New teachers were greeted and handed a Ziploc bag containing 10 dominoes. At first a range of skeptical looks crept across the faces of some of the new teachers. This was understandable. It certainly is not common practice for teachers to arrive at a meeting and be handed a bag filled with dominoes.
However, this slowly started to change after explaining the challenge. In twenty minutes teachers had to use all of the dominoes (each bag contained 10, 40 teachers present for the session, while another hundred were scattered across the cafeteria floor) and create a pattern where one could be tipped over and the rest would fall. At the end of providing directions new teachers were informed that this exercise was done with 9th graders and they had finished within the twenty minute time limit. With that last statement still hanging in the air new teachers vigorously attacked the challenge.
Our new teacher cohort finished just under the time limit with only a minor hesitation during the final attempt. The activity led to a stimulating discussion about objectives associated with the challenge and how this activity could be applied across all grade levels and content areas. Specifically, it followed a principle we agreed on that new teachers would be active in creating during these sessions. In building a session around a design challenge, important concepts such as collaboration, communication and problem-solving are thrust to the forefront. Additionally, new teachers are positioned to observe one another. Sense not only has to be made about how one approached the challenge, but each participant also has to reflect on the actions and decisions of their teammates. Empathy is inherent to any challenge and is true for the Domino Activity. Depending on one's comfort with the domino challenge, teachers develop a sense of empathy that could bridge to those students who struggle to address academic tasks.