Monday, June 6, 2016

Synectics*: Challenging Comparisons

Synectics is a greek word meaning, "the fitting together of seemingly diverse elements." Synectics requires high-level, critical thinking as kids are asked to compare two unlike things together. The principle behind synectics is that by using the mind's ability to link two apparently irrelevant elements of thought, new ideas will be sparked, and that these new ideas could develop into feasible solutions to problems. I'm not sure how much of the world's problems are resolved by this process, but I do know that my students grasp new concepts better, remember material longer, and engage in critical thinking in a challenging, and fun way through the use of synectics in my classroom.

There are many ways in which teachers can use this method in their classrooms. I use it in a very simple form, but there are probably plenty of opportunities for more complex ways of using this effectively in the classroom. My students never cease to amaze me with their comparisons!

In My Classroom:

The first time I do this activity with my classes, I explain the difficulty of what they are about to do. Then, I remind them of the creativity that they've already demonstrated in my classroom. Next, I explain that they will be comparing two very different things together.  Lastly, I provide examples of comparing two seemingly unrelated items.

"Mrs. Piedra is like chocolate cake because... they are both sweet! Not only do I score brownie points with the Mrs. and get a classroom full of "awwwws" from my students, but I've also modeled the activity for them.

When I feel my students are ready, I give my students a handout with questions like these:

1. The Great Plains are like ________________________ because...

2. Tributaries are like ______________________ because...

3. Francisco Coronado was like _____________________ because...

4. The Boston Massacre was like __________________________ because...

I also give each of my students a list of hundreds of random words. This word list, if they choose to use it, can provide them with a plethora of words they can use. Students can compare the terms on the handout to any word though--whether its on my word list or not.

Some strategies that might help make this more successful. 

1. Have students define the terms/concepts. Then, looking at their definitions, have students think of other words that fit the description. For example #1 above, I may ask kids to tell me what they know about the Great Plains. Inevitably, someone will always say that they are flat. I ask them what other things in the world are flat. They say things like "pancakes" or the "blacktop." With this scaffolding, kids who otherwise might struggle, now have a step-by-step process for completing the remainder of the task independently.

2. Leave a question with a blank space for the term. This way kids can come up with their own simile first.

Ex. _________________________ is like ________________________ because...

3.  Give students time to sit and think. It's not an easy task we are asking them to do.

4. Allow students to share their examples. Many will want to! Some responses will cause you to say "huh?" others will make you laugh, and some may just blow your mind!

*Credit to Krishna Kishore, my mentor teacher, for teaching me this activity. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Wits and Wagers

I've had several people tell me that they like the review games/activities I use, but are looking for engaging ways to introduce new content. Well, here's one possible solution.

I wanted to know just how much my students knew heading into our Civil War unit. I had played and enjoyed the board game Wits and Wagers before and somehow it struck me: We should play a version in class!

Materials Needed:

paper-5 different colors
question sheet (for teacher)
something to bargain with (at my school we use pawbucks; you could use wrapped candy--jolly ranchers?--bits of paper, or actual poker chips.)

How To Play (classroom version):

1.) I divided the students into five different teams and assigned them a color (gold, blue, purple, green, and pink). Teams should have two wager chips, paper of their assigned color, and a marker. 

2.) Ask a question that has a numeric response. For instance, what percentage of American industries in 1861 were in states that seceded from the Union? Or, what is the total slave population of the United States in 1860? Or, in numbers, write out what fourscore and seven is. 

3.) Each team should write down one response with an educated guess on their colored paper and bring it to you when they are ready. Tell the students that you are looking for the closest answer without going over!

4.) Then, put the guesses in ascending order on the board, from smallest guess to largest guess. Leave the furthest left space for any wagers that may be lower than the smallest guess.

5.) After you put the guesses in ascending order, have the students place two wager chips on/under the responses that they think are right. They may choose to put both chips on the same guess or put each chip on a different answer. If they think that the correct answer might be lower than the smallest guess, they may choose to wager on that slot.

6.) Reveal the correct answer.

7.) Provide additional pawbucks or other resources to any team who wagered correctly and to the team who wrote the closest number without going over. 

8.) Repeat with new question. 

Results: Besides being a fun and engaging activity, students will learn important facts and have an opportunity to learn a lot about numbers in order to make historical events "more real".  As a teacher, you will learn what your students know AND don't know. For instance, one group thought that 80% of the entire U.S. population died in the Civil War. I almost cried when I saw that guess. But, a teachable moment naturally happened when I revealed to them that it was "only" 2.5% of the population--and that 2.5% of today's population is over 8 million Americans!

I definitely see myself using this activity in the future for other units of study as well. It's a great diagnostic assessment that can be informative as we begin a new unit.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Making European Exploration Relevant: Hooking the Students with a Faux Primary Source

Fifty years after the creation of NASA, our goal is no longer just a destination to reach.  Our goal is the capacity for people to work and learn and operate and live safely beyond the Earth for extended periods of time, ultimately in ways that are more sustainable and even indefinite.  And in fulfilling this task, we will not only extend humanity’s reach in space -- we will strengthen America’s leadership here on Earth.”     

The excerpt above was taken from a speech given by Barack Obama to NASA in 2009 regarding space exploration in the 21st century. Whether you like the idea of expanding NASA's budget or not, the President got to some deep understandings of explorations of any kind. That is, he makes it clear that exploration can lead to growth in size and power. And, while exploration may not result in positive outcomes all of the time, the fact that exploration can lead to progress is certainly true.

Now, let's step back for a minute.

One thing that teachers always try to do is make content relevant to students today. It's important as a history teacher, that I help students make connections between the past and the present. So, when introducing my European Exploration unit, I wanted students to walk away understanding what exploration might mean for a nation today.

NOTE: While I want them to understand that exploration on a large-scale can lead to greater progress, I also want them to understand that when they explore (or try new things), they too can grow and learn. So, I infuse this concept into my lesson as well. 

Another thing that good teachers do is try to "hook" their students in some way so that they become interested in the content being taught.

Furthermore, a major historical thinking skill is to be able to analyze primary sources to understand historical events. And, while this can sometimes be a painstaking task for students, it's actually possible to make it somewhat engaging!

So, with those things in mind, I set out to create a lesson using President Obama's speech to set up the important lessons from the Age of European Exploration.

The Lesson: 

I changed a few words/phrases from Obama's speech to come up with this excerpt:

Fifty years after the unity of Spain, our goal is no longer just a destination to reach.  Our goal is the capacity for people to work and learn and operate and live safely beyond Europe for extended periods of time, ultimately in ways that are more sustainable and even indefinite.  And in fulfilling this task, we will not only extend humanity’s reach in the world -- we will strengthen Spain’s leadership here in Europe.”     
Then, I gave the students a copy of this adjusted speech and had them analyze it using the ACAPS method. ACAPS is a way to analyze a source by figuring out its Author, Context, Audience, Purpose, and Significance.  Students can usually come up with something like, "a Spanish king wrote this a long time ago to sailors to encourage them to explore new lands in the hopes of expanding their empire."

Then, once we thoroughly discuss this document, and the students think they've "figured it out", I hand them Obama's actual words. It's at this point when most of the students realize that they've been tricked. When they figure it out, they "can't believe" I would do that to them! Some of them say that they "knew all along", and still others need to be told straightforward that the first source was a fake.

Lastly, I ask them to analyze the real primary source. While the author, context, audience, and purpose have changed, what they notice is that the significance is largely the same: Exploration can lead to expansion and power.  They see the connection. It's more relevant to them. They're hooked. And they did it while working on analyzing primary sources.

To see the full excerpt I used and to purchase this lesson on Teachers Pay Teachers, click here