Tag Archives: systems thinking

Reef Simulation

My 3rd grade class is always pretty small, so we usually start the year doing a Genius Hour project together so they can practice research and presentation skills.  This year, my group of 4 decided they wanted to learn how the Great Barrier Reef has changed over time, and what are the consequences of these changes.  They seemed to have a slightly vague idea of what the death of the reef could mean – especially for people who live on the other side of the world.  I ran across an excellent site that allowed them to see immediate and long-term effects of pollution and other human interference with the reef.  The “Reef Simulator” allows players to choose a scenario, such as overfishing or tourism, and develop a hypothesis for how some of the reef’s dependents will react.  With a press of a button, the students can then see a bar graph that reflects short-term population changes due to the scenario, and another button to see the long-term changes.

With a few multiple choice questions, the simulator determines how much understanding the users have of the graph, whether or not it supports their original hypothesis, and whether they want to change the hypothesis.

Since we talk about “systems thinking” in my classroom, this simulator was an excellent interactive that allowed my students to see that changes in a system indirectly affect every single part of the system eventually.  They were truly surprised how animals like certain breeds of sharks might become completely extinct without ever being hunted or directly targeted by humans.  To follow this up, I plan to show them this TED Ed lesson next week.

After playing the simulation, my students exclaimed, “We need to do something – NOW!”  They felt even more urgency when I pointed out that the simulations each showed the effects of one human event, and that in real life the reefs are suffering from combinations of all of them…

Click here to try the Reef Simulator tool.
Click here to try the Reef Simulator tool.

 

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How We Got to Now

I’m going to break one of my blogging rules and write about something that I haven’t actually seen or read yet (I don’t think this is first time I’ve broken that rule, but I could be wrong).  I keep running across articles about it, and I heard an interview with the author on NPR.

One of the Kaplan icons for Depth and Complexity that I talk about with my students is “Change over Time.”  The new book and PBS mini-series, “How We Got to Now” is a fascinating look through this lens at different facets of the world that is familiar to us.

How We Got to Now

Cory Doctorow has an excellent review of the book by Steven Johnson here.  I immediately ordered it from Amazon, and I am eagerly anticipating it!

You can listen to Linda Wertheimer’s interview with Steven Johnson (or read the transcript) here.  I was intrigued by Johnson’s reference to the hummingbird effect as well as his interesting story about how the printing press led to the manipulation of glass in new ways as more people began to read and realized that they needed spectacles!

Not only do the stories covered by Steven Johnson relate “Change Over Time”, but they are examples of the many unintended consequences that result from events and demonstrate the interdependence of the systems in our world.

I am hoping I can use some of the stories with my students, and that they can use them as a model for some of their own research.  Storytelling is always a great way to engage the students and help them to learn about history as they consider the implications for the future.

If You Are an Administrator, We Would Like Your Help!

Cafeteria Flipgrid

My 3rd grade GT students are currently working on a project that involves improving behavior in the cafeteria.  They are focusing on two separate things: noise in the cafeteria and messiness in the cafeteria. From one of their systems thinking books, they learned that it can help to solve a problem by looking at others who don’t have that problem.  They would like to hear from administrators from schools around the world to learn what works.

The students came up with some questions.  We are using a tool called Flipgrid to collect video responses to the questions.  (If this works, I will publish a post about this unique tool next week!)  The reason we are asking administrators to respond rather than other students is partly due to the privacy concerns with video and also because we would like a different perspective.

Here’s how you can help:

Easiest way – Send the link to this post to any elementary school administrator you know.

Even better – If you are an administrator, click on one or both of the links below, and submit your video answers to all of the questions on that grid.  The links should also work on mobile devices, so if you want to actually show your cafeteria (without students) that would be awesome.  And send this post to any other administrators you think may be willing to give us a hand.

Best – If you are an administrator, click on both links below, and and submit your video answers to all of the questions on both grids.  The links should also work on mobile devices, so if you want to actually show your cafeteria (without students) that would be awesome.  And send this post to any other administrators you think may be willing to give us a hand.

Cafeteria Messiness

Cafeteria Noisiness

If you could help us out as soon as possible, we would greatly appreciate it.  And if you would like me to share your Twitter handle on my follow-up post, please feel free to include it in your video!

How “Why’s” Can Make You Wise

Student Survey

When I introduced Genius Hour to my 3rd graders this year, they were really excited about creating “missions” about anything that interested them.  The week after they set their goals for their projects, they came into class and I announced that we were going to switch gears.  We have been working on a unit on Systems Thinking, and I had a new idea to actually apply that unit to a real life problem in a real-life system – our school.

“What do you think are some problems around our school?” I asked them.  They brainstormed a list.

(There are 4 students in my 3rd grade GT class, by the way.  I’m telling you this for a couple of reasons: so you won’t think that I’m an extremely brave teacher for trying this experiment and so you will realize that my “class” probably needed to get some more perspectives on this question.)

“Do you think we should get some other opinions?” I asked the students.  They agreed that might be a good idea.  So, I showed them how to make a Google Form to use to survey the school, and we sent it to the staff to share with the students.

This week, we took a look at the summary of results.  Almost half of the respondents had agreed that the biggest problem at our school is the noise in the cafeteria.  The two girls in my class decided to take that on for their Genius Hour project.  The two boys chose to work on the problem of garbage on the cafeteria floor.

One of the boys had either misunderstood our discussion before Spring break or was so enthusiastic about it that he decided to create a solution before we even chose our problems.  He came to class yesterday with a game he had designed in Gamestar Mechanic to teach kids why leaving food on the floor was not a good idea.

Cafeteria Problem

“So, do you think the reason they are doing that is because they just need to be educated about the consequences?” I asked him. He nodded.

We had just finished reading a chapter of Billibonk and the Big Itch,  where the main character learns the importance of getting to the root of a problem so you’re not just treating the symptom.  I asked the students to use the method that Frankl suggests to Billibonk in the story – to keep asking, “Why?”  Frankl recommends doing this 5 times, or until you just can’t do it anymore.

Through a series of “Why’s” the girls decided that the reason for the noise in the cafeteria is related to people talking loudly for attention.

The boys came to two different conclusions about why there is so much garbage on the cafeteria floor.  One of them ended up believing it is due to disrespect for the adults in the room, and one of them feels that it is actually due to a lack of self-confidence.  The boy who designed the Gamestar Mechanic solution realized that this was not going to solve the problem he had just identified.  Of course, he is still determined to use Gamestar Mechanic to fix it 🙂

I have absolutely no idea where this is going next.  Now that the students have done their best to identify the causes of the problems, they are going to use some other Systems Thinking concepts to try to develop solutions.  This is a grand experiment for all of us!

While I was writing this post, I was attempting to multi-task, and listening to one of the videos from yesterday’s Learning Creative Learning class.  During the video, Mitch Resnick stated how important he believes it is to “solve problems in context of a meaningful project that you’re working on.”   That is exactly what we are attempting to do, so I hope that it is a good learning experience, no matter the results.

Here is a great article by Mitch Ditkoff for the Huffington Post that reinforces this idea of continuing to ask, “Why?” with a real-life example. (Be sure to read it before you share with students, as it does mention insects mating – with other synonyms for the word, “mating.” 🙂 )

Cubelets

from Modular Robotics
from Modular Robotics

So, weirdly, today’s “Gifts for the Gifted” post has to do with cubes – again.  If you have been reading my last few Friday posts, you may have noticed this pattern. It was not pre-determined, I promise.  In fact, when I realized the odd coincidence, I almost chose another product to review for today.  However, I am just too excited about this one to wait.

In a perfect world, every child would have access to a set of Cubelets.  I cannot emphasize enough the educational value of this modular robotics system.  And the absolute fun factor is best expressed by my 5th graders today, who got to test it out for the first time.  “It’s awesome!”  “I could play this all day!”

The magnetic Cubelets easily combine to create all sorts of robots.  Each robot must have a Battery Cubelet, but that is the only requirement. Using different Sense, Action, and Think Cubelets, you can design a robot that turns on a flashlight when the room grows dark, or sounds the alarm when the temperature gets too warm.  You can make a robot that flees from your hand or one that follows it.  There are infinite possibilities.  These little cubes contain lessons in systems thinking, logic, creative problem solving, programming, engineering, and collaboration all rolled into one hands-on, interactive set.

We were fortunate enough to receive a grant from our PTA to purchase the Standard Kit, which is a hefty $520.  The kit comes with 20 cubes, and really is almost perfect for a center for small groups of 4 or less.  We ordered an additional Battery Cubelet as the kit only provides one.  This way a couple of robots can be going at the same time.

If you want to start out smaller there is the KT106 Kit, which offers 6 Cubelets for $160. Or you can go whole hog, and buy the Educator Pack, which includes 4 KT106 Kits and a Standard Kit at the educator’s discount of $999.

You can also buy Cubelets individually if you see a need to add certain types to your collection.

So far, no kid I’ve put in front of this set has wanted to leave it.  Once they do some exploring and get the gist of each Cubelet’s capability, they eat up the challenges that are listed on the Educator page – and then start thinking of their own challenges.

This is a relatively new product. (Our box says “Beta Release” on it.) There is a community forum for suggestions, and I have a feeling educators, students, and parents will have many ideas. It’s definitely a work in progress with a great future. The Education page offers some Lesson Plans and Challenges, and I predict there will be more to come.

It was interesting to see the different ways my students, who voluntarily separated themselves into small groups by gender, initially approached the Cubelets.  The boys enthusiastically attempted to build things with them immediately, while the girls started by trying to identify and organize them.  The boys would start a challenge, but go off on tangents almost immediately with new ideas, while the girls preferred a more systematic approach.  In the end, however they all agreed on two things – the awesomeness, and the need for more time with them.

If you think that your budget might be a bit too stretched by Cubelets, I urge you to try to get some funding, as we did, from another source.  Cubelets are not a “flash in the pan” type product.  They have outstanding educational value, and you will not be disappointed if you purchase them.

Below: Video of my students creating a “conveyor belt” with some of the Cubelets.

(For my gift ideas, visit my Pinterest board.)

Daisy the Dinosaur and Systems Thinking

I’ve been using this blog and Pinterest to promote the importance of teaching programming to students for awhile now. One of the benefits that I see is how coding makes natural connections to Systems Thinking.

Nested Systems Task Card

Some of my favorite FREE programming apps are:  Daisy the Dinosaur, Cargo-Bot, and Hopscotch.

While these are definitely fun apps, they can also help our students to learn some valuable life lessons.  I sat down this weekend to come up with some task cards that would help my students (K-5) relate Daisy the Dinosaur to some of the Systems Thinking tenets that we cover in class.  Depending on the level of the student, these can be done as a class, independently, at a station, or in groups.  I thought it might be fun to show them on the big screen, and use Socrative for some of their responses.

These are designed to be activities done after the students have had a chance to play Daisy the Dinosaur in “Challenge” mode, and some time to experiment with “Freeplay.” They do not have to have access to the iPad at the time they are doing the activities below, however.

Systems Thinking Tenet #1 – If you want different results, you can’t keep doing the same exact thing.  (PPT, PDF)

Systems Thinking Tenet #2 – You can do things differently (sometimes more efficiently) and still get the same results. (PPT, PDF)

Systems Thinking Tenet #3 – When you have a problem, find the true source, or your “fix” could make things worse.  (PPT, PDF)

Systems Thinking Tenet #4 – The objects within a system are interdependent. (PPT, PDF)

Systems Thinking Tenet #5 – There are often systems nested within systems. (PPT, PDF)

Next Year Will Be Even Better – Programming for Kids

from www.tynker.com
from www.tynker.com

For many of us, at least in the United States, another school year is over.  Even as we eagerly embark on our rejuvenation journeys for the summer, you might be thinking, as I am, of new ideas for the next school year.  This week, I would like to share some of the improvements I hope to make in my classroom for the 2013-2014 school year.  Today’s post is about the benefits of teaching programming to our students.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you have probably noticed that I am a huge advocate for teaching programming to kids.  You can see this trend building in a lot of the education blogs and professional publications.  Like all trends, it needs to be done right so that it will not be a colossal failure or a “flash in the pan.” Here is why it should be done, and how I plan on doing it next year in my classroom.

Why We Should Teach Programming to Kids

I think that there is a misconception that this is all about teaching kids a new “language” that is useful in the career market. While that is, perhaps, one of the benefits, I think that it should not be the main purpose.  Programming languages evolve quickly, and teaching a specific one might be likened to teaching Latin.  It can help you to decode other languages, but it is unlikely you will use it daily.

I learned Basic when I was in high school.  I haven’t used it since.  But I still remember some very important lessons that I learned in that class that can be extrapolated for real life.

The most important lesson was that, if you are not getting the results you want, you can’t keep doing the same thing.  I remember the first couple of times a program did not work the way I wanted it to, and I kept saying to the computer, “That’s not what you’re supposed to be doing.”

Once I realized that I only had myself to blame, I would set about finding out what I had done wrong.  This led to the next life lesson – find the real source of the problem or your “fix” will make things worse.  Sometimes I had to dig deep into the code to figure it out, but would not realize that until I had tried one or two simple revisions that would end in disaster.

When programming, you also advance through the Scientific Process, and learn to change one variable at a time if your conclusion is not what you expected.

And finally, programming is not all about logic.  Once you understand the code, you can use your imagination to create unusual, unique, and even beautiful programs.

What I Plan to Do Next Year

As some of my colleagues pointed out this year, Programming falls very easily into something that we already have in our curriculum for elementary gifted students – Systems Thinking.  Now that I am becoming familiar with Tynker through the online summer class I’m offering, I plan to use Tynker with my 3rd graders during our Systems Thinking unit.  If you want to start anywhere with programming (from about 7 or 8 years old and up), I would highly recommend Tynker as you can create classes and monitor student progress very easily.  Plus, it has an engaging curriculum of projects.

I want to weave programming throughout my K-5 gifted classes, so I will begin my Kinders with the iPad app Daisy the Dinosaur. For 1st, we will move on to Kodable, and for second, Hopscotch.  (I may switch these last 2 around – I need to play with them more to determine difficulty levels.)

3rd grade, as I mentioned, will do Tynker.  4th grade will work on Cargo-Bot.  And, 5th grade will work with Gamestar Mechanic (which is web-based).

If you have any suggestions, please feel free to comment.  Also, for even more links for Programming for Kids, feel free to visit my Pinterest board on this topic.