Dialectical Thinking; The Wright Way

I read The Wright Brothers: The Remarkable Story of the Aviation Pioneers Who Changed the World not long ago (last year about this time) on the recommendation of a parent.  We were studying forces and motion and he (a pilot) gave me the book to get a better sense for the science behind flying.  I found the book fascinating, but not because of the science of flight (which, granted, was very interesting!).  Instead, I was amazed at how the brothers developed their ideas.  I was enthralled by their thought process, called the Wright Way, or I'm right, you're wrong.

Being very passionate people, they would argue in a very passionate tone.  That is a nice way of saying they yelled at each other.  Then, they did something amazing.  They would switch sides and have another passionate argument from the others perspective.  The debate would continue, and the yelling would soldier on.  This method forced each one of them to defend what they might not otherwise have considered, and led them to new angles, perspectives, discoveries, and ways of knowing or thinking.

I wanted to use this method to help us understand some deep questions about light and sound.  It ended up being a great Tuning In activity for the unit.

Alone with my thoughts
We started with some quiet meditation.  Alone.  Sitting in a quiet place with only your thoughts.  Some chose to sit on tables, others cross-legged on the floor in the classic Lotus position, while others spread out on the floor in a comfortable nap like position.  The class was divided into two, with half contemplating the tree problem, and half thinking about the ball problem.  After some time, we each jotted down our initial notes into our notebooks.  Most students were already using dialectical thinking in their notes.  They jotted down ideas for both yes, and no.  My class loves to meditate.  We have been practicing this since the beginning of the year, and learning to listen to the world around us, to zone out certain sounds and thoughts and focus on what is prescient in our current state.

I'm right, you're wrong!
Next, we shared our feelings and meditations with the larger group.  We found that we were pretty divided, with a portion saying yes, another portion saying no, and some even suggesting that both were correct.  We got into a dyad with somebody who had a different opinion from us, and argued our case (respectfully, though that is not as easy as it sounds with kids, or adults for that matter).  Then, I asked them to switch sides and have the same debate from the other side, all the while jotting notes about any important points they discussed.  This is the Wright Way.  On further reflection, I realized this may be a good Visible Thinking routine.  I am started to think like VT and not even realize it until afterwards!

Coming Together
Finally, we sat down with our partner and created a poster that showed how both theories may be correct.  We focused on drawing good diagrams and labeling them clearly.  We also learned a new word, therefore, and tried to use it in our scientific explanations.

Tuning In
This was a perfect tuning in exercise.  I was able to find out what they know about Light and Sound, what some of their misconceptions are, and where we need to go next to get a fuller picture.  Before this unit started, I asked my Twitter PLN for good provocations for Light and Sound.  They responded with some amazing ideas.  Fireworks, golf swings, jet engines, blindfolds and earmuffs, etc.  I will possibly be using many of these ideas throughout the rest of the unit.  However, there was something about this that felt better for tuning in than big explosions or outside the box activities.  Sometimes the best way to Tune in, is too quietly sit and think.

A Thought About Skills
Again, I was able to slow down and have this drawn out.  It allowed for much deeper thinking, and it also allowed me to hit some skills that I really hadn't planned on hitting.  It made me think about teaching specific skills (scientific diagrams for example).  I find difficulty in planning what skills to teach in advance, because I have no idea of their level of proficiency.  Many a time I have planned to teach a specific skill only to find out that they were already quite good at it.  Other times I have assumed that a skill was in place only to find out that it was not.  

This has me thinking about how I plan to teach skills in the future.  Do I make it explicit in the planning process, or do I let it emerge out of the activity/project?  I have been using a metaphor all year with my kids; Zoom In and Zoom Out.  I use this to orient attention to the fact that we are leaving our Inquiry for a moment to look at bigger issues (or smaller issues), and to focus on specific skills to help us in our inquiry.  For example, when we were making our boxes during the teapot project, we zoomed out to make 3D shapes out of marshmallows and toothpicks.  This was unrelated to the teapot, but the skills we learned in it helped us to make our boxes.

I wonder, how do you plan for specific skills?  Is it planned up front and made explicit?  Do you go with the ebb and flow?


  1. I love even here that you have rolled with an incidental piece of learning for you and turned it into a student focused opportunity. Dialectical thought is powerful, no doubt. I didn't realise that Wright brothers had used it.


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