Category Archives: Philosophy

The Hidden Secret to Understanding the World

In my 4th grade gifted and talented class, the students study masterpieces.  In addition to masterpieces of visual art, we talk about literary, musical, and even mathematical masterpieces.  When I saw the title for Roger Antonsen’s TED Talk, “Math is the Hidden Secret to Understanding the World,” I thought it might fit in well to the mathematical masterpiece section.  Little did I expect that it would tie everything together that we had discussed all year.

I should mention that this year’s 4th grade class has some very passionate mathematicians in it.  They worship Pi, see Fibonacci in everything, and sit on the edge of their seats whenever I mention that a math activity is imminent.  But I wasn’t sure they would find Antonsen’s talk as revolutionary as I do.  I was willing to overlook the mathematical examples that were over my head in exchange for appreciating the bigger picture, but would they?

Fortunately, Antonsen’s visualizations managed to maintain their focus, and even their awe at some point, as he gradually brought his audience around to the idea that mathematical equations and representations are actually different perspectives (a few heads raised a bit whenever he said this word, as we regularly talk about multiple perspectives).  The “a-ha” moment, however, was when Antonsen said this, “So let’s now take a step back — and that’s actually a metaphor, stepping back — and have a look at what we’re doing. I’m playing around with metaphors. I’m playing around with perspectives and analogies. I’m telling one story in different ways. I’m telling stories. I’m making a narrative; I’m making several narratives. And I think all of these things make understanding possible. I think this actually is the essence of understanding something. I truly believe this.”

There were audible exclamations in my class when the word, “metaphor,” was used.  We started the year by learning about figurative language.  And the concentration in 4th grade in Texas is on Writing as it is tested at this level for the first time.  So, looking at math as a way to tell stories and show different perspectives really captured the attention of my students.

I often tell my students about my childhood struggles with math, how I was often congratulated on my writing skills but made holes in my math assignments due to all of the erasures.  It wasn’t until high school that I had a few great teachers who taught me to love math and helped me to see that my only obstacle had been my own fear of the subject.

Screenshot 2017-04-04 at 8.35.25 PM
from Roger Antonsen’s TED Talk

If I had seen Antonsen’s TED Talk when I was in 4th grade, things could have been different for me far sooner.  Instead of feeling like math divides people into those who can and those who can’t, I might have realized that math is actually the language that brings us all together.

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Society for the Ethical Treatment of Leprechauns

A favorite project that seems to dwell in the memories of my gifted and talented students from year to year is the time they made Leprechaun Traps in Kindergarten.  It’s how I introduce our “Inventor Thinking” unit and ties in, of course, with St. Patrick’s Day.

As I introduced the project yesterday to my newest group of Kinder students, I was met with the usual enthusiasm. There was lots of excitement generated as they brainstormed ways to entice a leprechaun into their trap, and even more as they thought of ideas for ensnaring him.

And then one girl said,”What if I don’t want to trap the leprechaun?  What if I think that’s mean?”

For a moment I was speechless.  In all of my years of doing this project, none of my students have ever questioned if it was humane or not.

Interestingly, I am the person who carries spiders outdoors rather than smush them – and the person who grabbed a rat snake behind its head when it snuck into our house and flung it outside.  I yelled at my husband in the middle of the night when he grabbed a huge pair of hedge clippers to battle a rat that had snuck into the house.

The ethics of trapping leprechauns never once crossed my mind.

My friend over at Not Just Child’s Play, Joelle Trayers, provides examples like this one of ways to discuss ethics with Kindergarten students.  Yesterday was only my third meeting with my current Kinder class, so ethics had not entered into our class vocabulary yet.  However, I couldn’t miss the opportunity at this point.  After a slight pause, I said, “That’s a very good question.  What do the rest of you think?  Is it okay to trap the leprechauns or is it mean?”

Whether a coincidence or not, the issue was decided by gender.  The girls were firmly in defense of the leprechauns and the boys had no intention of being swayed from dreaming up diabolical ways to trap them.  (I have, several times, reminded the students we are “just pretending,” but that hasn’t deterred their strong feelings on the subject.)

The girls decided they are still making traps, but they are going to give the leprechauns a reward and an escape route instead of imprisoning them, especially since we will be gone for Spring Break.  The boys are more interested in how they can combine Legos with their cardboard boxes than they are about the fate of the leprechauns.

So, a word of warning to any leprechauns in the vicinity of our school in the upcoming weeks: Beware of complex Lego staircases that seem to lead to nowhere.  The boys outnumber the girls in my class, and I’m not really sure what they intend to do if you actually do fall into one of their clever contraptions.

Photo Mar 06, 8 58 47 AM

 

 

Your Logical Fallacy Is…

After jumping into a rabbit hole in the form of this article about a recent study showing positive effects related to teaching philosophy to children, I found a website that I wish I’d discovered at least 6 months ago.  Your Logical Fallacy Is… details the erroneous but persuasive arguments that many propagandists use, from politicians to advertisers.  The site makes it quite easy to “call someone out” by offering the tools to identify and share specific logical fallacies through social networks.  Just click on the icon for a particular logical fallacy on the home page, and it will take you to a page describing the fallacy along with an example.  Teachers might also be interested in the free, downloadable poster, which gives short summaries of each of the twenty-four fallacies defined on the site.

In this era of “false news” and an overabundance of information to sift through, teaching our students to think critically is vital.  It’s nice to see studies that suggest that teaching philosophy might improve student performance in areas such as reading and math, but neither of those skills are of much use to students who don’t know how to determine what is valid and what is a smokescreen.

(For more resources on using philosophy in the classroom, you can also read this post and this one.

Logical Fallacies 1
Gosh – I feel like I’ve heard this one recently… image from: Mark Klotz on Flickr

 

Kids Philosophy Slam 2017

Is the pen mightier than the sword?  I think you may guess where I side when it comes to that question – but it’s how our students feel that matters to the folks at the Kids Philosophy Slam.  Students from K-12 are invited to submit their responses to the prompt by March 10, 2017.  You can read about the rules for each category here.

If you are looking for resources on philosophy to use with your students, “Teaching Children Philosophy” may be a great place to start.  For this particular topic, you might want to try the “Ethics” page.

With older students, you might want to introduce the topic with this attention-grabbing Geico commercial:

Image from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/calliope/95304400
Image from: https://www.flickr.com/photos/calliope/95304400

Kids Philosophy Slam 2016

The annual Kids Philosophy Slam has announced its new topic for 2016 – Imagination or Knowledge: Which has a Greater Impact on Society?

I’m determined to have my students enter this year, as I think that they will have a lot to say about this topic!  For more information about the rules for the Philosophy Slam, check out this page.

If you think your students are too young to think philosophically, read about how Joelle Trayers handles philosophy with her Kinder class!

Philosophy Slam

CommonLit

I was so thrilled to see this post by Richard Byrne (who is one of my favorite Engaging Educators!) about CommonLit.

This is going to be an awesome resource for me to use with my 4th and 5th grade GT students.  I will let Richard tell you the details, but suffice it to say that it is a great way to encourage deep discussion in your class, and offers downloadable texts that you can use to tantalize your students with philosophical questions.

image from CommonLit.org
image from CommonLit.org

I plan to use this with Socratic Smackdown (which I also found out about from Richard).  Socratic Smackdown has been a great success in my classroom and CommonLit will augment it even more.

You might also want to consider using some of the CommonLit themes to enrich your students’ writing if they are participating in this year’s Philosophy Slam (deadline is 3/6/15). The “Social Change and Revolution” theme on CommonLit could definitely help students determine if violence or compassion has a greater impact on society.

 

Just Give Me the Swedish Meatballs So I Can Call it a Day

If you ever really want to quiet a room full of 5th grade students, try telling them this: “I’m going to let you spend 1 hour a week studying whatever you want.  Now pick a topic.”

That was, in essence, the way I introduced Genius Hour to my class for the first time many years ago.  I would not recommend that approach.

After getting over the initial exuberance of such unprecedented academic freedom, they became paralyzed.  It was like I had dumped them in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and said, “Choose a direction and start swimming” – and they’d never been in a body of water bigger than a bathtub.

I refined my technique over the years.  If you visit my Genius Hour Resources page, you will see some QR Code Bookmarks you can use to get them started with ideas as well as some good websites to visit.

The thing about choice is that too much of it can be just as defeating as too little.  This is what Barry Schwartz argues in his TED talk, “The Paradox of Choice.

And it’s what I tell myself whenever I leave IKEA empty-handed 5 hours after I entered.

According to Mr. Schwartz, “Choice within constraint is essential. Choice without constraint is paralyzing.”

With that in mind, I tried a different approach to Genius Hour this year.  My 4th graders started the year doing “Heart Maps” to brainstorm their passions.  They also did Multiple Intelligence Surveys (the North Star Smart Stars iPad app is great for kids!) to get more data on their interests.  In addition, I gave them a career list based on the Multiple Intelligences, and had them circle any that appealed to them.

Armed with those three pieces of information, the students were assigned to look for trends. They seemed surprised and delighted to find similarities and patterns in what they had chosen for each activity.

Then I dropped the bomb.

“Pretend you were allowed to study whatever you want in school starting tomorrow.  Based on this knowledge about yourself that you have in front of you, what questions would you like to find the answers to?  Brainstorm as many questions as you can in the next 5 minutes.”

And they did.  Even the student who had told me all day, for every activity, “I just can’t think of anything.”  Even he had three ideas by the end of the 5 minutes.

If you’re a teacher who is about to try out Genius Hour for the first time, I recommend that you keep in mind that there is nothing wrong with establishing limits and some parameters can actually give more freedom than none at all.

Now if I can just get Ikea to take that advice…

choice