Exploring Complexity with the Help of Thinking Routines

By Paula Mitchell, Senior Fellow, Agency by Design Oakland & Teacher on Special Assignment at Grass Valley Elementary School, OUSD 

How do you spark curiosity? How do you get your learners to understand complexities? How can a teacher use thinking routines to show what’s going on in a child’s mind? What’s the best way to use thinking routines with moderate to severe handicapped students?

These are all questions that Agency by Design Oakland fellows tackled in the Thinking Routines and Capacities inquiry group, which I had the opportunity to facilitate and coach over the past few months. This group, which includes educators from Alliance Academy of Integrated Learning, Lighthouse Charter School, Redwood Heights Elementary, and Oakland International High School, focused on exploring the role of Agency by Design thinking routines in deepening their learners' understanding of academic content and skill building.

 Capacities for developing Maker Empowerment within the Agency  by  Design Framework 

Capacities for developing Maker Empowerment within the Agency by Design Framework 

More specifically, these fellow focused on the Parts, Purposes, and Complexities thinking routine and the capacity of Exploring Complexity. Below are examples of three of the fellows in my inquiry group and some of the interventions they’ve experimented with in the classroom over the last three months.

  Amy Dobras, Lighthouse Community Charter School’s middle school making teacher, focused on Parts, Purposes, & Complexities in a pen take apart. After using this thinking routine several times with students, Amy noticed that her students struggled with identifying complexities. Amy says she realized she needed to find a way to scaffold the concept of complexities through modeling and the use of sentence starters, in order to get greater student understanding and participation.

Amy Dobras, Lighthouse Community Charter School’s middle school making teacher, focused on Parts, Purposes, & Complexities in a pen take apart. After using this thinking routine several times with students, Amy noticed that her students struggled with identifying complexities. Amy says she realized she needed to find a way to scaffold the concept of complexities through modeling and the use of sentence starters, in order to get greater student understanding and participation.

  Redwood Heights teacher Colleen Gravelle hacked two thinking routines: Parts, Purposes, & Complexities and Imagine If, to create her own thinking prompts that asked her first graders to think more deeply about the purpose of the use of a particular space in their classroom. Colleen’s goal is to have her students think critically about how everyday objects are designed and what the purpose is behind the design.

Redwood Heights teacher Colleen Gravelle hacked two thinking routines: Parts, Purposes, & Complexities and Imagine If, to create her own thinking prompts that asked her first graders to think more deeply about the purpose of the use of a particular space in their classroom. Colleen’s goal is to have her students think critically about how everyday objects are designed and what the purpose is behind the design.

  Redwood Heights special education teacher Stephanie Taymuree’s   MakerSpace display board focuses on the Parts of a machine. In this experience, Stephanie’s students learned that the choice of materials for the parts affects how the machine moves. This is a key scientific concept for moderate to severe special education students that was made more accessible with the use of the Parts, Purposes, & Complexities thinking routine.

Redwood Heights special education teacher Stephanie Taymuree’s MakerSpace display board focuses on the Parts of a machine. In this experience, Stephanie’s students learned that the choice of materials for the parts affects how the machine moves. This is a key scientific concept for moderate to severe special education students that was made more accessible with the use of the Parts, Purposes, & Complexities thinking routine.

To learn more about where these teachers’ inquiries led them and see the other inquiry groups, make sure to come to our Culminating Event on Saturday, May 5. And if you’re new to Agency by Design ideas, don’t miss Amy Dobras’s workshop at the event, “Agency by Design 101: Parts, Purposes, Complexities,” in which participants will be exploring the complexity of everyday objects through a take apart experience, using the PPC thinking routine.