I, Joy Kirr, am a middle school teacher, author, and speaker. My 7th grade ELA (English Language Arts) classes are working to improve their lives through student-directed learning - without marks throughout the year. This is a log of my learning experiences... Want to have me speak with your staff or facilitate a workshop? Here is my PORTFOLIO.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Marble Theory

I finished Paul Solarz's Learn Like a Pirate: Empower your students to collaborate, lead and succeed over a month ago, I believe. It's time to blog about one idea on pages 63-64 that I MUST implement next year within the first week... The Marble Theory.

We've all got these students...
     ...those who do well in our class...
          ...and those who don't do so well in our class.

And the students notice, too. Some egos become more inflated, and others more deflated as the year goes on. I hope, that the more time I spend on Genius Hour-type activities, the more students see that ALL students are skilled, and in many different ways. How do I share this idea with something tangible? How can I embed this idea in the minds of 12-13 year olds? Paul shares this great idea...
"Some students come into my classroom with very low self-esteem, due to low grades or poor performance in school. Others believe they are better than their peers because of past success in school. My goal with Marble Theory is to level the playing field. I want my students to realize that we are all equals with amazing gifts, talents, and interests. No one is better than anyone else. No one is worse. Once they understand we are all equals, increased respect leads to improved collaboration.
The Marble Theory states that we are all born with the same number of marbles in our brains. When we are born, these marbles are just in a big pile, but over time we allocate these marbles into cups. The cups represent our skills, talents, and abilities. We can have as many cups as we need and these cups are extremely specialized. For example, we don't have a cup for reading abilities. Instead, we have several cups for reading: one dedicated to decoding, one for literal comprehension, one for inferential comprehension, one for oral reading fluency, etc. But we also have cups dedicated to dribbling a basketball, drawing horses, telling jokes, and playing the flute.
In school, teachers usually spend time evaluating how many marbles students have in their academic cups, causing children to falsely assume that grades determine how intelligent they are. Kids who have many marbles in their cups dedicated to math, reading, writing, spelling, science, and social studies become known as the "smart kids." Children who have fewer marbles in those cups but more in their musical, athletic, interpersonal, or creative cups are not given the same accolades.
Quote used w/permission
I contend that we are all equal in terms of intelligence and that intelligence needs to be measured differently. Because of grades and report cards, students learn to think of themselves as smart or dumb. Low grades do little more than disappoint and discourage students. High grades often create perfectionists and cause children to become extrinsically motivated. ... "
I would love for students to recognize just where their talents lie. In what "cups" do they believe they have the most and the fewest skills? I will ask students to figure this out in some way. My dream would be to try this with actual Dixie cups and marbles. I don't believe I can afford as many as I'd like, and I'm not really THAT ambitious, so I'll resort to a blank sheet of paper, circle templates (lids off milk cartons) and hole punches - 100 "holes" for each of my 70 students. (I wonder - is there a spray glue students can use to just stick it all on when they're done placing them? Or... should this one be an activity they work on at home??) If the holes don't get punched (a lunch bunch project??), we can resort to dots using markers. These charts can be the start of our "Resident Expert Wall of Fame," where we recognize each other's talents/skills/genius. Heck, this activity can even be part of Dot Day around September 15th!

Update: A high school teacher shares her day with The Marble Theory in this post.


  1. I loved the marble idea too, Joy! What about stickers to make it quick and easy? You could use star stickers (cheap) or get the small dot ones. You've got me thinking...

  2. I just read that section in LLaP book. I am interested in doing this activity as well. However, my concern is getting Ss to identify the different cups. Do I give numerous examples or do I just let them figure it out? I also like your idea of connecting it with Dot Day!

    1. Hmmm... I think maybe let them figure it out, let them talk about it and share theirs, then they can readjust. Heck, they'd probably readjust every week if we did it again!! :D

  3. I'm in 4th this year and went to the dollar store and bought small cups and marbles. I wish I had more cups so I labeled one "other". Part of the discussion will be about what their "other" cup represents to them. I'd love to see if their choices of where their marbles go change by the end of the year!

  4. Anil Marble & Granite Exports is today a well known stone prodcucing plant as well as stone producing unit for this Rainbow /Teak Sandstone Tiles, Slabs, Floor Tiles, Wall Tiles, Flooring, Blocks, Sandstone Tiles, Paving tiles.

    marble exporters in india

  5. You could always use pennies instead of marbles. I know a place where you can get 100 of them for $1...