Staff meeting about the Nordplus Project, ’Bringing Creativity and Thinking Skills into the Education Process’ and to explain something about the Thinking Approach.

The meeting was led by Kirsi Urmson, Susan Granlund and Anni Saavisaari.

There were fourteen teachers present, which is almost the whole staff. As this is a primary school, for children aged 7 to 12/13, they are all primary school class teachers, although several are also teachers of children with special needs. Part of the school has small classes for children with developmental and severe developmental problems.

We began the meeting by briefly describing the aims of the Nordplus project and who the other participants are, followed by a short description of the background to TRIZ.  Anni explained that she’s very keen to know more about and use this method as in teacher training the importance of thinking was impressed on them, but they were given no guidelines as to how to teach it. She likes the fact that it has specific tools and is systematic.

We then used Alexander’s power point, ‘The Bridge Across Uncertainty’ to explain how the thinking approach relates to our everyday teaching and to give the background to the approach. During the power point the teachers were keen to discuss the text books they use, their failings and the mechanical nature of exercises given. We played the YES / NO game, guessing an object in the room in 10 questions and at the same time writing up the questions to build an example of the ENV model. They were very interested in the effect of introducing limitations and we gave examples of some of the areas in which we’ve used the game (eg. guess a country). They were very quickly thinking of examples they could use in their own work. I also described the Password game I’d used, and Anni described her ‘secret box’, yes/no game.

Continuing with the power point, we showed them the Thinking Task Framework. They seemed to understand the overall idea, and said that especially steps one and two were clear, but that it wasn’t so obvious how step 3 (making the algorithm) would work. That’s probably partly because I find it hard to explain, not having properly used it myself.

The general idea did seem to clarify itself to them as we went on to give examples of how it can be used. We showed the examples in the power point (which refer to upper school English), and we expanded it by giving examples of what we’d done in primary school. Kirsi told them what she’d done on Finnish verbs with her 3rd-graders, and Anni described a lesson she’d like to try to help her pupils understand what a subject and predicate are. I described how I’d tried to teach adjective comparison and pronouns in English to the 6th class. We all emphasized the fact that we’re very much at the learning stage ourselves, so what we’ve done is probably not exactly this method, but it was certainly more motivating for us and the pupils than the way we usually do things. We emphasized the idea of ‘Room for Thinking’, of aims, context, limitations, tools and reflection, and how this could be incorporated into the curriculum by adapting text book materials and tasks.

After this we all needed a break. Everyone was interested and keen to know, what these ‘tools’ we were talking about are. Kirsi has made a list of tools and methods and had translated brief explanations about them into Finnish. We gave the teachers a handout of these and they were very keen on the ideas of sorting and limiting, as well as the uses ENV could be put to. We don’t know many of the tools ourselves yet.

Finally, Kirsi gave them examples of the kinds of things she’s done with her classes in Finnish, in biology (categorizing plants through sorting) and so on. She also explained how small changes can be made to our routines to make them more ‘thinking’ and effective, such as groups of pupils giving themselves a team name, but having to think up a name with only a certain number of letters in it, and containing, for example, two ‘r’s.  We told them about Aurelia’s sorting of numbers in a maths lesson. Our headmistress described how, after first hearing about the thinking approach, she had changed at once the way she was teaching her 15 year-old special needs pupils. Their topic was ‘Stress’, and rather than read from the book they had to make lists of how they deal with stress, and group their answers under parameters. She then told them they needed to find two more parameters, which they did. In the end they read the book and found they’d thought up everything themselves already. Although it maybe wasn’t yet exactly ‘thinking’, they seem to have been very proud of themselves!

We gave them a handout of the Thinking Task Framework, our list of possible ‘tools’, an example of a Thinking Game, information Kirsi had written in Finnish and links to TA webpages.


One teacher said immediately he wanted to try out yes/no with limitations and see if he could get the children to improve their questions. The next day one teacher said she was going to use Kirsi’s idea of ‘limiting’ in making teams for PE and also for PE she was going to plan a lesson where they would have to make up a good game for a specific PE aim in groups. They would have to think up the game, decide what was needed and make instructions, try them out on other teams and then reflect on them, and refine their rules.  Another teacher who teaches Class 1, for special needs, said she’d tried out a sorting exercise with them, with very interesting results. Yet another Special Needs teacher whose teenage pupils can’t read or write, said she’d got them to sort objects, and they’d enjoyed that a lot.

All in all the teachers were very interested, one (over 50 years old) said, ‘Well, it looks as if at this stage in my career I’m actually going to have to start thinking!’ I think that specific examples of what they could do are definitely the most motivating and it was good that we could give examples from different subjects and age groups. However, we still need to know, understand and have more experience ourselves and it would be a great help to have materials in Finnish.


# Alexander Sokol 2011-01-19 12:22
Susan, thanks a lot for such a detailed report. It'd be great if you could post something else in the future telling us how the things your colleagues decided to try worked. Meanwhile, a few questions / comments:
- (personal curiosity) which slides from the power point did you use and how did the teachers react? I am especially interested in those places where they reacted (either positively or negatively).
- can you say a few words about your colleagues' questions related to making the algorithm? BTW, in the Thinking Task Framework we've got on the site, this is Step 2 rather than Step 3. Was it a slip or did you describe the framework in a different way? If the latter, I'd be interested to hear the details.
- do you think you could upload the handouts and materials you're referring to to Materials section of this site?
# Susan Granlund 2011-01-21 20:07
I think your powerpoint is excellent and I used it all, although we didn't spend very long looking at the examples at the end which referred more to high school English. We looked at them enough to get the ideas and then tried to think of examples which apply to primary school more. I was the only English teacher present, so they were all more interested in examples concerned with other subjects. In slides 4 and 5 you talk about controlled and ambiguous situations in the classroom and it was hard to translate into Finnish what exactly is meant by ambiguous (uncertainty / the unknown??). However,I think they got the idea. Slide 9 about possible thinking in the classroom provoked dicussion about how we actually do and what our coursebooks do.
Slide 14 explaining about standard solutions and leading to new problems helped them also to get the idea and the fishing metaphor is great. I think the power point is very clear and the idea of the bridge was clear to everyone.

The slide about the Thinking Framework was maybe the most difficult and would have needed more examples and time. Actually, steps 2 and 3 are clear to me (what I find difficult is what the algorithm might look like),so that was a slip. I don't remember exactly what I said!

I'll put the list of 'tools' in the materials section, though it's partly in Finnish. Actually, it's just a list of various things we know about and I know they're not all tools. Maybe a good exercise for us would be to sort the list, so that it would be clear which are tools and which are methods for teaching. We also mentioned in the list tools we've heard of, but don't know about. I think at our next meeting these would very good things to discuss.
# Alexander Sokol 2011-01-23 18:31
Thanks a lot, Susan.
Sure, we can discuss the things related to the 'list of tools'. In fact, I've already posted a few questions about it under comments.
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