Thursday, April 3, 2014

Flow maps

In an earnest attempt to teach more conceptually, teachers must give students tools with which they can make their conceptual thinking visible. For instance, students can use a circle map (a type of Thinking Map®to investigate the concept of form while when working with the concept of connection, they can use a double bubble concept map (another type of Thinking Map®).

Making students’ conceptual thinking visible is beneficial for a number of reasons. Students benefit from having “a greater awareness of the significant role that thinking plays in cultivating their own understanding,” (Ritchhart, Church, and Morrison in Making Thinking Visible, p. 15). When students are more acutely aware of their own thinking skills and how they use those skills to construct understanding, they gain greater independence in the learning process. Furthermore, making students’ thinking visible is beneficial for the teacher because it “provides us with the information we as teachers need to plan opportunities that will take students’ learning to the next level and enable continued engagement with the ideas being explored,” (the Making Thinking Visible folks again, this time, p. 27).

The flow map (a type of Thinking Map®) is a tool that students can use to make their thinking visible when they’re working with the concept of causation. (Note: although Thinking Maps aren’t from the Making Thinking Visible text, they fit the definition of a thinking routine, as define by one of its authors here.) When teaching a lesson to fifth graders recently about the short- and long-term impacts of decisions, I decided to put that thinking routine to work with them.

I was teaching a lesson I had written for an economics class I took at the University of Minnesota. Our summative project is to write a lesson using children’s literature to teach an MN Economic Benchmark (2011). I selected this fifth grade benchmark to teach: Economic Reasoning Skills ( Apply a decision-making process to identify an alternative choice that could have been made for a historical event; explain the probable impact of that choice. For example: Decision-making processes - a decision tree, PACED decision-making process (Problem, Alternative, Criteria, Evaluation, Decision). Instead of using a decision tree or the PACED decision-making process as the benchmark suggests, I elected to use a flow map, so that students could see the way that decisions caused subsequent impacts.

As I invited students into the inquiry, I asked them what they knew about Nelson Mandela and Apartheid in South Africa. Then, I showed a short video that gave students a (very) brief overview of what Apartheid was. Once students understood (very) generally the situation in South Africa during Nelson Mandela’s life, I read them the picture book Nelson Mandela by Kadir Nelson as a way to investigate the connection between decisions and their impacts. As I read, we worked together to create a flow map, showing how the decisions of his parents, and then later on his own decisions, impacted future decisions Mandela would make, which would ultimately impact South Africa, its history, and its people in dramatic ways.

This is the original flow map we created as a class. Please note that students used the abbreviation "N" for Nelson Mandela. Because we were running short on time, I skipped the part about how Mandela went into hiding and fled to Egypt. That is why that decision did not make the flow map that is shown above. Also, I realized after teaching the lesson that we should have added the ultimate impact to the flow map: that Apartheid ended, although that was a major part of our discussion.
Then, in accordance with the economic benchmark and to further investigate the connection between decisions and subsequent impacts, I instructed students to creatively and critically think of an alternative choice that Mandela could have picked at any point during his life, instead of one of the decisions he did make. Students then needed to use the flow map structure to show the probable impacts of that alternative choice (with a clean sheet of paper laying OVER the original flow map). Below are examples of the students’ thinking.

This student decided to change the third decision made in Mandela's life (according to the text). Notice that with this alternative choice, Mandela never became involved in the anti-Apartheid movement, nor did he marry Winnie as was detailed in the book. This student clearly understands how different Mandela's life would have been had he made a different decision early on in his life. 

This student decided to change the fifth decision made in Mandela's life (according to the text). Notice this student understood the impact his decision to give up protesting Apartheid would have had on that set of laws, the history of South Africa, and its people ("Apartheid continued to go on"). 

This student also decided to change the fifth decision made in Mandela's life (according to the text). It is interesting how this student recognized Mandela as a leader because when he decided to give up the anti-Apartheid protests as an "alternative choice" this student recognizes that others would have given up as well. 

Finally, as a way to give students the chance to demonstrate their conceptual understanding of the connection between decisions and their short- and long-term impacts, I asked the students if they could decide to take a break from reading over their 9-day spring break. Students were given the option of showing their thinking in paragraph form or in a flow map. I was checking to see if they understood that the decisions they make today have impacts that will last long into the future.

This student, who decided to demonstrate her conceptual understanding in paragraph form, was able to identify both a short-term impact ("if you don't read you might not be as fast as you could before") and a long-term impact ("I decide to read because it is good for you and later on in my life I will be a good reader") of a decision. 

This student used a flow map to show her conceptual understanding of decisions and their impacts. She too writes about short-term impacts of her decision to keep reading ("I won't get behind in reading") and long-term impacts of the same decision ("I decide to go to college after high school"). 

After reading about how fifth graders used a "flow map" as a thinking routine to construct conceptual understanding, how could you use or have you used "flow maps" in your instructional practice?

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