Brainswarming

Recently I gave my students the challenge of educating our school community about sundials. We had been studying physical geography, and paying attention to the sun’s angle in the sky to determine our latitude and think about the earth/sun relationship. Watching the sun’s movement led us to the concept of a sundial, which is also our school’s symbol.  Check out the header of our school website.

I decided to make the Sundial Project a very student-centered, student driven assignment. The class had to decide what content to include and how to deliver it, how to arrange groups and tasks, and how to assess their outcome.

My plan was to get them started and then to stand back and serve as a resource (and perhaps occasional gentle nudger). I thought it would be helpful for them to generate lots of ideas to get them going, and I had just come across an interesting concept: brainswarming, which Dr. Tony McCaffrey describes in a brief video for the Harvard Business Review.

Brainswarming is based on the way ants solve problems by leaving clues for each other to follow. The technique involves no talking and allows everyone in the group to get involved. As an introvert myself, I love that brainswarming provides a comfortable way for quiet students to participate and get their ideas seen.

I randomly placed students in groups of five, sent each group to a giant white board with a bunch of pens and sticky notes, and asked each to work on the challenge: how can we educate our school community about sundials?

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In the end, each group came up with lots of ideas. They decided to vote for which ideas they liked best by giving each student a small number of “thumbs up” sticky notes to place next to her favorite suggestions.

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You will be happy (or disappointed?) to know that they did not choose to break all the clocks in the school.

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I think this brainswarming exercise was very effective at generating ideas and allowing all students to participate and communicate with each other.  I will definitely use brainswarming again in my classroom.

Coming up: more details on the Sundial Project.

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