#MCHunter Day 5: World Peace and Sui Generis

On Friday morning the students’ energy level was high. They could sense that they were close to winning the game and achieving world peace, but they still had a long way to go. They had 6 crises left to solve in addition to needing to out the saboteur and avoid the debt crisis in several nations. Yet, they knew they were close. As the children planned and negotiated, we teachers watched for the game to speed up (Does the deadline propel learning?), for further team development, and for the students’ reflective awareness of what they have learned. John did a skillful job keeping them focused, but most students didn’t require his help. They understood what they needed to do and believed they could do it. They could achieve world peace.

As the game played on, John reminded the students of the obstacles remaining in their way, and during negotiations the students continued overcoming hurdles. They recognized how much they needed one another, and altruism surfaced in all of them. They lay aside their differences. They exposed the saboteur. They were generous to one another. They did what we so often cannot do. They declared peace. Everybody won.

In reflecting on her learning, one student admitted, “I’m smarter than I thought I was.” Another confessed, “I learned that by working together, we can do anything,” while a fellow participant added, “I learned the value of negotiation rather than fighting.” Several kids gained an awareness not only of their own potential for evil (“I can be mean.”) but also their capacity for good. They loved playing the game. When asked what they would want their teachers to know about the experience, one boy responded, “That this (game) is fun and really makes you learn a lot.” Their reflections were moving.

During our afternoon debriefing with John and Jamie, we discussed the learning of the game and identified the following outcomes:

  • “flow”
  • collective success
  • critical and creative thinking skills
  • process and intention focus
  • real world relevance and knowledge
  • resourcefulness
  • engagement
  • confidence

Using some tools and inspiration from John and Jamie, we spent the rest of the afternoon considering the concept of sui generis, a Latin expression meaning “of its own, creator of its own kind,” and working with each other and our curriculums to create our own “games.” Through the reflective process and sharing of the week, we identified the things keeping us from reaching our potential as teachers and collectively attempted to address those problems. Then, we were given the time and tools to begin reinventing how we will take new risks and teach our students. As Jamie explained to me, the week was about renewal, reflection, and risk-taking, and I really appreciated how my colleagues opened their hearts, made themselves vulnerable, and worked together to discover and create unique learning opportunities for our students. As my colleagues shared their ideas, I was inspired by my colleagues creativity in re-imagining their curriculums.

I am immensely grateful to John Hunter and Jamie Baker for facilitating the Master Class and to PDS for allowing my to attend. I am also thankful for my colleagues–my friends–and all they shared this week. I look forward to hearing more about the changes they are bringing to their teaching and to their students.

#MCHunter Days 3 and 4: Coup d’etats, Negotiations, and Ideal Teachers

Day 3 of the World Peace Game in Memphis began with a coup d’etat. A Secretary of State decided that his country would be in a better position under his leadership rather than that of the current prime minister. The players rolled the die and the original regime fell. The former leader was exiled to another country and the new leader immediately began preparing to flex his newly acquired military muscle. When his country’s turn arrived, he announced he was ready to launch a nuclear attack. However, in his eagerness to take power, he forgot to secure the launch codes for his nuclear arsenal from the former leader who was now exiled, and had no way to accomplish his strategic plans. At the same time the idea of a staging a coup spread as cabinet members from other countries began plotting to overthrow their leadership as they grew frustrated that their voices and ideas weren’t being heard.

Over the course of Wednesday and Thursday, the students continued negotiations, teams realigned, leadership transitioned, and one group of deposed leaders joined forces to form a new nation and asked for UN recognition. (They made a brilliant move trading the desperately sought after launch codes for land of their own. A sense of altruism also began to emerge as players began making sacrificial moves in order to solve crises. By the end of yesterday, the player who initiated the initial coup d’etat realized he was what was standing in the way of world peace and abdicated his power. It was extraordinary to watch.

As adult observers, we looked for leadership (types and struggles), adjustment in collaboration, learning outcomes, and open space. I noticed how Mr. Hunter used his gift for listening and one-to-one communication to pull students aside and work with them as they struggled through the negotiation process. John plays to his strengths. Additionally, the amount of open space John gives his students is impressive. They make their own decisions. He lets them take risks. He later admitted that the students often make choices in the game that he doesn’t agree with, but he let’s them do it anyway. I noticed he doesn’t feel like he has to rescue them.

In the Master Class on Wednesday, we debriefed with John for a few minutes then spent time exploring our strengths, fears, and shoulds as teachers. (The shoulds are the internal and external expectations we have to cope with as teachers.) We identified them on sticky notes and posted them in the room for all to see. Then, we did a “gallery walk” so that we could read what everyone had written. We then discussed them as a group and spent some time categorizing what we listed. We also took time to watch the World Peace movie as not everyone in our cohort had seen it. (I’ve now seen it 4 times and discover something new each time I view it.) As homework, we received a visual to help us consider the philosophies, teacher roles, hard limits, and expectations that hold bearing on the game (teaching and learning). Our assignment was to think about our own teaching, consider the factors at work, and begin imagining what our own “game” might be.

After our short debriefing during Thursday’s class, John spent a few minutes talking with us about learning outcomes and assessment. I appreciate how he develops the assessment in partnership with the students and there is a major component of self-assessment and conferencing with each student. Then, we spent a few minutes imagining our “perfect teacher selves.” Then, we paired up and shared it with a partner and began asking each other hard questions about how we can grow into or become that ideal teacher. It was a deeply personal experience but one shared with a new, supportive colleague. Each pair then took turns introducing to the group the ideal version of their partner. The exercise was somewhat emotional but incredibly validating as we began the journey toward our ideals. The day ended with time spent relaxing and enjoying each other’s company.

#MCHunter Tools for Creative Thinking

As our Master Class was debriefing yesterday on what we had observed in the World Peace Game, John Hunter began telling us about the “mental toolkit” he shares with his students to help them think creatively. We didn’t have time for John to share all of it, but it was interesting information and some of it was new to me.

The first tool John shared was teaching students how to use FFOE to assess their creative thinking. As a sample activity, John explained that he would show the students a coffee mug and ask them to brainstorm ways that the mug can be used other than as a container (i.e a door stop, a paperweight, a drum, etc.). At first they will find it hard to think this way, but as they practice, they will become better at it. FFOE stands for:

  • Fluency – producing as many ideas as one possibly can
  • Flexibility – producing ideas that demonstrate variety or different approaches
  • Originality – producing ideas that are unique or unusual
  • Elaboration – producing ideas with detail or enriched characteristics

Then, John shared with us his guidelines for brainstorming and his kinesthetic method for teaching it to his students. Fortunately, we captured his one on video:


The four guidelines are:

  1. Fluency – Produce as many ideas as you can
  2. Withhold Judgement – There are no bad ideas.
  3. Wild Ideas Ok – It is desirable to think outside the box.
  4. Piggyback Ideas – It is okay to have an idea that is similar to someone else’s thought or to expand on someone else’s suggestion.

Another tool that John uses with his students is something he calls a “Perspective Wheel.” I created a PowerPoint slide for my use that I thought I’d share. To use it, write the topic in the middle circle (yellow) then have the students identify four different perspectives that could be taken toward the topic (one for each blue quadrant) and explain how each perspective differs.This tool reminds me of the Visible Thinking Routine Circle of Viewpoints that I learned about at Project Zero last summer, and I think they might work well together.

The final tool John shared with us is the SCAMPER approach to creative thinking. SCAMPER is a mnemonic that stands for:

  • Substitute
  • Combine
  • Adapt
  • Maximize/Minimize
  • Put to Other Use
  • Eliminate/Elaborate
  • Reverse

This tool was completely new to me so I did a little searching and found a nice website that helps explain the tool and gives an example of how to use it. You might want to check it out.

In talking with Jamie Baker about teaching creativity I realized that I tend to get hung up thinking about creativity in terms of being artistic. Artistry is one type of creativity, but most creativity is really problem solving and learning how to approach something from a different direction. Jamie recommended that I read Michael Michalko’s Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius so I’ve added it to my Amazon Wishlist and will try to read it when I get through my current reading list.

What about you? What tools do you use to teach students to think creatively? What are your experiences using these or similar tools? Please leave a comment and share your ideas, experiences, and recommendations.

#MCHunter Day 2: First Day in Office

As regular readers of this blog know, I am taking a Master Class with John Hunter this week at The Martin Institute for Teaching Excellence. John is the creator of the World Peace Game and featured in the movie World Peace and Other Fourth Grade Achievements. One of the unique aspects about the Memphis class is that it there is a group of students who are playing the game each morning, and Master Class members have the opportunity to watch the game in action. Then we spend the afternoon debriefing and reflecting on our own practice with John and Jamie Baker.

Yesterday, the adult observers were encouraged to look for how to handle “unknowing,” team development, Mr. Hunter’s use of his strengths, and how learning happens. I attempted to keep these suggestions in mind as I watched the game unfold.

The game portion of today started with the students going over the day’s crisis report. The report identified the following 22 crises that Mr. Hunter has embedded into the game:

  • a border land dispute
  • an air defense scramble
  • a natural disaster
  • a rebel insurgency
  • religious tensions
  • endangered species
  • drone attacks
  • a territorial ownership dispute
  • an oil embargo
  • arms proliferation
  • a territorial waters dispute
  • a forced alliance
  • two separate global warming issues
  • ethnic cleansing
  • mercenary and rogue military actions
  • an oil spill
  • a toxic chemical spill
  • a Star Wars missile defense conflict
  • an undersea mining dispute
  • a sunken civilization artifact discovery
  • cyber-hacking
  • an ancestor burial dilemma
  • an oil well gusher blowout

How’s that for a to-do list on one’s first day in office? 🙂

I love the game’s complexity, and it was great to hear John’s philosophy on the need for complexity. Often, in teaching we divide the learning into smaller parts in order to make it simpler for the student to understand and master. As someone stated “we pre-chew their food.” The problem with this is that the world is incredibly complex and it’s rare that we are able to focus on just one individual task at a time. By designing the game with significant complexity, Hunter requires the kids to tackle multiple tasks at once and rely on their creativity as much as their analysis. He’s not teaching them to multi-task, but simulating the true complexity that already exists in the world.

As a group, we adults observed students responding in several different ways to this. Some seemed paralyzed by it all. Others were confused. Some slowed down and approached things carefully and methodically, and a few simply jumped in with their “to-do lists” and tried to accomplish something. It was an interesting dynamic. The room was full of activity and busyness, but I’m uncertain as to whether it was productive. I’m curious to see how the gameplay will develop.

Students approached their lack of knowing and understanding in different ways, and it wasn’t easy to know how they were doing without really knowing them personally. I think this really speaks to the need for strong relationships with students. I also noticed that John has a gift for one-on-one connections. He is very intentional about seeking out individuals to ask questions, offer encouragement, and make observations. He also has a way of expressing genuine interest in each individual. It’s quite remarkable.

During the afternoon our cohort debriefed with John and Jamie about what we saw in the game, and John shared with us some tools he uses with his students. (I’m working on a separate post about these.) then, we sat together and shared our responses to the “homework” questions. Teachers are extraordinary people. Listening to my peers share deeply about how they teach and why they do so was a beautiful experience, and I learned so much from them. And this morning, as I reflect on yesterday and this experience, I must confess I am extremely proud to be a teacher.

#MCHunter Day 1: Setting the Stage

Today, I attended the The Martin Institute for Teaching Excellence’s Master Class with John Hunter. This morning, we observed Mr. Hunter as he facilitated the first day of the World Peace Game with a room full of local students. The students’ ages range from 9 to 14 years old, and my middle son Sam is one of the participants. (He’s now the “Head Arms Dealer.” Don’t you know I’m proud!) The Master Class participants include 12 adults (11 teachers) from across the country and around the world (Houston, Miami, San Francisco, Nashville, Memphis, New Zealand, Norway, and Vietnam). During the morning session, the adult observers looked for the following things:

  • How relationships form
  • Engagement
  • Role of teacher
  • Complexity’s role
  • Work the game does

After some brief introductions this morning, Mr. Hunter spent a significant amount of time explaining the game pieces and the board to the students. The board has four strata: submarine, surface, air, and space. Each stratum contains unique resources and the potential for conflicts and crises. The game is incredibly complex, and my curiosity piqued when Mr. Hunter explained that one reason for the complexity is to move students beyond their “analytical minds to their artistic minds.” As the students asked questions about individual things they could do in the game, Mr. Hunter repeatedly responded by telling them, “You can do anything you want as long it meets two criteria. First, you must be able to afford it. Second, you must be willing to deal with the consequences.” Costs and consequences. It’s obvious the game is designed to teach students that every action (or inaction) carries both a cost and a consequence.

Once he explained the pieces of the game, Mr. Hunter selected several students as central figures in the game. First, he identified a Secretary General of the United Nations, four Prime Ministers to represent the four countries, a Chairman of The World Bank, a Head Arms Dealer, and a Weather Goddess. These individuals then picked their cabinet members and underlings. Then the groups met to name their country and design their insignia. Each group was then introduced and the students were given their individual dossiers. John Hunter covered an immense amount of material for the first day, and I’m sure the students heads were spinning from all the information as well as their own excitement.

After lunch the adults reconvened to debrief on the morning session with John and Jamie Baker. We talked about some of the things we observed about how groups formed, how John selected leaders, how he prepares for class, and how he assesses learning. We also spent a little time talking about the formality/informality in how we address students and how that differs in our different cultures. We also briefly touched on the topic of power and empowering students.

After debriefing and a short break, we took some time to quietly reflect and answer the following questions:

  • Who are you?
  • Why are you here?
  • What do you hope to leave with?

I won’t go into my response to the first question in this post as most of that is available through other posts on this blog. However, I will answer the other questions briefly. I first learned about John Hunter and the World Peace Game through his TED talk over a year ago thanks to my PLN. I was fascinated by what he does. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend you take the time to watch it.

Then, last November The Martin Institute showed the movie World Peace and Other Fourth Grade Achievements here in Memphis, and I attended the screening.  Again, what John does in his classroom fascinated me. As someone who believes teaching critical and creative thinking skills is extremely important, I was inspired by John’s story and wanted to learn more.

So when The Martin Institute announced that John would keynote at the Summer Conference and offer Master Classes over the summer, I knew I wanted to attend. I’m extremely excited about this opportunity.

My hope is that I will leave this class with a few more tools in my toolbox for teaching creative thinking skills in my classroom. Not that I have mastered teaching critical thinking, but I feel more comfortable with critical thinking than with creativity.

Tonight’s homework is to respond to the following prompts:
How do you teach?
Why do you teach that way?
(Bonus: How are you intentional about building relationships?)
While I’m pretty certain I can go ahead and respond to these questions now, I’m going to wait and put them on my “Running Thoughts” agenda for tomorrow morning so that I can reflect on them more deeply.

Other Notes:

One quote that I wrote down today was from Susan who said, “If kids can’t fail (make mistakes), they can’t grow.” And my friend Stephanie piggy backed on that remark by suggesting that it might be a good idea for teachers to intentionally fail in front of their students early in the year in order to model how one handles making a mistake.

Book Recommendations From Today:

  • The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander
  • Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon
  • Cracking the Creativity Code by Michael Michalko
  • Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman

It’s been quite a first day, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow. Please feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions or comments about any of these notes or ideas.