The Snail Challenge

To be able to say to other people, ‘Look! Kindergarten children are really smart, they’re really capable, they see possibility everywhere’, I really liked that about [Integrative Thinking].

Rachael Chang introduced Integrative Thinking into her kindergarten classroom through the Snail Challenge, which came about when one of her students found a snail on the class’s daily nature walk. Rachael saw an exciting opportunity for hands-on inquiry that involved studying the snails in tanks. However, one of her students, Johnny, thought they should let the snails go because a nature walk he went on with his mother, where she expressed that they should “study nature in nature.”

Rachael faced a tension: "I have my needs, I really want to work through this inquiry, but Johnny's mother's thinking is incredibly valid." As a result, she turned to Integrative Thinking process.


Step 1: Articulating Opposing Models

Rachael framed the challenged by explaining to her students that "when your parents go to work they solve problems all the time [...] and I know that you can do that because you're very capable."

Instead of using the language of the Pro-Pro, Rachael put it this way: "Johnny's mom and I have a problem that we need to solve and we can't figure it out. So what we're going to do is think about what's great about Johnny's mom's idea, what's great about my idea, and try to come up with a whole new idea that's even better."

In order to capture the benefits of each model, Rachael's students role-played as the snails through puppets. They asked each other questions such as "What do you like about being in the tank" or "Do you miss your family?". This helped students build empathy with the snails, and better understand how each model affected the stakeholders (in this case the students themselves, and the snails).

Step 2: Examining Models

Next, Rachael's students were able to identify three elements of a great model by matching key vocabulary they generated through the benefit bubbles, which Rachael then helped them develop into concepts. The three "must-haves" they landed on were: 1) the snails have food, 2) the snails stay with their families, and 3) the snails are safe.

Step 3: Creating Possibilities

Based on the three key elements, the students imagined many possibilities of what a new model might look, at first through drawing, and then through building prototypes.

Step 4: Assessing Prototypes

Rachael was delighted when one of her students, Beckett, came up with the solution of a cucumber garden for snails that combined all of these elements. To assess the prototype, her students collaborated together to help Beckett bring his idea to life by building the garden in the yard.

The tension that sparked the challenge came up before Rachael learned about Integrative Thinking, and the situation made her uncomfortable. "I had my goals, I had the curriculum, the parents, and the principal. I wanted to do inquiry, I wanted to do student-led, and I had this perfect opportunity." When Johnny raised his hand and expressed his conflicting opinion, Rachael was at a loss. Everything changed after she was introduced to Integrative Thinking:

When we went to the workshop I thought to myself:
‘Hang on a minute, now this becomes the work’. This isn’t an issue for me to solve, or for me to say ‘you’re wrong’ or ‘I’m wrong’ [...] Now, I’m not fearful.