Designing Thinking Tasks

Much of our reading to date has been about physical space, but there are also circumstances where we may be revamping virtual spaces. For example I have two blogs, one for each campus of the school, which we started several years ago. We have had several new staff members for short terms so the workload has fallen on my shoulders – hence the sites are well out of date.  I am very conscious that I need to revamp them and ensure that the design meets the learning needs.

The Primary Campus Blog is in the worst condition because I don’t actually teach there any more. The Secondary Campus Blog is marginally better. I also have a wiki for our staff where I collect and very loosely curate information to assist with teaching, which has been neglected lately. Once the physical space has been dealt with to the best of the budgetary and time constraints, I am aiming to apply some of our design processes from this course to these.

Simultaneously with the physical space I am implementing some ideation into my Year 12 History Revolutions class. I have been concerned since my professional learning session with Ewan earlier this year about the amount of paper that can be used ideating for design. After testing a number of solutions I stumbled onto a really good one which had spin off learning that was completely unexpected, and could not have been planned.

I bought a box of 40 big plastic blocks from the local toyshop. I grabbed a pile of whiteboard markers and I headed for class. Once the excitement settled, this is what we did:

Write events from the timeline
Write events from the timeline

In two groups (I only have 7 students) they were given half the set of blocks. They were told to write on one face of the blocks only, and to use the bigger block (the size shown in the image above) for major events and the smaller blocks (half the size) for less significant events. They were then told to make a timeline like their typed timeline with the chronological basis of first event at the top and last at the bottom. One group used all their blocks, the other one didn’t.

this group used all their blocks
this group used all their blocks

And this group didn’t:

the other timeline (which needed some blank, stabilising bricks to stand

This group also wrote on the other side (naughty!) by putting the social pyramid onto the block, with the Tsar at the top and the peasants at the bottom.

The next task was to re-order the blocks so that the most significant events leading to the 1917 revolution were at the top and the least significant at the bottom. The group that used all their blocks then asked if the combined impact of a number of smaller events (smaller blocks) was greater than the impact of some of the bigger one off events.

Their second construction looked like this:

Note the rows of small blocks deemed more significant than some of the bigger blocks
Note the rows of small blocks deemed more significant than some of the bigger blocks











The other group found when they reordered their chronological constructions that the social pyramid, which should not have been on the other side, ended up with the tsar on the bottom! Sheer fluke but very true. I will be using this again with my Year 12 class. I think it would have application for processes that can be linear. In terms of Library lessons we’re thinking we might use it to teach basic Dewey.

4 thoughts on “Designing Thinking Tasks

  1. plee

    Margaret – just read your note to OZTL_NET, leading me to your new post. What a creative idea – wonderful to read about the responses from senior students, and their thinking. I think the concept would work well with primary students too e.g. a timeline of democracy in Australia. Creates a memorable learning experience for all learning styles – love it!


  2. msimkin

    It is the only thing I have done in many years of teaching where parents have told me that their young adults came home bubbling about the lesson! I hope it pays off in terms of academic success too. It has certainly altered the dynamic in the classroom. They all openly discuss everything now. Seeing them get out of their seats was also interesting as they lost their passiveness and became active learners.


  3. Pingback: Collaborative Networking with students | digitallidotnet

  4. Pingback: Class-based COLLABORATION – in VCE History Revolutions – Margaret Simkin

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