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.
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. 😉