Tag Archives: metacognition

Curio Cabinet

curiocabinet1.jpg Diagonally situated, my grandmother’s Curio Cabinet is nestled in a corner of our dining room. As a young child, I loved the curved glass that beckoned my curious eyes, welcoming me to the cabinet’s contents. Now it holds objects crafted when my sons were children: dinosaurs made of wood and ceramic pieces, and memorabilia from my father’s father: pipes and pocket watches.

As an adult, I was curious about the origination of curio cabinets, and turned to the web for more information. I followed a path to the Middle Street Primary School in Brighton, England. Middle Street has what appears to be an after-school (“out of school hours”) program called Cabinets & Pods based around a “cabinet of curiosities”.

It turns out these cabinets, while similar to my grandmother’s curio cabinet, are more reminiscent to me of a typesetter’s box, only rather than being filled with type, the box is filled with unusual collections of objects that may have some relation to one another.

The Cabinet of Curiosities will be both a physical presence in the classroom (as a constant reminder of the wider aims of education) and an ‘icon’ that provides us with many useful analogies for considering and discussing cognitive development.

Along those lines, students thought about how their brains are organized as they imagined the functioning of their minds. The results are their Brain/Storage Analogies, drawings that represent their ideas.

3rddrawing.jpgThis analogy of the brain as curio cabinet intrigued me sufficiently that last year I shared the idea with our middle school learning specialist and middle school art teacher. It just so happened that last year our learning specialist did a series of sessions with our sixth graders about learning and their brains. One of their favorite new words became metacognition. Middle Street’s Brain/Storage Analogy was incorporated into sixth grade art classes, including class discussions with the learning specialist as part of art class. (That’s my brain analogy rendering.)

Recently, I paid a return visit to Middle Street, and came upon their Cabinets & Pods blog.

What is this?
An online extension of Middle Street school’s cabinet of curiosities – weird & wonderful things to appeal to children.

I encourage you to pay a virtual visit to Middle Street. Your mouth will smile, and your brain may just start thinking about itself in a novel manner!

January 23, 2008 UPDATE: Walking the Berkshires is a blog filled with curious and interesting entries, among them this post called Cabinet of Curiosities #3: Albertus Seba Edition. I stumbled upon it thanks to the author posting a link to this post. Am returning the favor because I think that if you enjoyed my post, you will enjoy his, as well!


Surfin’ Safari

Just as there are two sides to the brain, there are often two sides to any argument. This is not about an argument but it is about wondering where the other side was in a recent conversation.

I recently attended an evaluation meeting with a student and a learning specialist, along with other adults involved in the student’s education. Remaining consistent with testing results over the past eight years, the student had recently tested in the Superior range in vocabulary and reading comprehension, demonstrated continual strength as a conceptual learner, and tested in the Average range in mathematics and following written directions, with continued demonstration of organizational issues.

In-class test scores in English, Science and History classes were in the 80s and 90s but homework, especially in History, was not getting turned in. The learning specialist wanted to know why, and the student had difficulty elaborating. And then came the portion of the conversation that surprised me. The learning specialist repeatedly commented that the student should try harder, put in more effort, and become more organized.


hand-contour.jpgExcuse me, but where was the learning specialist in this meeting? Where was the conversation? Why didn’t this specialist ask more questions or refer to in-depth testing results from previous years? Why didn’t this specialist explain that when someone has to struggle with certain cerebral issues it can be taxing and tiring, and mental fatigue at doing something that is difficult makes it tough to actually do that something? Why didn’t this specialist discuss some strategies for dealing with motivation and organization?

Metacognition. It’s a beautiful thought.

I am not a learning specialist, but I also am not a novice in the area. Last summer, 2006, a school grant funded the creation of the Safari Wiki, co-created with my school’s middle school learning specialist. We created this wiki for fifth through ninth graders to help them learn about how they learn. [UPDATE 2018 – Both of us have long since transferred to other schools and the site is no longer available.]

Another resource, written for parents and teachers, is Mel Levine’s A Mind at a Time. Dr. Levine also wrote a book specifically for students, Keeping A Head in School, to help them understand how their minds work.