Thinsliced curricular tasks have become a tool I use in my Thinking Classroom very, very often with great success.
I've written about these once before  back when I was just learning to unlock their potential  and one of my earliest discoveries was this: The Magic Is In The Mild
I've only grown to be more certain of this truth ever since.
Building A Thinking Classroom rests of a bold premise  kids are largely capable of figuring out rigorous mathematics on their own. And with the right fourteen practices in place, it turns out they truly can! On Thursday, I wanted my 6th graders to learn the concept of quartiles as a way of organizing a data set to answer a statistical question. Not a terribly difficult concept, but one I was worried I wouldn't be able to lead students to figure out on their own. But I decided to try. Whenever I'm worried that a concept will be something I can't frame in just the right way that students can walk into it on their own, I remind myself that: The magic is In THe Mild
1. Task Launch
Even before we get to the mild, I try to assure that I'm building the day's learning off of prior learning. I frame the start of every thinsliced task launch with:
You can already __________, but what about __________?
For quartiles, that launch sounded like 
"You can already answer statistical questions by finding the MEDIAN, which divides a data set into HALVES, but what about dividing data set into FOURTHS, called QUARTILES?
 and the first, mildest question of the thinking tasks was on the screen to see.
And boom, we're already thinking.
2. Heavily Scaffold The Mild Questions
The task launch  plus a little bit of wait time  had the kids chomping at the bit to get started. Most of them could already see the path forward from the screen example, and couldn't wait to rush to their board to show me how quickly they had figured out my new task.
That's the magic of the mild. The mild questions were so scaffolded  exactly eight data points, easily divisible by four, and blanks to fill in  that the kids were started in no time. In a matter of seconds, they're grouped up, at the boards, rushing to get to be the one who gets to explain to the group what they can already plainly see.
At this point, several groups are telling me this is too easy. Confidence abounds.
The magic is in the mild.
2. ThinSlice Up To Medium: Bigger Data Sets
My next slice was indeed a thinone: data sets with 12 or 16 data points instead of 8. Still divisible by 4, still blanks to fill in, and just the small twist that a quartile might include more than two of the data points.
"You have to be kidding me," was the general response from the kids. "These aren't any harder than the mild ones!" The confidence spills over into the medium, and they rip through these in a couple of minutes, all thanks to the start they got on the almosttooeasy mild questions.
The magic is in the mild.
3. Thinslice Up To Spicy: Remove the Blanks
For the next thinslice, I removed the blanks. Still data sets that are evenly divisible by four, but now you have to decide for yourself how many go in which blanks.
Admittedly, another very thin slice, and not all that spicy. But who cares? Since I called them spicy, the momentum and confidence continue now that I'm doing supposedly spicy questions with ease. Some days, we really are into spicy territory by now, but today, these are still pretty mild, which is ok, because
The magic is in the mild. 4. The struggle slice
But first, if we can all agree that
And did they ever! For the first problem (with 10 data points), some creative solutions they came up with included:
Conclusion
"Thinking is what you do when you don't know what to do."
It is why we build thinking classrooms to begin with. But it isn't easily won. The willingness to engage with mathematics  or anything else  that we don't know how to do takes some real nurturing. But once you've nurtured it, where it will take your students is absolutely incredible. So how do you nurture it? I'd love to say that it isn't magic, but it just might be. The magic is in the mild.
Learning to think  truly think  during math class has bled into other thinking opportunities, like figuring out how to make a science demonstration work that I wasn't able to (left) without my even asking, or considering why there might be a single shoe on a fence post on our way to lunch (right).
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About MeI'm an awardwinning teacher in the Atlanta area with experience teaching at every level from elementary school to college. Categories
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