showing frustration. photo by noah bushner from unsplash.com
Every home school parent and teacher can tell you that the worst thing isn’t when you’ve spent 20 minutes explaining something and then asking your children if they understand and they respond, “No.”
The worst is our kids saying, “Yes, I get it,” and you having no way of knowing if they really get it.
The whole goal of teaching is so that our children understand. It’s why they create, practice, write, speak, dance or memorise. Isn’t it strange, then, that we struggle so much with seeing their actual understanding? This is whole reason for the Make Thinking Visible paradigm of education. There are endless lists of routines and tactics, but there’s one that I found to be the most helpful. Analogies. Comparisons are one of the ways our brains are wired to problem solve. You can even make that thinking visible with a thinking map. My favourite way, that I’ve seen the best results and had the best discussions around, are making metaphors. Here are a few examples of how you could use analogies to see if your children really understand:

1. Choose a cartoon character who you would compare the concept to.

For example, when teaching magnetism, I used Johnny Bravo (which originally ran 23 years ago… feeling old?) because he is always positive and repels others who are positive. He’s also strong. And entertaining. And you often don’t know why he behaves the way he does.

2. Build with Lego and explain your choices.

I like Lego, a lot. I’ve got over 100kgs of the stuff and am amazed at how my one-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son can play with it for hours. Whenever I taught, “What is the internet?” to grade 1s-7s for Computer Science, we would discuss, watch, and finally show understanding by representing the internet using Lego. They would build the most amazing things and you could speak with them extensively on choices. Why did they pick a certain colour? Block? Structure? What does it represent? I use this in my Use Coding in Your Teaching Online Course for parents and teachers.

3. If this was an animal…

Children love animals. It’s built into us to be intrigued by them. By comparing a concept to an animal, we are accessing our children’s current knowledge and helping them to create a bridge to their new understanding (an important habit of the mind). I found with this one, and most of these, sometimes our children need some help getting started. “How is an ant like a factory?”. Our children must think about their current knowledge of ants. Maybe they have lots of moving parts? You don’t notice them. They are stronger than we realise… see? As our children gain confidence, they will see that this is an excellent strategy to help them learn. They will start using it themselves and will be a bit further on the path of being able to learn anything. Before I go, remember that there are the homeCode Robotics Kits which are all about problem solving and making thinking visible. Each kit comes with online lessons that teach the basics of coding, robotics and problem solving. Do you have some great strategies to add to this? Come chat on Facebook or Twitter!
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