Decode the puzzle

605 in pictures

Grade 6 Social Studies: People and Environments: Canada's Interactions with the Global Community

Specific Expectations that could be addressed:

B3.5 - Identify some significant political, social, and economic interactions between Canada and other regions of the world, and describe some ways in which they affect these regions.

This is where we started...

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This is what we ended up doing...

To begin this introductory lesson, we introduced the learning goal so students had a context for the activity presented.
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We posed a problem for students to solve. We knew that it was important to give them an open question in the sense that they could choose whatever criteria they wanted in identifying the problem, but we also wanted to give them a little more guidance to narrow the focus so that they would be able to justify their thinking.
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Struggling through the meaning

Each group was given 11 pictures to sort. Coloured pictures were posted for clarification and all students were invited to view them.
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Talking through process

Making decisions

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Sharing our thinking

We noticed that because students were able to create their own categories and criteria, they were more willing to take risks -- there was no "right" or "wrong" answer. We just wanted to know what their base level of knowledge was, for this introductory lesson.
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As students presented, the common vocabulary used by groups was recorded on a chart that was divided into different categories. When we talked about these categories, students had an opportunity to identify how to name them (social, environmental, economic, political). There was a LOT of teacher scaffolding at this point.
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What do these words mean?

The four categories were defined for students. Their next task was to re-sort the pictures according to different global interactions.
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Re-sharing and reflecting

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This was a fun activity for us to plan. It was interesting to see students who had prior knowledge and could identify a context for what the pictures meant. This activity allows for multiple entry points -- pictures can depict so many different ideas and can reflect different experiences - and everyone has something to share.

Next time, before we start, we think we could start with some "strategies for investigating pictures" lessons. Click on the link above for actual lesson plans and ideas.

From The Critical Thinking Consortium... (

Using Picture Sets

Critical thinking involves making reasoned judgments by assessing various options in light of criteria.

The importance of the student tasks

Each Picture Set poses one or more critical thinking questions that students should be able to answer based largely on the images within the set. These tasks require more than descriptions of the contents of the images—students must draw thoughtful inferences and reach grounded conclusions. The tasks can be adapted to suit students’ diverse learning needs, and the requirements of social studies and science curricula at various grade levels.

Teaching the tools

Learning to think critically requires acquiring the appropriate intellectual resources or “tools.” The specific tools depend on the nature of the critical task associated with a picture set. See Strategies for investigating pictures for detailed instructions and resources to teach students some of the tools they will need to inquire critically into the various Picture Sets. Students should have some background knowledge on the topic prior to trying to interpret a Picture Set. For many of the sets, teacher background information is provided. This can be communicated to students in a condensed and simplified form. Consider creating complementary critical thinking task(s) based on the background information and the judgments students are making about the Picture Sets.

The central role of criteria

Thinking critically involves using criteria as the basis for assessing options and making reasoned judgments. Asking students to make observations and draw inferences about one or more images involve consideration of criteria such as:

  • accurate and relevant observations
  • plausible and insightful inferences

Teacher resources and student handouts provided with each Picture Set suggest relevant criteria for consideration. Consider the option of developing criteria collaboratively with students.

Opportunities for Differentiation

Differentiation of learning in a critical thinking context has two foci: the complexity of the critical challenge and tools, and the level of support provided.

Differentiating the complexity of Picture Sets:

  • choose from among the suggested tasks those that will be most appropriate for various students
  • adjust the number of images assigned to various students
  • simplify or revise the handouts for various students

Differentiating the level of support provided to students:

  • scaffold tasks
  • provide a worked example
  • assign students to work in pairs or groups and introduce cooperative learning techniques such as “think/pair/share”
  • partition the images
  • model the process
  • use the suggested teacher resource materials to develop intellectual tools and strategies for investigating images prior to assigning student tasks

If you are interested in viewing some picture sets available on the Critical Thinking Consortium website, click here.