Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Objects in a Bag

When I was a teacher, one of the activities I used to develop complex thinking was called “Objects in a Bag.”  In this activity, each group of students was given a bag which held a variety of objects such as pencils, rubber balls, tongue depressor, toy cars, plastic animals, or marbles.  Their task was to choose an object to represent a specific math concept or vocabulary word.  Each student had to write a description of the object and a justification for its representation.  The activity guided students into thinking about math concepts in new ways and it was an effective exercise in metaphor and allusion.

In a similar manner, I have my own “objects in a bag” with which to think about writing.  The objects are the elements of teaching strategies and principles I used in the classroom.  What I connect them with are (1) fiction novels (2) nonfiction books (3) book genres (4) the writing process.  This activity gives rise to a set of essential questions:  How do they connect?  What does the connection look like?  Why do I think they connect?  The process is a rich source of inquiry.

My overarching goal in doing this activity is to keep my thinking flexible.  This is an exercise to prevent rigidity of thinking – to engage in complex thinking as opposed to complicated thinking.  Complicated thinking occurs when there is only one central theme or concept around which ideas revolve.  Complex thinking occurs when two or more concepts are integrated.

In complicated thinking, new information or data does not lead to reflection and integration.  Instead, it is routed along a familiar path to an established idea.  New information does not change one’s ideas; rather, it supports what one has decided to think.

As I sail toward Byzantium, I want to remain liberal in my thinking.  I do not want to fight the winds   For this, I need some objects in a bag.
and force a landing on a familiar shore when an unknown paradise beckons.


  1. Hey, you got a patent on this? I like this approach and may give it a go in my critical thinking class. Good stuff!

  2. Please be my guest. If you need more information on it, let me know.

  3. Please be my guest. If you need more information on it, let me know.