Tuesday, July 21, 2015

"Elementary, dear Watson!"


I was reminded of the power of deductive reasoning yesterday when I was shopping with my daughter.  We both have a fascination with tiny things that others would consider to be entirely impractical, yet we tend to hold up the "cute little whisk" or the "tiny little spatula" and talk in a tiny voice to each other, filled with baby-talk excitement.  Yesterday, in addition to the miniature spatulas and whisks, we discovered the most adorable funnel.  Although I didn't buy it, it will be with me all year this year, in the form of some classroom art explaining the importance and process of deductive reasoning.

We've all heard of the power of deductive reasoning; especially when contemplating the mystery-solving brilliance of Sherlock Holmes.  Tons of facts, tons of false leads, and evidence and non-evidence to be sorted through, slowly accepting and rejecting the tiniest lead, until the ultimate answer is discovered.  It's a systematic process used in many careers -- and a skill that we don't spend enough time teaching students.  (Yet many professions use funnels as a metaphor or illustration for success!)

Consider the almighty funnel.  Entering the wide opining at the top, all sorts of information.  Consider the facts, let the kids decide what the causes and effects were to a given situation.  Watch the inquiry and discussion.  Watch the debate.  Guide them, a bit, but not too much!

Joshua Block, a teacher at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, uses this inquiry strategy frequently with his students.  (Read more about his class and work here.)  It's brain work.  It's collaboration and communication.  And it's engaging.  Oh, and the best part about funnel teaching?

It works both ways.

WHAT?  Yes.  Turn that funnel upside down, and introduce the concept of brainstorming.  Into the point of the funnel goes a single topic, and then the mind-whirling begins.  Idea after idea is generated.  Excitement ensues, and ownership follows excitement.    Once the pool is full of ideas, the funnel can be flipped again, with those involved working to solidify the best possible option.

Yes, simple funnels can serve as metaphors for both generating big ideas and whittling down to small solutions.

And they can also elicit baby-talking high voices in the housewares section of at least a few people I know -- including me.