Klingenstein Summer Institute

The Mind-blowing Matrix of Connections

Presently, the Grade 7 students are around page 260 of the meaty text The Book Thief and last week, the Mind-blowing Matrix of Connections was launched. But first, some background information and context.


One huge take-away I had from the Klingenstein Summer Institute was the notion of structuring curriculum around the “big ideas” of my discipline. And, more importantly, the common shortcomings or misconceptions of a discipline. So if students continually struggle year after year with understanding the point and purpose of, say, writing reflections, then you should structure your learning around that idea, because it will be a skill and understanding that will benefit the student for years to come. Thank you Wiggins and McTighe. So far, this year in Grade 7 English, our units have been centred around the big ideas of “Expression”, “Reflection”, and now (with The Book Thief) “Connection”. The enduring understanding that I want my students to take away from this unit is that our world is a complex web of interconnectedness; articulating and uncovering these connections allow us to more deeply understand ourselves and the world around us. Just a typical day in Grade 7, right?

So to help my students begin to understand this, I wanted to design a personalized experience for them to wander / explore / play / grapple through. Enter the Mind-blowing Matrix of Connections. 

I was inspired by Garth’s explanation of personalized learning through an intricate “choose your own adventure” chart and I decided to create my own for my students with a set of stages that they could explore at their own pacing and leisure. Can personalized learning be on the “prescriptive” side as well? I had some clear goals in mind with my students for this learning task; should this be more “open-ended” or does the choice offered here give students the space to bring themselves to this task?

It is inspiring to see students having the chance to see something that they initially think is utterly separate from The Book Thief (Macklemore’s Same Love music video, for example) and notice what happens when they start to stitch those threads of connection between the two (“Oh…now I see that they both are showing different forms of bullying and how hard it is to not be able to change who you are…huh!”).  I love how forms of media that these students, in many cases, would just consume for enjoyment on their own time, are being woven into their curriculum. I also am excited to see students beginning to work ahead and try to figure out with their critical thinking skills what all the content in each of these columns (each an important theme in The Book Thief) has in common (Can you figure it out? Are you “smarter” than a 7th Grader?). The students are still crafting their connections, but I am planning on sharing some samples of student writing here (anonymously, of course) and some reflections on how well this learning task went.

But truthfully, I am most excited to see what happens when we have the students use the SAME matrix to connect the content they have been learning in Canadian History to these digital-artifacts. How is the Same Love video connected to the Acadian experience?

Is everything, in reality, actually connected?