Wednesday, August 6, 2014

People Circles

I'm lucky to flesh out some ideas with some great people at Encompass this week. Due to my recent fascination with circles, I had the chance to share an idea I've been wondering about for a few weeks now. I'm extremely curious where you would go with this idea and how you'd weigh in.

Say you have a room full of students or teachers (for a training).
You ask them to stand up and form a circle in the room.

You know how everyone immediately gets that awkward look on their face? The look where people are mentally calculating (or estimating) if there's enough room? Can we actually form something that looks like a circle? What if we can't form a circle, what do we do now? AGHHHHH!
Here's my idea: I'd want to know what size room you'd need to form a near-perfect circle with your students or teachers?

  • How would you facilitate this with students?
  • What questions would you ask?
  • What different question might you ask instead of the one I asked?
  • Can you even form a perfect circle?

I'll share some ideas next Monday or Tuesday, but I'm curious what you think first and appreciate any insight. GO!

People circles,


  1. My questions for you:
    1. Is this a moving circle or circle of people standing in place?
    2. Why are you making the circle? What are you going to do in that formation? Why do you want people in a circle?

    My thoughts:
    1. I think the difficulty in people's minds is less about 'is there room' and more about negotiating space to a) find their own best location and b) create the circle as a whole group. A tricky proposition on both counts.

    2. To make a people circle there needs to be a shared sense of *center* which is why sometimes there's a leader that directs folks to grab hands and start forming it that way. At some point in that process of creating a connected ring a *group* is more able to figure out what they need to do to make a useful circle. Meaning, if it's too big for what they need, folks need to move toward the newly established center to make it smaller, or if it's too small, the connected hands help everyone move out *just enough*. There's something in there about synchronized moving bodies that I think is important but can't yet articulate.

    3. Instead of asking about the ideal room size for any one circle of people, what about flipping that and asking -- What do we need to do to make a circle that includes every person in this room? In this way, the constraint becomes the room size (not the amount of people) which requires the learners to interact with and adapt to the properties of a circle in some very specific ways. Ideally we'd hear reflections (notice/wonders) about the activity that include observations about needing to be equidistant from center, equidistant from each other, and a shared sense of center.

    4. I also think it would be interesting to experiment w/ making a circle using different strategies (which you could brainstorm first with the group and then try, leaving open the opportunity for even more ideas once you get started):

    - by holding hands and walking around in a ring until something comes of it
    - by simply walking to a spot and stopping, and see if everyone else can figure out where their spot is
    - by using poly spots or tape to mark out a circle on the floor first
    - brainstorming other ways (I'm thinking someone might mention a piece of rope as the radius...?)

    I hope this is at least a little helpful. :-) I'm looking forward to seeing what others think!

  2. I don't even know how to respond to these. In the "is it even possible" arena, I'd say yes and no. Yes, possible. No, not in my room. Not because of the room, but because of my perception usually being off. There are some folks who just have a knack for visual precision.

    I'm a minimalist when it comes to questioning students, to a fault, but I'd probably not even ask a question. Instead, I'd remove all desks the night before (or pile them up in the middle) and give them instructions: make a perfect circle. I would record them doing it with a camera near the top of the ceiling, the entire process, and drop it into Camtasia to speed it up and edit. The following day, we would watch that video as a class and discuss how it happened and analyze the formation as time passed.

    Realistically, there are tons of gaps in there that would need to be addressed, but I would be really interested to see how the lesson plays out. Thanks for making the gears turn, Stadel!

  3. I love love love this context. It's just so cool, and I feel like it opens an entire genre of classroom activities.

    "How would you facilitate this with students?"

    What a fun question! I don't really have an answery answer, but it's fun to try to answer. Here's my first take.

    I think that I'd start by asking them to form a circle in a space that was too small, so that everyone in class would understand the constraints of the scenario. Then I'd ask them to guess whether there's enough room for our circle in our room. I'd be looking for drawing out some of their ideas about circles and to assess where they're going to need to some help -- I'm particularly worried about their ways of checking whether something is a circle or not. Then I'd give them some time to work alone for a few minutes, on paper, to jot down some initial thoughts (and give me a chance to see their thinking). I'd then put them into groups and ask them to decide how big of a room we'd need to fit our class' circle.

    At some point I'd want to ask kids what questions we could ask about this scenario, because I'd want to have some extensions ready in case a group finishes early. That can happen at the beginning of the scenario, right after they've tried to make a circle in a space-too-small.

    "What questions would you ask?"

    What a great question. Questions are so often the key to a lesson, I find. I wish that every blog post that shared a lesson also shared some key questions.

    As before, all of these are tentative ideas.

    If someone had trouble getting started, I'd ask "Can you represent our scenario somehow? How about a picture?"

    If someone had trouble deciding how big of a room we'd need, I'd ask "What do you know about the circle that we'd make?" or "How far across would our circle be? How far around?"

    This comment is long enough, I'm sure. But I'm just a huge fan of this and I can't wait to see how you develop this.