There’s a System for That!

John Hinds was the principal at one of the schools where I worked for 10 years. Since then, we have remained friends and he moved on to lead two other schools. He and I both retired in December of 2019, and he has his own consulting business, JL Hinds Consulting. John is passionate about sharing what he has learned that works when it comes to leading a school — and he is also very honest about the mistakes he has made. He has started a YouTube channel of short videos with advice for school administrators.

Though I know most of my readers are teachers, I want to share this with you in case you are considering administration or know someone who might benefit from these. The videos are about building community and paying attention to all of the pieces that come together to make a school thrive. John has been a wonderful mentor and coach for me throughout my career, and I think he has very practical and helpful suggestions even experienced administrators may appreciate. So far, my favorite videos are, “Foyer Triage” and “Collaborate with Your School Community”. (See my post, “Thinking Outside the School,” to see an example of John’s collaboration with the community.) He has more videos on the way, so please subscribe and share!

Loopy

I don’t know how Richard Byrne does it, but he has this ability to suggest technology tools on his blog that fit in perfectly with lessons I am planning for the week.  In this case, I had known about the tool, Loopy, but forgotten about it. Richard recently included it in this post, “Three Good Ways to Create Instructional Animations.”

My 3rd graders are learning about Systems Thinking, which is a pretty hard concept to get across to anyone, much less children who are 8 and 9 years old.  We just completed the book, Billibonk and the Thorn Patch, about an elephant who learns his actions can have far-reaching consequences.  The book portrays some simple feedback loops, so I showed the students the basic ecology loop on Loopy.  Then I let the students try to create their own to represent a portion of the story that we read.

A few caveats before you look at their examples:

  • Loopy was blocked in our district for students, so I needed to log in for them to use it.
  • The Billibonk projects are works in progress at the moment.  Time ran out before they finished, and the text and loops definitely need some revision.
  • I only have 3 students in that particular gifted and talented class, and this is not an activity I would recommend students in large classes do without a lot of scaffolding.
  • These probably won’t make a whole lot of sense to you if you haven’t read the Billibonk book mentioned above.
  • The site does give you an embed code to use on a website, but it unfortunately does not work on this blog.  Therefore, you will have to click on the links below to see the “Loopy” from each student.

The interesting part of this process was listening to my students explain what they were creating, and how eager they were to make complicated loops with many factors.  I felt like they understood systems thinking in a way I’ve never had students “get it” before.  One of my students was so excited about it that he said he was going to show it to his dad at home and create feedback loops to represent other things.  Since my goal is for them to apply this to real life situations, I was happy to hear that.

Billibonk Systems Thinking 1

Billibonk Systems Thinking 2

Billibonk Systems Thinking 3

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.

 

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.” 🙂 )