3-12, Critical Thinking, Reading

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.


Books, Critical Thinking, Education, Language Arts, Teaching Tools

Holiday Ethics Lessons for Primary Students

One of my favorite activities posted on Joelle Trayers’ Not Just Child’s Play blog is the lesson she does with her Kindergarten students on ethics using The Gingerbread Man story. “Ethics” is one of Kaplan’s Depth and Complexity icons, and an excellent way to take a topic to the Analyzing and the Evaluating levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.

I think that we spend a lot of time in school teaching students right from wrong, but we forget to tell them that not everyone agrees on what is right and wrong.  It can be shocking to a child to discover that her own judgment differs from someone else’s when it comes to morality, and it’s important for kids to learn to question the “obvious” and consider other perspectives.

Trayers also recently posted, “In Defense of Grinch,” which was a lesson where her students explained why the Grinch should not be put in jail for stealing the gifts.  With older classes, you could have students argue both sides.

Another good holiday ethics lesson could be done with the video, “The Snowman.”    Asking if the snowman should have saved the rabbit would be too simple, but “Should the snowman have kept the carrot at the end or given it to the rabbits?” could probably generate some good controversy in your classroom.

Speaking of snowmen, should Frosty have gotten a ticket for ignoring the traffic cop?

Of course fiction does not have to be your only resource.  Newsela (free to register) has lots of great news articles that I have used in the classroom for ethics discussions.  When we discuss the juxtaposition between freedom and safety in my class, I like to use, “Some Cities Say Sledding Too Dangerous.”

For a few more ethics resources, you can find a free animated video about ethics on BrainPop (most suitable for 2nd-5th grades) and Teaching Children Philosophy has a list of children’s books that you can use for teaching ethics, along with suggested discussion questions.

image from Pixabay
K-12, Student Response, Teaching Tools

Depth and Complexity Mats

Sandra Kaplan’s icons for Depth and Complexity are great ways to learn more about topics in every part of the curriculum.  I particularly like the students to use them to help them gather more information when they research.  My 2nd graders are still learning how to apply the icons, so I was happy to see these Depth and Complexity for Critical Thinking Mats on Teachers Pay Teachers.  After downloading these, I printed the colored mats and laminated them for use with my younger students.  They are currently studying the structures of animals.  Before I let them loose on researching their own animals, I wanted to show them the different ways we could look at the information.  I chose some videos about leaf-cutter ants to show the class, and divided the students into groups of 3 – giving each group a different mat with a question about the topic.  As they watched the videos, the students used dry-erase markers to fill in information that applied to their question.  At the end, we put all of their information together into one PDF to share their learning on Seesaw.  (By the way, there are more than 6, but I chose these specifically for this topic.)

This was the first time I had tried this, and I felt that it went really well as it helped the students to narrow their focus and take notes.  Next week, we will synthesize what they have learned about leaf-cutter ants using those notes.

I would recommend this activity for any class being introduced to Depth and Complexity, or to use any time you are showing a video or lecture to a whole class.  The students pay more attention when their video watching has a particular purpose, and it’s interesting to see the different ways that you can look at one topic.  Photo Nov 27, 10 10 19 AMPhoto Nov 27, 10 09 48 AMPhoto Nov 27, 10 11 15 AMPhoto Nov 27, 11 10 46 AM

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Depth and Complexity, Education, K-12, Teaching Tools, Websites

Envision Gifted

While I was looking for resources for an upcoming presentation about Depth and Complexity, I found “Envision Gifted.”  Marcie Griffith’s site offers many ideas and examples for using the Depth and Complexity icons developed by Dr. Sandra Kaplan.  

Be sure to click on the menu items at the top of the page to find suggestions on how to use Depth and Complexity for Math, Language Arts, and more.  Many of the pages have free, downloadable pages to use with your students.

Depth and Complexity does not have to be reserved for use with gifted students.  By integrating these icons into your classroom, you will find that students will apply the icons in ways that reflect their understanding of topics – giving you a naturally differentiated curriculum.

Click here to go to Envision Gifted!
Click here to go to Envision Gifted!

Two other sites I always recommend for Depth and Complexity ideas are: “Byrdseed” (best for 4th grade and up) and “Not Just Child’s Play” (great for primary).


5-8, 6-12, Books, Critical Thinking, Depth and Complexity, Education, Language Arts, Teaching Tools, Websites, Writing

The Giver

from Lois Lowry's Newbery Acceptance Speech for The Giver
from Lois Lowry’s Newbery Acceptance Speech for The Giver

If you visit my Pinterest Board of Books for Gifted Students, you will see The Giver, by Lois Lowry, is prominently featured.  I read this dystopian novel along with my 5th grade Gifted and Talented students every year, and those of you who know me are aware that I don’t often do the same thing more than once.  However, this book seems brand new with every group of students.  The discussions are rich and we are always able to find many connections to current events and their own lives.

The Giver is coming to theaters this August.  It will be interesting to see how the book transfers to the big screen.  You can see how Lois Lowry feels about the movie in this recent Twitter chat in which she participated that is posted on Walden Media.  More resources from Walden Media, including educational materials, are available here.  I highly recommend Lois Lowry’s Newbery acceptance speech – which gives incredible insight into the formation of the book.

In the interest of full disclosure, I recently participated in Walden Media’s “Teachers are Givers” contest, and was one of the 4 winners.  They chose a teacher each week for four weeks, based on technology lesson plans we submitted.  I didn’t expect to win, as my amazing colleague, LeAnne Hernandez, won the first week.  However, I was fortunate enough to be chosen as the second winner.  I recommend you take a look at the winning entries, as there are some fabulous ideas for integrating this amazing novel with technology in the classroom.  I was truly impressed with the other 3 teachers’ submissions, and can’t wait to try them!  If you feel so inclined, you may want to vote for your favorite lesson plan.  The overall winner will receive a hometown screening of The Giver.

If you are looking for some other resources to support The Giver, you should definitely take a look at Teachers Pay Teachers.  I have a “Depth and Complexity with The Giver” product available for $1.00, but there are tons of other related products on the site – many of them free.

Also, here is a post I did awhile ago on Book Trailers for The Giver.

Read Write Think has a lesson called, “Memories Matter: The Giver and Descriptive Writing Memoirs.”

For older students, you can find some interesting resources on Schmoop (“We Speak Student”).

Whatever you do, if you choose to use this book with your class, be sure to leave lots of time for discussion.  This is a book that demands conversation.  Thoughtful dialogues will help your students to become much more reflective about its themes and implications.  You could probably spend a year on this book, and never fully explore some of the topics it suggests.  It will definitely make an impact, and will be a piece of literature that your students will never forget.

Depth and Complexity, Education, Philosophy, Teaching Tools, Videos

Ethics, Tuck Everlasting, and the Trolley Car Dilemma

Arthur Miller

In my 4th grade GT class yesterday, we came to the part in Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbitt, where Mae Tuck hits The Man in the Yellow Suit with the barrel of a shotgun.  For those of you who have not read the story, The Man in the Yellow Suit learns the location of a spring that gives anyone who drinks its water eternal life.  He wants to advertise and sell the water, and to forcibly use a young girl, Winnie, as living proof of its effectiveness.  The Tucks don’t want the secret given away – and don’t want Winnie to be taken by The Man in the Yellow Suit.  So, Mae conks him in the head with the gun.

This dramatic scene in the story always spawns the ethical question, “Is it ever right to use violence?”  When applied to Mae’s actions, the class of 15 students seemed to be somewhat split on whether she behaved appropriately or not.  Some, of course, argued that violence is okay when it is in defense of yourself or others.  Some felt that Mae had alternatives.

When pressed, though, all seemed to be absolutely certain that violence is right if you are protecting yourself or others – if it’s the only alternative.

I don’t like it when everyone is certain 😉

So, I posed a problem that I had heard on the radio.  Unfortunately, I got a few of the details wrong.  But, essentially, my scenario was the same as the one you can see in the video below, created by Professor Joyce Chaplin of Harvard (which I originally found on Larry Ferlazzo’s website).

The way I told it was: Suppose you are on a bridge, and you see that there is a train headed straight for a section of track that is broken.  If it gets there, the train will surely careen off the tracks and everyone in it will die.  But you can save them.  On the bridge is a button.  If you push it, the train will switch tracks.  The only problem is – there is someone on the second track.  He will not have time to get out of the way, and the train will not have time to stop.  Do you push the button?

Most of them said, “Yes!” But that’s not the end of the thought experiment.  Then I asked, “Well, what if there was no button, but there is a heavyset man next to you on the bridge.  If you push him on to the tracks below, he will stop the train, saving hundreds of people.  Would you do that?”

This was a little bit more disconcerting to them, and we discussed why.  Essentially, the math is the same, but…

Then, one of my students said, “What if the man you have to push was the President of the United States?”

Wow.  That really changed the conversation.  Are some lives more valuable than others?  Should we save a train full of hundreds of strangers or the President?

And then someone said, “What if you have family members on the train?”

There were more “what if” questions, and I loved them all.  Now, no one was certain.

Mark Twain once said, “Education is the path from cocky ignorance to miserable uncertainty.”  I would borrow from Arthur Miller, and tweak Twain’s quote a bit by saying, “Education is the path from cocky ignorance to humble uncertainty.”

Students usually have no problem identifying black and white.  It’s admitting that there’s a gray that can be the greatest challenge.

(By the way, this is not a discussion, nor a video, that I would share with younger students.  There needs to be  a certain level maturity, and a classroom environment that allows for deep discussion, for this to be meaningful.)