At the end of last week, I shared a pretty popular bit on a metaphorical thinking activity that I’m introducing to my students this year.

More than one reader expressed an interest in seeing some examples of the kinds of metaphorical connections that my kids are making between the content that we are studying and the odd objects that we are collecting in our curiosity box.

We started our first curiosity box activity today after finishing a unit on the scientific method.  Here are two of the responses that I’ve gotten from students so far:

Fancy Doll Case

One of the more challenging objects in our curiosity box was (we think) a round doll case that stands about 18 inches high.  It’s got a padded interior made for storing one doll and a smooth outside surface decorated with gold pictures and a gold handle.














When a group of two boys chose to use the doll case for their metaphorical connections to the scientific method unit. I was worried that they wouldn’t get too far.  Instead, they kind of blew me away with their connections.

Here’s what they came up with:

  • Our doll case is like the conclusions of an experiment because it is smooth, neat and polished.  A scientist has to make their conclusions smooth, neat and polished before other people will understand them.
  • Our doll case is also like the conclusions of an experiment because it is a container.  Conclusions contain the most important things that a scientist has learned during an experiment.
  • Finally, a doll case can be carried and shared with and opened and explored by other people.  Scientists always share their conclusions with other scientists.  Those scientists “open” and “explore” the conclusions of others.  They also try to run the same tests to see if they can repeat the results.

Not bad for a couple of boys with a doll case, huh?

A second group of students chose to try to connect one of the oddest items in our curiosity box—a mini USB vaccuum cleaner designed (we think) for dusting off computer tables—-to the scientific method.













Here’s what they came up with:

  • A vaccuum cleaner is designed to suck up stuff.  That’s kind of like the results of an experiment.  Scientists are always running tests and recording what they are finding.
  • Sometimes when you use a vaccuum cleaner, you have to run over the same spots several times before you suck things up.  It doesn’t always get everything on the first try.  In a science experiment, you might not always conduct trials right the first time and you’ll have to run them again to be sure that your results are reliable.
  • When you’re done vaccuuming, you can open up the vaccuum and look at the contents of the container.  Scientists often “open the contents” of their experiments by looking at their results before drawing their conclusions.

Overall, I’m pretty impressed with how the first day of our innovative thinking work has gone simply because I’m pretty sure that as time goes by and kids get more practice with thinking metaphorically that their connections are going to become more and more sophisticated.

You might also be interested in this set of exemplars that I’ve put together to describe different levels of performance to my parents and students:

Download Exemplars_StudentMetaphors_SciMethod

I find that when I provide detailed exemplars, parents and students have a better understanding of exactly what it is that “good work” looks like.  I also find that developing exemplars can be a great PLC conversation starter simply because teachers need to determine what “good work” looks like as a group.

Here are four more quick lessons that I’ve learned that may help you if you try to integrate curiosity box lessons into your classroom:

Encourage your kids to brainstorm everything that they can about the object they are studying as soon as they get it.

Doing so will help kids to discover potential connections between the topic you are studying and the object they have chosen.  Sometimes, the individual words that they use to describe their curious object become an interesting entry point into their metaphor.

For example, my first group—the boys with the doll case—started by describing the case as a “container that held important things.”  Almost immediately, they made the link to conclusions as “containers that held important things” too—and once they did, they were off and running.

Sometimes the first connection is the most important connection because it stymies the intellectual gremlins that make metaphorical thinking difficult.

Encourage your kids to be playful with words.

The most successful metaphorical thinkers were those students who were willing to think about words in new and interesting ways.  Conclusions became “containers,” good data tables were “rigid and exact,” and graphs “shined light on” the results of an experiment.

That kind of playfulness with words leads naturally to metaphorical thought when you are using a curiosity box full of containers, rigid objects and gizmos with batteries and light bulbs!

The bad news for teachers of younger children is that word play isn’t always something they are familiar with. The good news is that once they get the hang of it, word play is something that your students will LOVE.

My kids spent the entire day walking around rocking the air quotes with their fingers and being witty with their word choice.

Find objects that have some complexity to them.

One of the early mistakes that I’ve made in my curiosity project was encouraging my students to bring in objects that were small.  My thinking was practical—where exactly do you store a collection of randomness if that collection is full of huge objects?

The problem is that small objects are often simple objects too.  Our box has a hockey puck, the wheels off of a set of roller blades, a plastic serving spoon.

And while there is potential in all of those objects, because they lack complexity, the types of metaphors that my students can generate are going to be limited.

Not only does that make our activity more challenging, it makes our activity less motivating simply because the best a-has are limited to those who are using sophisticated objects.

Long story short:  If you’re studying complex topics and you want kids to make complex, multi-layered connections, you need objects that are sophisticated and multi-layered, too.

Finally, don’t be surprised when your students—especially the top performers—-struggle.

One of the funniest things about any kind of activity that involves inventive thinking is that they can completely throw some students for an intellectual loop simply because there is no RIGHT ANSWER.

And as sad as it may seem, many of our kids—especially those making the most As—have been trained by “the system” (notice the air quotes? ; ) to look for answers first and to think second.

In my curiosity box work today, that played out with dozens of straight A kids flustered when I wouldn’t tell them whether or not their developing metaphors were “right”—and plenty of quirky kids playing starring roles simply because they haven’t conformed to a system that rewards right answers.

In the end, the flusterization of those kids who are right-answer-hunters really isn’t a bad thing, though, is it?  And I suspect that over time they’ll become more intellectually creative.

Just make sure that the early work you do is low-stakes.  “Grade” students but don’t add grades to their averages.  Doing so will leave everyone relaxed enough to let their minds run.

Any of this make sense?  I’m trying to process what I’m learning here, so if you see any gaps in my thinking or topics that you’d like me to address, leave a comment.

Rock right on,



 Related Radical Reads:

Can the Quirky Kid Thrive?

Environments that Build Walls

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