Wednesday, December 21, 2011

21st Century Skills: Critical Thinking

So my basset hound, Louie, had a problem. Our other dog, Josie, had the bone that he wanted. Josie realized this and began to taunt Louie with the bone by getting nose-to-nose with him and then yanking the bone away at the last minute. Unbeknownst to me, Louie began to create a plan and the following video makes it clear that he was going to exploit her weakness. You need to know, as Louie did, that Josie's favorite thing in the world is her ball. She goes everywhere with it and Louie never...EVER...plays with a ball. So the following is what occurred:

Louie used reasoning and creativity to solve his problem. He even went so far as to wag his tail as to show that he was really enjoying playing with the ball. He also knew that if he kicked the ball a short distance Josie would go after it. When she did, he would make his move and take the bone!

How often do we, as teachers, just simply give the answer to the question without letting the students find the answer? We do this constantly because it is the most efficient method and I can't say that I blame anyone for choosing this route because time is precious in the classroom.

However, think about how we learn as babies. Our learning is mainly through exploration and the use of all of our senses. A baby learns what something is by grabbing it and putting it in their mouth. Toddler's learn through both verbal instructions from parents and through their own investigation. Sometimes they have to bump their head in order to learn to not do a certain action.

When students get into the 21st Century K-12 classroom, we need to continue this style of learning. Teachers need to give information and guidance but we also need to allow the students to explore and experience on their own and using their own means. The 21st Century Student will need to be able to demonstrate the following:

• Utilize the appropriate reasoning skill for the situation.

• Analyze part-to-whole relationships and understand how the parts work together to create the whole.

• Evaluate and interpret information for validity, credibility, and viability.

• Exercise effective self-reflection.

• Ability to ask clarifying questions to help find solutions.

• Solve new problems using established practices as well as through new ones.

Problem solving! When I think about this I always think about the Apollo 13 mission when the C02 levels were climbing and the astronauts needed to make a square filter fit into a round hole using the materials on board:

Now these guys were able to do this because they spent most of their lives in a lab where experimentation, cause-effect relationships, and inductive and deductive reasoning is the norm. How can we get this into an English class? How can we get this into a Social Studies class? How can we incorporate this into all curricular areas?

To begin with, we need to create an environment where "failure" is not an end, but an opportunity. We need to encourage kids to take chances. It is not always about "the right answer" but rather how we react to the "wrong" ones. Further, we need to break the mold of the teacher being the only source of information and answers. When our dads used to say "look it up" when we asked a question, they had the right idea. We have gotten away from that. Finally, allow kids to be creative (a little foreshadowing here...) in how they demonstrate their knowledge. Give them a problem to solve and allow them to solve it how they choose. Not everything needs to be summed up in a paper or PowerPoint presentation.

I hate cliches (yet I use one as the title of this blog...ironic) but the idea of the teacher moving from "the sage on the stage to the guide on the side" is applicable. We need to teach kids how to think for themselves and not wait for someone else to give them the answer.

Have a happy day!

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