Count Your Marbles: They’re All There in Theory

I’ve always wanted to teach my kids about the Marble Theory, because I actually believe it to be true, but never got around to it until this school year.  The idea comes from Paul Solarz‘s book, Learn Like A Pirate in the section on Peer Collaboration pictured to the right.  In order to demonstrate, I brought in marbles and clear plastic cups.  As I explained the theory to the class, I used a black dry erase marker to label the cups as I added marbles.  Then, I had students brainstorm other areas that their marbles might be.  Pointing out that we were born with the same number of marbles and that they’ve just been placed in different cups and that schools typically recognize students with more marbles in the reading, math (academic) cups is a very powerful message to begin the school year with.  I left the cups out and referred to them often during the following weeks, but due to a lack of space, put them away and pretty much “forgot” about them until we reflected on our first BreakoutEDU game in late May.

We played the math game, The Wolf Den, and did not break out within the 45 minutes allotted. One of the clues involved a series of bricks with 4 digit numbers printed on them along with one blank brick.  Students who “get math” insisted upon adding the numbers up to fill in the missing brick.  One student [I’ll call her Ginny] pointed out the missing brick and noticed that the digits were the same in the thousands and the hundreds places.  She mentioned it to the number-cruncher(s) who promptly discounted her suggestions and continued to feverishly add. While Ginny is very capable in Math, she tends to give credit for this department to a younger sibling and to other classmates.  Even though we [educators] know that math is more than the solution, students have many more correct-answer driven experiences.  Another important part of math is recognizing patterns, which was exactly what Ginny was doing.

We debriefed as a class, but I also spent some one-on-one time with Ginny reflecting on the BreadkoutEDU experience.  She talked about what happened and how she felt about it, and then we role-played what could have been done differently.  The class played another BreakoutEDU math game, Weather Wizard,  the last week of school:  This time they broke out in less than 10 minutes!  Even though I had spent hours preparing the game, the opportunity to see them work so well together the second time around was worth it!  Not surprisingly, Ginny had another suggestion that related to a pattern she noticed in the Weather poem.  The difference?  She was more confident about her abilities and thus more assertive in sharing her thoughts.  Additionally, her teammates listened to her by recognizing her intelligence and her contributions.

Teaching students about the Marble Theory is valuable, but playing BreakoutEDU games made it real.  Mystery Skype is another great way for students to appreciate each other’s different strengths in action.  What types of learning experiences have you integrated into your curriculum so that your classroom community can celebrate all of  marbles in those non-academic cups?  Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below so that we can can grow together!  Thanks so much for reading.



3 thoughts on “Count Your Marbles: They’re All There in Theory

  1. The marble theory is a great way to show students they are equally “smart” just in different ways. I use it every year and try to get students to show what they know using their own talents I agree reminders and individual discussions with students are also so valuable!

  2. Thanks so much for reading and sharing Julia! Love hearing that you’re using the Marble Theory with your kiddos too! You’ll have to let us know how you build in those reminders throughout the year.

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