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How to: Connect Thinking

Wondering how to use Connect Thinking? Top Thinking Classroom Tester Steve Andrews and his class put it through their rigorous paces:

Dear Mike, 

We tried out Connect Thinking in 4W and the class feedback is as follows:

I told the class that we would be trying out 'Connect Thinking' and this was met with nods and general sounds of approval. I they showed the class the top half of the sheet. Shapes connected with the criteria of curves/right angles etc. After a brief pause, one tentative hand was raised. 'What?' was the question. Another student offered the advice that 'It could be connecting, to make a pattern', the next child built on this comment and and told us that 'similar features are connected.' 

The class then had a discussion, using Agree, Build and Contest, and came to the conclusion that this Connect Thinking was a good way of showing similarities and differences. 

I presented the sheet to the class this way to test how accessible it was. It was instantly something that got the children talking, they wanted to argue the classification with comments like 'Are they really right angles?' and 'What is a curve? How do you classify it?'. The children were also very frustrated with 'has points' as the vocabulary wasn't mathematically correct. 

My high ability girl, 'M' had remained silent and after class discussion she finally joined in and told the class 'I don't get the writing - The shapes are connected in more than just one way.' She wasn't able to explain her idea further but she was trying to explain that the words were limiting the connection when there could have been an investigation.  

At this point I showed the class the next section, the buildings connected with the same patterned stripes and no criteria. At this point M sat back looking very smug, I asked her what she had figured out. She clearly told me, 'It matches.' This drew puzzled looks from the rest of the class. M rethought her explanation, and found a way to explain it to others. 'The first section was a key for this section.'

This effectively ended the silence in the classroom and children were chatting and comparing the two sets of info. At this point a boy who is not normally interested in anything that is not on a screen, asked me if there was a printout available so he could really look at the pictures. I handed out sheets one between two. The children loved talking through how the buildings were connected, they also loved talking about how both groups (shapes and buildings) worked on the same criteria. This prompted a discussion on adding a category that would still work but no one could find a general criteria that worked. 

At this point I introduced 'Meta connect!' the class responded with repeating META CONNECT in robot voices, high excitement! I asked them if we could merge the two groups and keep the same criteria, the talking started again, the boy who enjoys technology then shared the idea that not only can the shapes and buildings be in the same categories, but he wanted to layer the shapes on top of the buildings. Explaining that this still works as fitting the shapes into the pictures works as proof that the connecting criteria work.

M then held up her index finger at a right angle to her thumb pointing down. She then excitedly told us all 'Like the Right Angle Monster!' M told us that in infant school they used this to always find a right angle. The whole class then talked about the Right Angle Monster and made the shape with heir hands. 

A quick discussion followed with the class trying to make something physical for other criteria, unfortunately no 'Curve Monster' was created. We live in hope. 

Although the transition from talking about an idea to physicalising it was exciting to observe. At this point a girl with low confidence and gaps in her mathematical understanding raised her hand to explain that the connecting patterned bands were patterned with the criteria they were connected with. The class agreed and really enjoyed going through the connections again. They liked that visually this contained the information and the connection was clear almost instantly. They did discuss how the 'Has points' pattern could be clearer but were happy that a pattern had been used and not just an arrow to connect the ideas. A again joined in and added that the patterns to connect let her see the connections immediately. She was complemented by others on this good choice of vocabulary. We had a real sense of class working together and discussing together at this point. I was able to observe rather than facilitate. 
The discussion then turned to what else could they connect, and repeat the process from the beginning. As a class they suggested using Sports, Animals, Food or Rivers. They asked me as a class if I could prepare animals for them to try it again. I went home and found two different sets of animals to show them at the two steps. I tried it the next afternoon. 
I presented the children with a picture of farm yard animals, even including a farmer. The excitement was high as they knew it would lead to a second group and Meta connect (They really loved the name of this!).

As a general observation the high ability children in the class wanted to prove themselves and so offered general groups to showcase their understanding, they wanted to find a classification that everything fitted into. 

Mammals was the popular one, they seemed very pleased to have almost beaten the idea of several connected pairs. The majority of the class however wanted to make as many groups as possible and had I not stopped it, I think they would still be connecting and reconnecting.

Some of the high ability children soon realised they had put themselves out by grouping them generally and joined in. As a a class we had connected animals by speed, by enemies, by dna. The children were really searching deep in an effort to apply ideas they had heard or read about. This created a lovely atmosphere with everyone suggesting ideas without worry. In fact when the high ability children peppered the discussion with new words and ideas, the children loved to discuss them more and more. Apply and playing with new words, (not always successfully but a valuable process.)

I had my technology-obsessed boy scribbling away in the corner. He had grouped all the animals in food chains. He asked if he could confirm the chains online. I had to let him! At this point I noticed my two keen mathematicians in the corner. They were trying to find a way to put the animals into quadrant thinking, while also trying connecting thinking. They said they liked the idea of the movable quadrant and the strict connect thinking, so they wanted to test them both again.

At this point I revealed the second set of animals, a picture of zoo animals. You could hear the children shout with excitement as they managed to put the zoo animals into the same categories. My technological friend wanted to compare silhouettes of the two sets of creatures as we started meta connect. When connections didn't work children were asking to look up additional info to try and connect both groups with the same criteria. The children tried making the connections more specific (Kinds of teeth!) and then more general, They were quite happy that a mix of these two strategies would allow us to re-connect and meta connect successfully. 
A lot of children found this initially frustrating. When they relaxed and stopped trying to impress others, they contributed a level of understanding of vocabulary that allowed others to build and explain opinions. I enjoyed the fact that the stages of connection got my whole class engaged at some point.

Across the broad level of ability and experience everyone was able to talk or access the idea of connecting. Next time I try it I will try to bring out the more abstract understanding of it as a task, but I will be using it again as the level of discussion was high and on task. 

Awesome to read this. I need a cold shower and a lie down. What a learning community/environment Steve has created here.


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