Let’s look at how we can take an interesting activity from NASA, and tweak it in various ways to use with our gifted students.
This would be a great way to start your year and show your students that you expect:
- Discussion and collaboration
- Critical thinking
- Students to explain their thinking
And students can expect times when:
- There is no “right answer.”
- You want them to use their amazing background knowledge.
- They practice thinking, rather than just learning facts.
Update: I’ve added a second post about how I’ve learned to facilitate this as a discussion.
The Big Idea
We’re supposed to rank fifteen items according to usefulness if we were stranded on the light-side of the moon. Some seem useful, but are actually worthless because of the environment. While seem unnecessary on earth, but are actually vital when stuck on the moon.
- Tanks of oxygen
- Parachute silk
- Solar-powered heater
- Two pistols
- Tanks of water
- Dehydrated food
- Powdered milk
- Box of matches
- Magnetic compass
- Self-inflating life vest
- Walkie Talkies
- Map of the constellations
- First aid kit
However, the structure of the activity as a website is not optimal. It’s too easy to just guess and check without really digging into problem-solving.
Let’s improve this and make it an awesome problem–solving exercise for our class.
I would first reformat the data for easier viewing. Simply copy and paste the fifteen items into a blank document. Perhaps leave some space between items for students to write in their reasoning. Or make a powerpoint slide and project the list.
Give Only Partial Information
Rather than hitting students with fifteen items at once, display only three items at a time. This will reduce an overwhelming feeling that some kids may experience, which would lead to disengagement from the task.
I want my students to discuss, collaborate, explain, and, yes, even argue. This activity is a perfect way to introduce your class’ rules of collaboration. Structure your groups to allow everyone to speak, everyone to listen, and everyone to understand enough to explain the groups’ thinking. The items are so varied in this collection that each person will have some insight into an object’s usefulness.
Eliminate “Exact” Rankings
To me, actually ranking the items one through fifteen gets in the way of looking for the items’ hidden pros and cons. Instead, I’d have my students group the items into three decreasingly useful categories:
Unveil The “Answers” Through A Story
Rather than simply listing the answers, have students “experience” the importance of certain items with a story–based game of elimination.
You take your first steps towards the distant base. Immediately you take a breath from your oxygen tank.
Any group without the oxygen tanks is eliminated.
Quickly, you realize how dehydrated you’ve become. You drink from your fifteen liters of water. While drinking, you decide to replenish some lost energy by eating your food concentrate.
Now any groups without food or water are eliminated.
And so on…
Let Them Create
Naturally, your students will have a scenario in which the life–raft played a vital role in their lunar survival. Don’t squash their passion for the inflatable life right! Encourage their creativity by requesting a narrative in which one of their poorly ranked items turns out to be important.
Approach It Backwards
This activity might also be interesting if you started by giving an item’s rank and asking students for explanations for the rank. “NASA says the compass is useless. Why did they rank it so low?”
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