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.