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The Power of “What do you notice? What do you wonder?”

How can we engage students instead of boring them? How do we elicit what they already know while challenging them to understand new concepts? At The Sycamore School, we start by asking two simple questions, “What do you notice? What do you wonder?”

This year, the fifth grade class explored systems for our Theme unit. We took a deeper look at the ocean as a system in order to understand that systems are made of parts, those parts interact and affect one another, and that each part plays a vital role in helping the system function as it should. To examine what happens when those parts change or can no longer do their job, we took a look at two large interrelated problems affecting the ocean: global warming and climate change. After taking a deep dive into the ocean as a system, students were asked to think about other systems they know of and want to know a bit more about. For exhibition, they were asked to create concept maps to explain their understanding of the system of their choice. In order to do this, we needed to know, “What are concept maps?”

Instead of the traditional, “Today we are going to learn about concept maps,” students were provided with four examples of concept maps and asked those two powerful questions. Why are these questions powerful? Because every student can engage when they are asked to simply make observations and ask thoughtful questions. Students worked in partners to do just that. After, we came together as a class to compile our ideas. Here is what they came up with for each concept map example.

Finally, students were prompted to think about what all concept maps need based on the observations they made. Then, we took it one step further and added what would make them “good and engaging.” Here is what they decided.

It was incredible for students to explore for themselves what a concept map is, what they are used for, and how to create one all by considering two questions. An incredible way for them to feel empowered to explore new ideas and make sense of concepts without being talked at by an educator. In the end, students created their own concept maps and displayed them at exhibition. Here are some of their maps of systems they chose!

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