Monday, 18 November 2013

Session Three: The Adventure of a New Project!

Session Three: Nov.14/15, 2013 - Posted by Joy

This week, we started working in the Think Tank with our separate classes (Div One and Two).  It was fun working as a big group, but it was time to work our way into what the process will look like for the rest of the year.

We decided that everyone would "do" the same bin so we could guide the students through the process of opening the bin, checking out the contents, figuring out what is expected and then asking questions to guide the inquiry. Students were once again reminded of the overarching question guiding the year-long inquiry: "How will my "habits of mind" develop and change during the Think Tank lab this year?" 

They were reminded that they would be reflecting throughout today's session and at the end (formally in their reflection journal) about what Habits of Mind they noticed they were using during the lab time. 

The task card we placed in the bin said:
For this inquiry you will make a geodesic out of paper clips and straws.
Step One: What is your question(s)? What do you wonder?
Step Two: Follow the non-verbal instructions to make the geodesic dome out of paperclips and straws.

The supplies included:
1) pictures of geodesic domes
2) the non-verbal instruction sheet
3) straws cut in half
4) paperclips
5) Habits of Mind reference chart

After sharing the goals of the session and looking at the task in the inquiry bin, we went through the process of generating questions. Here you see a sample of some of the questions asked by the students before starting the project of making a geodesic dome using visual instructions (non verbal). I was struck by the energy in the room as they talked with their partners about what they were curious about and what they were wondering about the project. I noticed a few of them had already gone into the planning what to do. This makes me curious: do questions come out of planning for action? Do the questions come from trying to figure out what I, the teacher wants, or from genuine curiosity about the project? My sense was that the kids were pretty excited about the project and just wanted to get going. Planning and goal setting aside, they just wanted to "do it"!
 Here we are working with our partners to generate questions before diving into the project.
The work time was busy! The partnerships were incredibly engaged in the project and with each other. I interviewed the kids as they were working (using the Ipad to record video). I asked them about the strategies and Habits of Mind they were using. Here are some quotes from the kids:
“We used 'Imagine the Possibilities and Outcomes'. We had to think out of the box to figure it out”.
“We noticed there was a little pattern here. It helped us to know how many triangles would be in the geodesic dome. Now we have a sense of how big it’s gonna be...."
“We are making these long patterns. We are going to make several of these and join them together. In the end, we will have a dome.”
"We noticed that if we worked independently it would be easier than working together because sometimes we really disagreed and it doesn't work out. So we imagine the possibilities and outcomes together and we thought maybe (my partner) will make the top and I will make the bottom. We were just thinking that"

Most of the groups had to alter the the original "direction" they were taking. At the end, by consensus, we agreed that if you strayed from the non verbal instructions, you were bound to fail. They discovered this through actually failing and having to start again.

Here we have one of the two domes that were successfully completed. Students agreed it was a challenging task, and most groups experienced frustration at some point. Interestingly, when we finally called it quits (spending significantly more time than I had originally planned) the kids wanted to keep going. Two of the partnerships had "had enough" and were happy to quit, but the others found it hard to stop without finishing. In future labs, it will be possible to return to an inquiry, so students will be able to continue if they feel the need to persevere to finish.

It was interesting looking at the strategies they used to keep their attention on the task: several took me up on my offer to do burpees or jumping jacks in the room when they needed a brain break.  One student flopped on his chair periodically, got up and worked a bit, then flopped down again. Several students walked around to see what other groups were doing (after I suggested they do a :"gallery walk"). I was struck by the amount of students who were able to sustain their attention without taking breaks. I think the task may have been in the "just right" area of challenge and skill to keep them going.

At the end, the kids wrote reflections on: the strategies they used, what Habits of Mind were in use and suggestions they had for others trying the project. I noticed that several students listed 5 or more Habits of Mind with no explanation as to how they were using them. I am noting a range of skill at supporting assertions with evidence. We are working on this in other areas of the curriculum as well. Next week we will use these reflections to set criteria for future reflection writing.


Teaching the kids to write good reflections is essential to this inquiry because we are trying to measure progress and growth in thinking dispositions. The ability to communicate one's understanding of their own cognitive processes is essential to measuring any change or growth.

In this example, I love how she noticed that she used the Habit of Mind, Transfer Learning: "I went into my hippocampus and remembered in grade 3..". It was a previous learning experience that allowed her to communicate to her partner what might not work. Their dome was actually one of the two that was stable and did not collapse.

In this example, the student demonstrates an emerging understanding of her own  thinking dispositions during the activity. She successfully provided evidence that supported her assertions of what Habits of Mind she was using.
I am looking forward to watching our students' metacognitive skills develop this year! From the few Think Tank sessions we have already engaged in, I am convinced this is an excellent platform for students to inquire into themselves and become self-reflective learners.
Our next Think Tank session(s) are on November 29th. Stay tuned for a post from Lindsay! :)

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