.  According to the website, the original series (wouldn’t that be  Cucumber?) was an Australian Broadcasting Corporation production, Short and Curly, which has a few more episodes to offer on its website.

For more resources on talking about ethics with students, check out Not Just Child’s Play, Kids Philosophy Slam Contest, Teaching Children Philosophy,  and 8-Bit Philosophy (appropriate for secondary students).  Also, I recently posted about using some of the thinkLaw curriculum with my students, which is another great way to bring in ethics and critical thinking into your classroom.ethics-2110589_1920.jpg

National Engineers Week

February 18-24th is National Engineers Week here in the States.  Since my 2nd graders have been studying bridges, we did an activity from the Building Big website, which is still one of my favorite resources when we talk basics about man-made structures.  Yesterday’s activity was one I had never tried with a class before, the Suspension Bridge activity.  Despite prepping everything ahead of time, I went through my normal roller coaster of emotions during the lesson.

Fortunately, all groups eventually got their bridges built, and they were fascinated with the weight the suspension bridges could carry compared to the beam bridges.  I would definitely do this activity again for the wow factor!

For more resources to teach your students about engineering, you can head on over to Discovere.org.  I’ve also embedded an awesome video from the National Science Foundation called, “What is Engineering?”

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Wonder Hyperdoc

If you haven’t been formally introduced to Hyperdocs, you may want to check out this post from last year.  Michele Waggoner tweeted out a link this week to an incredible Hyperdoc using Google Slides.  The Hyperdoc is to be used for a literature circle activity based on the book, Wonder, by R.J. Palacio.  It embeds Depth and Complexity into this collaborative presentation using David Chung’s ideas for literature circle frames.  This doc is 139 slides long, and gives students many opportunities to do meaningful reflections, activities, and discussions.  It looks like Michele put weeks of work into preparing this, and I, for one, am grateful she is sharing it with the world!

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slide from Michele Waggoner’s Hyperdoc

3-2-1 Bridge

In my post about C.S.I. last November, I talked about the Visible Thinking routines that are outlined in Harvard’s Project Zero.  Another one of these routines is called, “3-2-1 Bridge.”  This is kind of a deeper version of a KWL chart. For “3-2-1” Bridge, students write their initial ideas about a topic, then learn more, write their new ideas about the topic, and then find a connection (the bridge) between the initial and new ideas.

I’ve used this routine a couple of times with different grade levels.  Today, my 5th graders used it to discuss the topic of “Choices” in The Giver.  I was fortunate to find this Google Doc created by Heather Marshall that enriched the discussion by linking to various other resources addressing the topic.  The activity launched an incredible conversation in my class regarding choices.  We went from, “It’s terrible that they don’t have any choices in The Giver community,” to deep and thoughtful considerations about why people might prefer to not have choices, who should determine choices, how pressure can instigate poor choices, and whether or not safety is more important than choice.

Here is a link to a simple 3-2-1 Bridge Template that you can use.  This can be done together as a class, on Post-It notes on large chart paper, or individually.  Younger students may have difficulty with the concept of using analogies, but they can still compare the topic to something else.  This is one of those activities that I like to call, “self-differentiated,” because all students can participate while taking it to different levels of understanding.

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image from Pixabay

C.S.I.

I should probably explain right at the beginning of this post that I am not going to be talking about crime scene investigation.  Or television shows.  Or the fact that I couldn’t stand C.S.I. Miami because David Caruso is a terrible actor.  Or the fact that watching too many episodes of C.S.I. resulted in me being less worried about being murdered in my home than about the idea of a team of people being so horrified by my lack of housekeeping skills that they wouldn’t be able to concentrate on solving my murder.

No, this is a different C.S.I.  This one is a Visible Thinking Routine from Harvard’s Project Zero.  I am a little upset with myself that it took me 27 years to discover these Visible Thinking Routines.  It’s good I don’t plan to retire any time soon…

In this case, C.S.I. stands for, “Color, Symbol, Image.”  Students can use this to reflect on something they’ve read, a video they’ve watched, or anything else they have learned.  From the student responses, teachers can really get a great idea of each student’s comprehension of the material.  It is also what I like to call a “self-differentiated” activity because students of many abilities can use this tool at their own level.

I decided to use C.S.I. with my 5th graders to find out how they felt about the novel we are reading, The Giver.  We haven’t gotten far in the book, so I plan to have them do this same activity after they have finished the story so we can compare/contrast their feelings about it.  Before giving them the green light to start, I showed them this example (thanks to Kristen Kullberg for sharing this and the Kinder example linked below on her blog) from another dystopian novel, The Hunger Games.  You can see a couple of their completed products below. (The sticky notes were added by other students when we did a gallery walk and they could put stickies on the “wow” ideas.)

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Here is a link to the template that we used.  If you teach younger grades, here is an example of a Kinder C.S.I. product. This template might be more useful for younger students (less wordy).

This was a good formative assessment.  The students seemed to enjoy it, and I was able to see that they had already developed some interesting insights about the fictional community in the book.  I’m looking forward to using some more of the Visible Thinking Routines from Project Zero!

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?