Helping students make links across your subject

Can you get from Joseph Gordon-Levitt to Cameron Diaz in as few links as possible?

I can scaffold this game for you if you’re struggling. Maybe I can say you have to link Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Cameron Diaz by considering Leonardo Di Caprio as well. Obviously the more actors and films you know about, the easier this game becomes. You can then try and challenge yourself by finding more obscure links. I can easily make this game more challenging for you as well. I can ask you to try and get there with 3 links or fewer, for example. Or by only using male or female actors. Or only using films from the past 10 years.

It’s a great game to play. Pick any two things and figure out a pathway that gets you from Thing A to Thing B. The fun part about this game is that there are many different ways of linking two things, and the things themselves can vary from objects in your house to Hollywood actors.

Anything can be linked to anything else, it’s just that some things require more links to get there than others. There is an idea that any two people in the world can be connected with 6 links or fewer. This means it may be possible to get from yourself to Barack Obama in 6 social links or fewer.

In the “movie world” this has a particular name, the Bacon Number, in which any actor can be linked to Kevin Bacon in 6 links or fewer.

I use this idea in my lessons to help students build links between different parts of the Physics specification. I start with a simple example and model it for the class to get them used to the activity. For example I would ask them to find the link between a proton and an electron. The first stage is knowledge recall to have them write down everything they remember about a proton:


And then on the other half of the page everything they can remember about an electron:


Once they’ve done this they should hopefully see some links appearing between the proton and the electron:


Once they’ve found the links they can write sentences that link the two ideas together.

I’d be looking for sentences like this:

The proton is a particle with a positive charge, while the electron is a particle with a negative charge.

The proton is found in the nucleus of the atom, while the electron is found orbiting the nucleus in energy levels.

The proton has a relative mass of 1, while the electron has a relative mass of 0.

Once students get the hang of it, they will ask for more challenging things to try and link together. Pick two things which at first glance appear to be very separate things, for example beta radiation and sound. They follow the same procedure as before, listing everything they can remember about beta radiation and everything they can remember about sound, however this time they may have to expand their links further.

No links are jumping out at the moment on this first level, but ask them to keep going, adding to their ideas more and more. Links will eventually start to appear.

And now we can see that the concept of the “electromagnetic wave” appears in both maps. The student would then write sentences full of knowledge that link the two seemingly disparate concepts of beta radiation and sound:

The beta particle is a type of nuclear decay.

Other types of nuclear decay are the alpha particle and the gamma ray.

The gamma ray is a type of electromagnetic wave emitted from the nucleus.

Electromagnetic waves are examples of transverse waves.

Transverse waves are one type of wave, while longitudinal waves is the other type of wave.

An example of a longitudinal wave is the sound wave.

Nothing in our subject specifications is an island. You can link any two concepts within a specification.

Oh, and if I were to link Joseph Gordon-Levitt to Cameron Diaz, I would go with this:Screen Shot 2019-06-02 at 22.02.18.png

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash

2 thoughts on “Helping students make links across your subject

  1. This would help if people had a clue who Joseph Gordon-Levitt is! I’ve never heard of him. I know next to nothing about films & have no interest in them. None of the “tips” ever seem relevant to music teaching or even practical subjects. Can’t you find better examples or are you following the DfE’s “STEM is everything” mantra?


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