Don’t think better, think different.

General Education, General Science, The Learner, Using Tech No Comments »

At the beginning of each school year, parents pour into my science classroom on curriculum night, eager to hear what their child will be learning in the coming months. About three years ago my message to parents changed. I have begun telling them that I still teach content in my science class, but it is no longer the focus of our curriculum. Content is now everywhere, and in today’s world it is not something that a student must rely on the teacher to provide. Skills, however, still need to be learned. And so I tell parents that my job is to teach the students how to find the content, how to use the content, and when to believe the content.

This does not mean that I do not teach them scientific concepts. Biology, chemistry, and physics are still active parts of my classroom curriculum. However, my focus is on them learning how to carry out a lab and connect their results to the world around them. I teach them how to brainstorm, design, and build various items that will achieve a meaningful purpose. I let them explore various opinions on topics and then explain where they stand on these issues.  I make them think about their every day actions with regard to the sustainability of our world, and I require them to consider the repercussions of their choices. I let them create with technology so that they are prepared to engage with a world that is changing by the moment. And I learn that new technology myself, because I believe that if I don’t attempt to keep up with my students, then they will leave me far behind.

And so for today’s post I thank Thomas Whitby for directing me to this TEDxNYED video of Will Richardson. Hearing his thoughts have validated my own. Despite our own personal ideas of what education should be, sometimes a little validation goes a long way.

Below is Will Richardson’s TEDxNYED speech. Check out his blog at weblogg-ed.

Learning for One and All….the after story.

General Education, The Learner No Comments »

Not all PD days are created equally. Today’s rocked. Sometimes you leave feeling as if you have not learned any concrete strategies that you can implement in the classroom. Today I left with strategies in hand, and I have already incorporated one into my lesson planning for tomorrow.

As mentioned, our session today was on critical thinking. Our speaker for the day was Garfield Gini-Newman, a lecturer at OISE and a consultant with The Critical Thinking Consortium. He is the sort of speaker that you can listen to all day long, and continue to be intrigued with what he has to say. There were many interesting ideas, but here are the two that were the primary focus, and both are easy to implement.

The first revolves around how we frame questions and tasks. In his opinion, there are three main ways that we can do this. First, we can frame questions and tasks in ways that only require a recall answer, such as “What are genetically modified foods?” This type of framing does not require the student to analyze or judge the information, simply to retell it. Second, we can frame questions and tasks in ways that only require an opinion, such as “Would you eat genetically modified foods?” Again, the student does not have to analyze or judge, and quite often the answer would be linked to a personal like or dislike. Third, we can frame questions and tasks in ways that require a student to defend the answer based on a set of criteria, thus eliciting critical thinking strategies. For example, “Should we be identifying genetically modified foods in our grocery stores? Identify three criteria that help to defend your answer.” This type of question requires students to go beyond the research to examine the way we conduct ourselves in society. It requires an assessment of the health implications as compared to the increase in variety and enhancement of our food products. This type of framing requires students to assess our society and how genetically modified foods fit into our values .

An important point that Garfield mentioned – there is a time and place for the first and second type of framing questions and tasks. However, using those in exclusion of the third will not develop generations of thinkers.

The second “walk-away” strategy from the day was a list of the types of critical thinking questions and tasks that can be incorporated into lessons. They are as follows:

Critique the piece – Assess the strong and weak points of a person, product, or performance

Judge the better or best – Judge from among two or more options

Rework the piece – Transform a product or performance based on new criteria

Decode the puzzle – Suggest a solution to a problem

Design to specs – Develop a new product that meets a set of conditions

Perform to specs – Develop a course of action that meets a set of conditions

Currently my students are working on the evolution of systems. Tomorrow they will present a system that has evolved over time, and then offer their thoughts on what the next generation of that system will look like – a task they have already being working on. Without realizing it, in having them suggest how the system will evolve in the future, I already had them “Reworking the piece”. After today’s session, the activity does not stop there. They will also have to “Judge the better or best”. They will compare the different systems that are presented in order to decide which of those systems has changed society in the most meaningful way. For them, the first step will be to determine a set of criteria that defines, “What is a meaningful change to society?”

I can’t wait to see how it goes.

Learning for One and All

General Education, The Learner No Comments »

So tomorrow is a professional development day; students stay home to play, teachers go to school to learn.

And what will we be learning? The topic of the day is … critical thinking. We will be learning new strategies to help our students become more critical thinkers.

“And what does that mean?” you ask. It means that we want our students to be better decision makers, more capable of assessing the options presented to them. We want them to analyze and evaluate information, and to know that what they read is not always the truth. We want them to consider not just what is right in front of their eyes, but to extend their thoughts to that which they cannot see. We want them to learn these strategies now, and develop them over time, so that when they leave our doors they are ready to face the world.

Yes, we dream big.

So in the spirit of tomorrow’s day of learning, here are a few sites to help you begin your journey down the path of critical thinking.

The Critical Thinking Consortium – This is my favourite critical thinking site that I have found…so far. It has many different resources, course packs, and lesson plan. You can also sign up to receive a monthly digital digest full of strategies.

The Critical Thinking Community – I recently came upon this site, and have not explored it in full. It appears to have lesson ideas, professional development and conference information, and various suggestions for further reading on the topic.

If you know of other sites that are worth checking out, please share.

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