Tag: critical thinking

10 Big Student Goals For the New Year

The following are a few ideas intended to promote future-ready, critically- and creatively-thinking students during the coming school year. They have been rattling around my head as a result of several road and plane trips this summer where I’ve been able to pass the time studying computational thinking, design, innovative schools, etc. Some could feasibly tie easily into content standards in multiple subjects. Others are big-picture, broader actions that involve life skills beyond the scope of subject-area objectives.

In no particular order, every student will have the opportunity to:

  • help design the most effective learning space possible.
  • go through a process of creating something, testing it, failing, and doing it better the next time.
  • communicate with someone in another part of the world in real time.
  • share an accomplishment or work they are proud of with an audience beyond the walls of their home or school.
  • study something they choose and do something they want to do with it.
  • work with a team and, at least once, as a leader of a team.
  • teach something to the entire class.
  • ask lots of actionable, open-ended questions.
  • read books of their choosing from multiple genres, including non-fiction.
  • effectively defend a viewpoint on an issue of importance to them.

The 2016 Election and Information Literacy

Wow, what a year! This year’s presidential campaign was simply…indescribable. Among the highs and (many) lows this time around, the election results have produced an interesting and important dialogue that relates to our work as educators. Social media companies, Facebook in particular, have come under substantial scrutiny because of the proliferation of “fake news” stories on their platforms and the potential impacts these stories may or may not have had on the outcome of the election. Here are a few examples:

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Trump duped the GOP–egads! Trouble is, there is no record of this statement ever being made…to People magazine or anyone else. That didn’t stop it from spreading like wildfire among upset Hillary Clinton voters in the past 2 weeks, though.

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The Clinton dynasty crushes dissent once again. Not so much. The Denver Guardian sounds like a legitimate news organization. It isn’t, and neither is the story.  Regardless, it made the rounds among Trump supporters.

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This one showed up just today in my Facebook feed. Besides being pointless, the data is completely and entirely fabricated, something the original poster refers to as “projected”. Besides, the electoral vote is not “final” until January 6.

These are just a couple of examples of fake news stories that ran absolutely rampant, often picking up hundreds of thousands of shares and millions of likes. Whether or not they influenced the results will continue to be debated. However, if I was a librarian, a history teacher, or anyone teaching research skills, I would find a way to leverage this discussion into a life lesson about being a discerning and skeptical consumer of information and a person who engages in fact-checking of “breaking news”, particularly the kind that evokes such passionate, emotional, and important responses. I might start such a lesson this way:

  • What is your immediate reaction to this story?
  • Is it true? How can you tell?
  • For what purpose(s) might someone fabricate a story like this?
  • What strategies and resources did you use to determine the veracity of this story?

 

Grade Your Makers, Kill Your Makerspace

I read an article this  morning in Edutopia titled Creating an Authentic Maker Education Rubric by Lisa Yokana. The article has some very good suggestions for the types of things we might look for in students’ makerspace projects, specifically three very sound categories: process; understanding; and product. It is worth a read and has given me some useful ideas about posters or rubrics or group discussion guides I might want to include in the makerspaces I am planning for my own schools.

parkerOne sentence right up front in the article made me cringe, however. Ms. Yokana asks “How will we justify a grade to students and parents alike, especially to the student who ‘just isn’t good at art’?” This sentence really sidetracked me, and I almost stopped reading the rest of the piece, which does have some good, useful stuff. Ms. Yokana, in her Edutopia bio, mentions the need for a “change of paradigm” and states that the “present model is no longer valid.” Yet, bam! Right from the start, we are talking about…grades. Grades in a makerspace. Grades in a place that is about innovation, creativity, and imagination. Grades where kids engage in playful, curious experimentation and (if I can use the phrase without risking our district’s state rating) the joy of learning.

It probably should not surprise me, given the fact that I have seen teachers assign grades to anything and everything a kid does in the school. I have seen a kid’s average go up because she brought the box of tissues on the school supply list. Permission slip returned? A+!  Walking in a straight line? Extra credit!

I hate grades–okay, I’ve said it. Grades are mostly for the kids who have hacked the system, who know how to play the game. Grades are overblown, overused, and usually give very little or no insight into learning. Grades do not engage or motivate most students. A favorite quote, which I keep pinned to the top of my Twitter page, is from Alfie Kohn:

“Helping students forget about grades is the single best piece of advice for creating a learning-oriented classroom.”

Taken even further, getting rid of grades entirely would be an even better step. There are alternatives. My kids’ kindergarten and first grade teachers sent home detailed, qualitative reports that listed the performance standards my kids were meeting, on their way to meeting, or needing to learn. There was no number, no arbitrary and meaningless percentage. It was informative and helpful, and I doubt it caused an ounce of stress or apprehension for my kids, their classmates, or any parents. Kohn (1999) cites a series of studies by Bulter that demonstrated that the mere presence of number grades reduced students’ creative problem-solving, even if qualitative feedback was included.  Put simply, grades kill creativity and motivation.

Our illustrious 17th VP.

Our illustrious 17th VP.

I think assessment of student maker projects is a great idea that should be implemented. However, assessment should be for growth and generating new, better ideas, not for grades. It should be self- and peer-driven, to promote reflection and critical analysis. Makerspaces are intended to promote creativity, innovation, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and a host of almost impossible to quantify character traits and skills. I can quickly tell if a kid knows the 17th vice president of the United States (Shuyler Colfax, of course). I find it a lot harder to assign a number to the ideas of a child or the worth of his/her creations.

I don’t want to sound like I am picking on Ms. Yokana. She shares some great ideas. Rubrics would be great tools for project assessment, certainly. Her 3 categories of assessment would be great areas to focus class discussions. How about using her basic ideas to create posters for the school makerspace something like these?

-POP

Is my product well-contructed-What design elements need improvement-Does it work as intended-Is my design easy to use-My point is that assessment is great and appropriate, but grades do more harm than good. Keep the grades out of your makerspaces, your genius hours, your coding clubs, etc. Let’s give the kids these precious few times to think and invent and tinker without fear or consequence.

 

Eat More Cheese, Get PhDs

The incredible abundance of information available to us today comes with an important caveat. For all the helpful and accurate information that exists, there is at least that much that is less accurate or even purposefully misleading. It’s not just the internet, either. The media, politicians, unions, even schools make heavy use of data and information that supports their goals and ideals. A critical skill is the ability to look carefully at the reams of data and information that comes our way and be able to see biases, misinformation, correlations that don’t make sense, etc. In other words, to be information literate. There are a number of well-established internet resources that are helpful tools for teaching information literacy. The Pacific Tree Octopus, with it’s convincing testimonials and archival images, is a great conversation starter. All About Explorers poses as a legitimate page about world explorers of the past, but it is filled with often hilarious bits of information such as the statement that William Clark “…when he was 9, Clark was in fact reprimanded by Lewis’s father regarding a suspicious pile of watermelon seeds near the Lewis’s yard gnome.” Students can spend hours dissecting the site’s “facts” and figures.

Add the new site, Spurious Correlations to the toolbox. A law student at Harvard designed the site to teach people about statistics. Specifically, it is a lesson in the concept, “Correlation does not equal causation.” The graph from the site below shows the shocking correlation between cheese and engineering PhDs.

cheese and doctoratesI was also surprised to know that precipitation in Texas is linked to the number of female editors at the Harvard Law Review.  Note to Harvard: Hire more women editors–we need the rain!

law and rainThis type of data could be used as a part of a series of mini-lessons on information literacy. Students could argue the validity of any correlations, then conduct tests or research to determine whether or not the two are related events. It could also be a part of a writing activity on persuasive writing.

What are your thoughts? Are there other resources you are using to promote this type of critical thinking? Love to hear from you!

 

 

Wordle Done Right

Wordle has been a staple for countless teachers for several years now. Students create word clouds with words they’ve listed to describe themselves, traits of literary characters, examples of metallic elements, planets, etc. While there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these projects, they completely negate Wordle’s most powerful ability–the ability to analyze and find patterns in text.  When Wordle looks at a body of text, such as a student’s essay, it identifies the most commonly used words by making them bigger and more prominent in the word cloud. This feature allow students to examine text for key words/ideas, possible writer bias, patterns of speech, and more. Just last week, Edudemic had a nice article addressing how to use this feature. I wanted to expand on their discussion a bit and, hopefully, show how it can be used to encourage even deeper analysis and critical thinking.

The activity I’ll describe uses the inaugural addresses of several U.S presidents at critical moments in the nation’s history: George Washington; Abraham Lincoln; Franklin Delano Roosevelt; John F. Kennedy; and Barack Obama. It could be used as a summative assessment at the end of a year’s worth of U.S. history. Each address was entered into Wordle, and the resulting word clouds are displayed below, in random order (Click each to enlarge.).

Students will carefully examine each Wordle and try and identify which president’s speech is represented by each. The student should list several reasons why they assigned a particular president to a particular word cloud. They could self-assess by partnering and defending their selections prior to the final submission. This requires a pretty significant knowledge of the historical context and political philosophies of each president, and it involves actual critical thinking not present in a simple “President Lincoln Wordle”. This concept could be applied to a variety of topics and texts, as well, such as Shakespearean plays, poems by different poets, songs, national constitutions, etc.

By the way, I’ll send a surprise prize to the first person who correctly matches the word clouds to their presidents in the comments!

6 Outstanding New Tools Worth Exploring

The following are some fantastic new resources I’ve stumbled across lately. Each has the potential to be very valuable tools for the teacher wanting to promote critical 21st century skills in the classroom.

Collaboration

GroupMap–Ease of use and high levels of collaboration make this mind-mapping tool a valuable resource. It does require registration to begin a map, but contributions can be added simply by sharing a link and password. The site also offers useful reports of participants’ contributions and activities. The image below is a screenshot of a GroupMap I started by simply posing a question, making it public, and sharing via Twitter.

GroupMap

Mural.ly–This site features a fantastic set of features for brainstorming, collaboration, and collecting and sharing resources. Mural.ly requires registration for all participants. A user creates a mural, adds content via click-and-drag (including images, links, media, documents, etc.). There are also text, shape, and sticker tools. A “spaces” tool allows the mural to be partitioned into separate sections based upon content. Collaborators can be invited by email or username. Think Pinterest, only with greater flexibility and collaboration and less nonsense, such as forced following. Murals can be shared via social media, embedded, or downloaded as images.

Creativity/Innovation

DoSketch–Just a simple drawing/painting tool, but with several key advantages over many other resources. First of all, drawings can be shared via link or downloaded. Many drawing sites do not have the download feature, particularly for free. Secondly, it is written in HTML5, not Flash, and works in any modern browser. Lastly, it requires no registration–just draw, share, or download.

DIY–DIY is a very cool site for kids that challenges them to do creative and innovative tasks. Students get a portfolio page to show off images or video of the tasks and challenges they have completed, and can earn kudos in the form of Skills. Projects can also be shared with DIY’s mobile apps. There is also a very useful parent portal, which allows parents to monitor their children’s activities and achievements. Challenges cover a vast array of subject areas, such as engineering, electronics, biology, cartography, astronomy, and many more. The site could be a valuable tool for teachers looking to give students more control over their learning or for parents wishing to provide valuable learning opportunities at home.

 

Communicating Ideas

Easelly-Infographics are great tools for communicating ideas in a visual manner. They are quite challenging to design and require students to have a high level of understanding of a topic, if they are to be effective. Easelly is one of several recent tools that allow users to focus more on the content and presentation of ideas, and less on the creation of custom graphics. Users can create infographics using pre-designed themes, or by choosing their own backgrounds and graphics. Users can upload their own graphics and text or choose from a selection built into the interface. 11 categories of graphics are already available, including people, animals, icons, landmarks, and more.

Easelly

Deeyoon–Deeyoon is a brand new site that allows two participants to take part in a debate via webcam. Each person offers opening statements, provides evidence of their position, and offers closing remarks. Viewers can vote on which point of view they most agree with. The interface is pretty straightforward–create a debate, open it up to the challenger (I’d have both parties registered and logged in so random challengers don’t jump in.), and start talking. Debates are saved for future viewing and discussion, and they are arranged into “rooms” by topic. This could be a fantastic tool for fostering critical thinking.

Deeyoon

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