Outside of the Box #sol19


Outside of the Box #sol19

February 5, 2019

The past few years I have occupied most of my professional time assisting teachers and students in reexamining the reading and writing workshop and all it means to become literate.  However,  it took a random conversation about the Mars Rover, mountains and haystacks to bring an essential part of the process into focus for me. Of course, it was the brilliance of the collaboration that revealed this gem.

Last week I heard a story on NPR about a mystery the Mars Rover scientists had discovered on Mars.   The rover landed in a crater but in the crater was a three-mile high mountain of sand.  How did it get there?  To measure mountain origins, scientist use gravity to measure the density of the rock at the base.  I know,  who knew? NPR xxoo Typically,  this measurement would be done by a gravimeter (?), but the rover wasn’t equipped with one.  The scientists understanding the science of gravity, used another piece of equipment to measure velocity and convert that data into gravity measures.  Super complicated, but yet simple to them.  This led to a theory that this ‘mountain’ was developed in a haystack method.  (See full story for details)

Pretty amazing stuff.  The scientist from afar,  figured out how they could use a completely different piece of equipment to measure something different in order to get a sense of what they were trying to figure out.  I’ll let that sink in…

Here we are, like every other night,  standing in our kitchen, completing our pre-dinner routines.  I’m not sure if we were even looking at each other. I say to Mr. K., wow,  that’s some pretty amazing out of the box thinking.  But then he says,  you have to understand the box to think outside of it.  I transpose this in my mind, You can’t think outside of the box, if you don’t understand the box.  

I’m telling this story to him in the context of discussing the vertical alignment of nonfiction reading and writing in K-4 with the school staff that afternoon.  We had been talking about ‘buckets’ of the learning (large learning objectives), language of the units, structures, and skills.  As we walked away from this too-short discussion,  I was thinking about my objectives for the task, the clear struggle for some, and the visible response.  When he says, you can’t think outside the box, if you don’t understand the box, I think about a unit of study and understanding the big ideas, the goals, the key teaching moves, when you are in the trees.

What to do and think about this?  Reflect, perhaps.  Understand that helping each other know and understand the important tenets in the work we are doing together, then moving on to the ever moving pieces.  What is our mountain in the sand that we are trying to examine?  What tools that we already have can we use to think about it?  Much like we facilitate with students, when we use tools and ideas we are familiar with to create new schemas about new learning, these ideas have a place to grow, a rock to cling to, a new perspective.


Thinking outside the box (also thinking out of the box or thinking beyond the box and, especially in Australia, thinking outside the square) is a metaphor that means to think differently, unconventionally, or from a new perspective. This phrase often refers to novel or creative thinking. (wikipedia)






3 thoughts on “Outside of the Box #sol19

  1. This is really such a powerful idea…..knowing the box before thinking outside of it. I have to ponder this for a bit and think about how it applies to my work (and my life).

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