“Can we do more research and work on our boards now?” asks any student in the class at 8:01 each morning. The enthusiasm to jump into their independent learning projects is unmistakeable.
The central idea of our new unit is:
Life on Earth is dependent on how the Solar System works.
Step One: Immersion…We assume…
We decided to begin the unit with an immersion. Immerse the students with information about the Solar System so they could quickly reach a point of being able to ask relevant questions. Instead of the teachers leading the immersion, we wanted the students to lead it. Thanks to Ewan McIntosh for the inspiration.
We started with a 4 minute Brainpop movie about the Solar System and then we told the students:
We assume you know a lot already about the Solar System.
We assume you can learn quickly.
We assume you can share your knowledge.
Choose a planet/sun/moon to research and share your knowledge on a board (called the ‘Project Nest’).
The teacher-led introduction took less than 10 minutes. The students were pumped! We acknowledged their ability to be self-motivated, interested and independent learners and they took up the challenge.
We guided their research by supplying books, pre-viewed videos and Internet sites (the teachers created folders full of appropriate resources on the class laptops).
The Project Nests (class pin boards and white boards) started filling up quickly, knowledge and questions were being passed around from group to group. The class begin a true ‘nest’ of shared learning.
Step Two: What If…? Provocations
Our plan was to introduce some provocations as the unit progressed. We planned to ask some “What if…?” questions. The students preempted us and inherently started asking these questions to each other. We should have known!
“What if the sun exploded?”
“What if there was water on Mars?”
“What if didn’t have a moon?”
“What if we could walk on Saturn?”
“What if our day was 243 Earth days long, like it is on Venus?”
They had begun their own significant inquiries. The student experts (those that researched particular aspects of the Solar System) supply the facts and drive the discussions forward. Concepts and misconceptions are being challenged. Informed questions are being asked. The students are collaborating and connecting with each other to extend their learning.
My job? Listen to the discussions, ask different provocative questions, and point students in the direction of resources that will help answer their questions.
“…inquiry is a collaborative process of connecting to and reaching beyond current understanding to explore tensions significant to learners.” – Kathy Short, in Taking the PYP Forward
This image of the Design Cycle is taken from the D.School at Stanford University.
After a visit to our school from Ewan McIntosh, my co-teacher, Neila, and I decided to take our Grade 4 students through the Design Cycle to begin our unit of inquiry about persuasion. See if you can identify the Design Cycle stages in the following plan.
Goal: Less teacher talk
Assume that the students already know and/or can learn quickly.
Provocative Discussion/Generative Topic
Goal: Engaging students
Engage your students with a topic related to your unit that they can easily talk about.
e.g. “What annoys you most?”
(The examples I give are taken from my Grade 4 class.)
“I hate it when my brother always says ‘no’ when I ask him to play with me.”
“It annoys me when I have to spend so much time memorizing Mandarin vocabulary.”
“I don’t like when my sisters always bother me at bed time. They won’t leave me alone.”
Interviews and Digging Deeper
Goal: Why does this matter to you?
In partners, one person speaks on the topic for 2 minutes. The listener only listens (jot notes allowed). You might need to role play the attributes of a good listener as it is a VERY difficult skill.
Digging Deeper: The listener asks probing questions, referring to things that the speaker mentioned in the first interview. Listen for 4 minutes.
How might I (we)…
Goal: Defining what is really important.
“The solutions are easy to find. Finding the worthy problem is difficult.” – Ewan McIntosh
Together, review the information and come up with a “How might I …” statement. The statement should be important enough to the student to put time and energy into solving it.
e.g. “How might I persuade my brother to play with me?”
“How might I convince my sister to respect me?”
“How might I persuade my sisters to stop jumping on me at bed time?”
“How might I convince myself to not be afraid to do a trick on my scooter?”
“How might I convince my Mandarin teacher to give me less homework?”
Goal: Be visual and build on the ideas of others.
Once the “How might I…”statements were written, the students went around and sketched out possible solutions to each others’ problems. The sketching allowed us to quickly imagine and record solutions. It was also easy to grasp the ideas of others and then build on them. It was a good start but we needed something to help us broaden our scope.
e.g. We soon heard, “I’ve tried all those solutions, none of them work!” “I can’t think of anything else.”
Goal: To encourage crazy ideas and lots of them!
Nudge the students out of their boxes by adding a constraint (see a blog post about that here). Each solution must now contain a random word or object.
e.g. My co-teacher brought in a teepee and set it up in the middle of the room. Now every solution had to include a teepee (or part of). The focussed energy and the excitement in the room was amazing! One idea led to another. Crazy solutions inspired possible solutions. Problems got turned on their head. (e.g. Was it too much homework or was it difficult to do the homework ?) Here are some of the ideas:
“Invite your brother to camp out one night in the teepee with you.”
“Lock her in the teepee and don’t let her out until she agrees to be nice to you.”
“Make a mini-trampoline out of the teepee and have your sisters jump on that instead.”
“Sit in the teepee and visualize yourself doing the trick on the scooter over and over.”
“Stick your Mandarin words to the inside of the teepee, take a flashlight inside and focus on learning them for ten minutes each night.”
Resources and Prototyping
Goal: To gather more information and try out the idea.
e.g. Resources: Throughout the first week we immersed the students with examples of persuasive strategies (they are very evident in advertising). Examples of strategies are Bandwagon (“Everyone is doing it!), Repetition, Research, Claim, Facts, Trust, The Big Lie, The One Time Offer, etc.
Prototype: In our case, we decided to dramatize the solutions: “Pick a solution from the Project Board that you think might work. With your friends, dramatize it. Use persuasive strategies. Gather feedback from classmates and teachers.”
If the prototype didn’t work, cycle back and try something else.
This is the stage that we are at the moment.
Goal: To put the solution into action.
At this stage the students test their solution. If it doesn’t work, reflect, research and prototype another solution.
Our Conclusions (so far)
The students immediately immersed themselves in the unit.
The teachers did little talk, we offered provocations that led to learning.
Finding a worthy problem took some tweaking and revisiting (this is a difficult skill).
Because the students are emotionally attached to these problems, they are highly engaged.
They quickly learned to recognize, choose, and use persuasive strategies to help them solve their problems.
Critical thinking skills are needed to determine persuasive techniques.
A variety of language skills are been developed (visual, dramatic, listening, speaking, reading, writing).
If you like a quick video, here is good one from “Engineer Your Life” featuring Judy Lee from IDEO talking about brainstorming for solutions. She says there are ‘rules to the madness’ and they are:
Build on the ideas of others
Encourage wild ideas
Go for quantity
How have you used Design Thinking in your unit planning?