I always tell colleagues that the best things I learned about teaching I learned on Twitter. Recently, I tried out a an activity that was new to my classroom: The Subversive Lab Grouping Game. This activity inspired me to continue with the ‘subversive’ teaching through games on day two. This activity is one I have done in previous years, but it’s been a few and now I have repurposed it based on my success with Frank Noschese’s lab grouping game. This is called the Magic Number Cube, and it is a team-building activity that I picked up in the physics modeling workshop I took a few years ago. It’s an activity that has students collaborating to think through a goal-less problem in order to learn numerous lessons about my class, including the process of arriving at consensus.
My colleague Don Pata and I have discussed in the past the factors which we find to lead most to student success in our modeling classrooms. It turns out that the classrooms with greatest student success are the classes where the students have the best ability to work together to arrive at consensus. In the modeling methodology of teaching science, teachers lead students through the modeling cycle. The modeling cycle requires students to develop mental models based on observations that can explain or predict patterns and relationships in physical situations. Students share their observations and data from experiments with each other through guided classroom discussions and must arrive at consensus based on the evidence to develop a model. Models are then deployed on novel situations and to solve new problems.
Without forming consensus, students leave holes in their understanding and questions unanswered about their observations or physical situations we’ve investigated as a class. This makes the development of a model unstable, and thus the deployment of an unstable model leads to unreliable problem-solving and understanding. This is the reason why forming consensus as a class is so important for students to hone as a skill in the classroom. That’s why we go to the lengths to train students in the process of learning in this manner before letting them loose on the content in this way. If they are not well-prepared to learn in this setting of a modeling classroom, then it won’t be as great a learning opportunity for them as it could be–and we want the best for our students–so, we have to get them the best opportunities.
The opening days of my class are spent on team-building, growing the classroom climate that fosters successful teamwork, and generating consensus friendly discussion. As I mentioned, the first day activity was a lab-grouping game, which was quite successful to communicate several messages to students about focusing on process and working as a team. The second day activity, the Magic Number Cube, continues in this same theme but with a slightly different focus in its message.
Here’s how the activity works:
- Students work in groups of four
- A six-sided cube made out of cardboard and covered in blank printer paper (about the size of a basketball) sits on the floor
- On five sides of the cube are written the numbers 1-5, just like a die
- Students can observe the cube on all sides, up close, or from far away
- The cube cannot be touched, moved, or flipped over
- Students must determine what is on the bottom face of the cube, and what reasoning helped them arrive at their determination
- Students then create a whiteboard with their group that displays what they think is on the bottom face of the cube and explains their reasoning
- Thumbs Up = agree with the idea and reasoning
- Thumbs Down = disagree with the idea and reasoning
- Thumbs Sideways = could accept the idea but perhaps differ in reasoning
- It can be frustrating not to know everything, sometimes; however, uncertainty helps us grow in our understanding
- It is not about answers, it’s about how you arrive at answers and solve problems
- When we focus on answers, and not process, it leads to a fixed mindset
- Fixed mindedness promotes worry about grades, being smart, and leads to self-limitations
- Our class encourages growth mindset, where students can work to surpass their current knowledge and ability through teamwork, critical thinking, and practice
- The process we used in this activity to arrive at consensus will be our most important learning tool
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