Thursday, August 28, 2014

I May Never Actually Fancy Up This Chart

These are our Lessons From Cup Stacking, and they have turned out to be such important big ideas that I find myself referring back to this chart on a daily basis, at some point or another.

I keep saying that I'm going to fancy this chart up when I get time, but I actually like its organic roughness so much that I might never get the time! Maybe I'll give it a title, but that might be all.

The cup stacking challenge was given to "tribes" on the first day. They had a stack of six styrofoam cups and the only tool they could use to make a pyramid was a rubber band that had four strings tied to it. They couldn't touch the cups. They couldn't touch the rubber band. They could only touch the strings.

After every group was successful, we talked about what had happened.

The group that finished first automatically gave themselves a new challenge. We decided that would be the right thing to do ANY time you finished early.

We talked about how to handle disagreements. There were lots of strategies: go with the majority, try everybody's idea, really listen to each other, and talk it out calmly. If only our world leaders would keep these strategies handy!

We talked about the importance of struggle, and when struggle is a good thing. I assured them that I am here to make sure that their struggles don't overwhelm them.

We listed lots of different ways to name "keep trying."

They have the option to modify a task I give them. In this case, one group chose a new place to work, but we talked about other ways they could modify a task, but still do what they were being asked to do. That might mean they do things in a different order, use different materials, or accomplish the same outcome in a way I haven't even thought of. I want my students to be active participants, always thinking of the best way...for them. And, of course, I have the option to intervene and modify their task for them. I had to do that for the last group to finish. They were so close and they knocked one of their last cups down. I picked it up and put it back so they could put the last cup in place. For the geography challenge, I asked for "focus groups," but the IS was in to support a few kids, so I allowed for a homogenous group of four instead of a mixed group of 3. This point is helping me model flexibility.

We ended with some general big ideas for group work in our classroom: BE DEPENDABLE, use TEAMWORK, and have FUN! I assured them that even though I planned to challenge them to work really hard this year, I would always do my best to try to make the work fun!


  1. I love this for so many reasons, Mary Lee. The challenge is a good one; it is engaging and requires them to work and think together. That sets such a nice tone for your classroom, and helps the new group see your expectations for them. But also your respect for them, and your insistence that they make choices that help themselves learn is plain to see. That's a real gift. One final thing that struck me was the way the chart emerged from an analysis of the activity, rather than as a way to front-load the activity. I think that retrospective look must have modeled what it means to reflect, categorize, and pull out the big picture from something that might have seemed sort of chaotic and noisy at times. Thanks so much for sharing this.

  2. I agree. The struggle, the challenge, and the conflict (that's what editors are for) all help make a book fully charged and exciting!

  3. The way you reflected on the challenge with the kids is just wonderful. I love their take-aways - you will definitely be referring to that beautiful chart all year long.


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