Tag Archives: critical thinking

Theme Three – In House and Digital Reference Resources

 

Theme one_SErving the clientele-2

Can you say information overload?! Wowie! I am once again feeling a bit overwhelmed with the role of being a teacher-librarian!  I am trying to remind myself that there will be a learning curve, and eventually this will be second nature, and thinking back to this moment will be funny, at least I am hoping.

Theme Three included an abundance of information on a variety of reference materials found both in house and online.   While I felt familiar with many of the items discussed on some level (even if just surface level), there was also a lot to take in.  I really appreciated the sharing of online resources that were throughout this theme, not only did they provide context for the information provided, but I can see sharing many of them with my students.

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1.) When it comes to utilizing, or selecting resources of any kind critical thinking is a major prerequisite!  As researchers, and educators we constantly need to be evaluating the information we receive and reevaluating as time goes on.  Once a resource has been deemed appropriate for one’s school use it is the TL’s job to continue to ask questions: Why am I using or recommending this resource?  How does it meet the needs of the students who will be using it?  What are the biases?  How will it help students reach their learning outcomes? Just because something passes the test in September, doesn’t mean a year later it will still hold the same value, and therefore we need to constantly be engaged with the materials and looking at them objectively to determine if they still command the respect and honour of holding a place in our learning commons.

2.) Maybe Wikipedia isn’t so bad!  If students have the skills to perform research and discern between quality resources and ones which lack credibility then Wikipedia shouldn’t threaten the learning process.  I love Chris Harris’ point in the article Can We Make Peace with Wikipedia,

“To be quite frank, continually bad-mouthing Wikipedia to the very people who use it—successfully—makes us look a bit daft.”

Harris is absolutely right, we need to get with the times instead of fearing the worst, if we educate our students then maybe we can help them avoid the very things we hold against Wikipedia.

3.) Starting at square one has never been more clear.  There should be an entire unit of lessons devoted to completing research before the research process even begins!  So often we as teachers put the cart before the bull and set students off on research without giving them the fundamental tools to actually perform that research.    I often do an introduction to researching that is about 2-3 lessons, but in reality I’m not sure that is really enough.  Students depend on their skills to use Google, however to truly understand how to research a specific topic effectively that will not be enough.   Being familiar with middle school teachers I feel so often we assume students have been taught some of these foundational skills, and in most cases they haven’t.  We can’t always depend on last year’s teacher to have done the work, and therefore we must structure the appropriate amount of time into fully preparing our students in the research process, after all these skills will be ones they use for a long time to come.

Did you know that Google has actually worked along side Google Certified Teachers, and their Search Engine team to develop  lessons to help teachers teach the skills of utilizing Google in their search engines for the best results?  I just stumbled across this in my journey to find a better starting point and boy am I glad I did!  Click the picture below to explore their lessons now, or copy and past the link at the bottom of the page.

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Questions

Something I still feel a bit conflicted about is whether digital encyclopedias and databases trump hard copy ones?  Students prefer online access, information is updated more frequently, and can be accessed by multiple users at once, from multiple locations.  However, what would the loss of presence do to the rest of the hard copy resources?

Google Search Education.  Basic Search Education Lesson Plans – Google Web Search Education. Retrieved August 19, 2015.

Harris, C. (2007, June 1). Can We Make Peace with Wikipedia? Retrieved August 19, 2015.

Reading Review – Three of Three

Having established my topic for the Reading Review of how technology can support teaching critical thinking, I decided to take a look at the BC Integrated Resource Package (IRPs) to see what the Ministry of Education has deemed important subject areas for teaching critical thinking.  I hope you’re as shocked as I am that critical thinking barely appears in the IRPs K-7 beyond Social Studies where some variation of the same learning outcome appears in each grade!  Shouldn’t critical thinking be woven into all of our subjects?  I suppose that just because it isn’t explicitly stated doesn’t mean it isn’t important or not being taught.  However, the reason I chose my topic was because as a grade six and seven teacher I was finding my students had very little experience applying their own thinking and common sense to school work.  For example, one of the very first science lessons of the year I sat down with my new class and we had a big discussion about Indigenous Knowledge.  We read an article in the textbook and had an interactive class discussion around the term for a good 30 minutes.  During this discussion we pulled out key parts of the article that illuminated different examples of what indigenous knowledge is, why it is/was important, how their knowledge bank was created etc.  Collaboratively we orally defined what indigenous knowledge was, and when it seemed as though they had a good grasp on the topic I asked students to write down the definition in their own words, a seemingly easy task given the depth of our group conversation.  I purposefully did not write down a definition for them to copy, as I wanted the students to put the learning into their own words, to make it meaningful for themselves.  A good chunk of the class was able to do this no problem, but you can imagine my shock when about 30-40% of them could not.  What was more shocking about the responses was that a large number of students wrote definitions that were illogical and bordering on nonsense, scarily many of these responses were seemingly identical.  This wasn’t because they were sharing their answers; in fact this part of the lesson was completed 100% independently.  So, how did they have the same answer?  It became clear that they returned to the article we had read and came across the bolded words “indigenous knowledge” and just copied down the words that followed.  However, unlike your typical textbook the sentence that followed the bolded words was not a definition, but instead just a sentence in which the words indigenous knowledge was used.  They had copied down the remaining part of the sentence as if it were a definition.  What was more shocking was that this large number of students didn’t trust their critical thinking skills to read it over and say, “Hmm, this doesn’t sound right.”  Instead, they submitted it and were fairly confident in this submission.  What became clear to me was that these students were masters in the informational-text scavenger hunts.  They were extremely proficient in finding exactly the word, or phrase they being asked to search for and copying down the information that preceded, or followed.  They could not however, interpret, find meaning, or apply any critical thinking towards their schoolwork.  I find that by the time they get to me they have been so inherently trained in finding that one true answer that the very thought of an idea being open to multiple explanations or answers is often frightening or intimidating.  They feel unsure when they are asked a question that is not black and white.  When did we stop asking our students to think for themselves?  Going back to the IRPs, perhaps teachers have taught these kids exactly what the ministry of education has set out for them to teach, but if we aren’t teaching kids how to make informed conclusions on their own is it really worthwhile?

Ok, long rant, especially when the focus of this post is supposed to be about the process of searching for resources, and how the highlighted ones will benefit my teaching.  I apologize for taking a “walk” but I felt it was important to share this story so that a bit of context for my subject was provided.

Moving beyond the IRPs, it wasn’t surprising that on my search I found a lot of information that was really relevant to today’s teaching, mostly in the ways of blogs, or collaborative teaching resources.  What was alarming was that when searching for scholarly papers and articles a lot of the information, while sounding relevant, was really not.  In fact, many of the articles offered through the UBC online library around critical thinking and technology were written between 1998- early 2000s.  So, while I still overviewed some of these resources for interest’s sake (hey, just because it’s old doesn’t mean there can’t be something of usefulness there) sadly, most did not have enough relevance in today’s world of ever evolving technology.  Saying that, I did think Carol B. MacKnight’s article Teaching Critical Thinking through Online Discussions was still incredibly relevant, despite being fourteen years old, because it wasn’t so much about specific technology as it was about written language and the ability to interact, communicate and share ideas through an online forum.  I appreciated the guidance with tips and suggested questions that her article offered.  In this article she also provides a list of “Socratic questions” an idea that was new to me, (however along my search appeared multiple times), I dug a bit deeper with the Socratic theme, and found there to be many great ideas on incorporating opportunities both on and offline for students to share their thinking in a meeting of the minds.

Three of my five resources come from similar backgrounds: The Teaching Channel, Edutopia and Edudemic all stem from the premise that teaching is a worldwide collegial network.  I found these sites useful as an educator because it was coming from the minds of fellow educators, people who have experience in the classroom, who know what the day-to-day looks like, not just someone pushing papers, or running statistics.  These sites offered relatable thinking, specific tips, and a network of ways to interact with other teachers looking to try similar things and make their classrooms better.  Have you ever been to a dog park?  Breeds seem to know each other, “You’re a doodle? I’m a doodle! Let’s do this!!”  Teachers are the same way, “You’re a teacher? I’m a teacher!  Let’s compare our stories of success and failure and figure this out together!” This mentality and powerful connection beyond geography is why sites like this are so useful and important to our field and why 3 out of 5 of my resources fell into this category of reference.

Moving away from teacher-generated products, another fabulous resource I came across was one called Media Smarts; a bilingual, Canadian site aimed at educating kids, parents, and teachers about internet use.  I chose this one because it seemed like a good one to have in my back pocket.   It is a place you where teachers can find the appropriate internet rule setting activities, or awareness lessons to support online lessons regardless of subject.  I like it because it has different target audiences (all of whom are very important in the world of education: teacher, student, parent) and it seems to be pretty conscientious about how it delivers the information.

So while my searched served up a lot of fluff, and outdated information as you have read there was also a wealth of amazing resources (too many to document).  The wonderful thing about the internet is that if one knows how to use it properly to navigate and sift through the opportunities for learning are endless.  Because my topic is so interconnected with the lesson of how to teach critical thinking I found myself going through a very similar process in this assignment to what I would be asking my students to do; going in role as the learner is such a powerful experience to improve the teaching process.  I had the opportunity to see what worked, what didn’t, how to problem solve and adapt along the way, which will help my lesson go a little more seamlessly.  Perhaps most importantly it also gave me the understanding that this process is an important one to recreate for students when teaching about critical thinking and internet use.

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For those interested in learning more about the socratic seminar check out this video from the Teacher Tube.

 

Reading Review – Two of Three

Creating a list of potential keywords was a great starting place for researching my topic of teaching critical thinking using the internet as a support tool.  The original list evolved as I needed to either narrow down, or widen my search for better results.  Through this experience I had to use my own critical thinking skills to establish the relevancy, and truth behind the sources I was examining, which is kind of perfect as it puts me in the role of learner before I ask my students to do the exact same thing.   After a lengthy amount of time navigating through outdated, irrelevant, and off topic (despite sharing some of my search key words)  sources I found a few that I would genuinely use to inform and shape my teaching.  Here are a few of my favourite resources:

1.) The Teaching Channel –  Using Critical Thinking to Analyze Websites

Type of resource: Video and web-based tutorial.

I love watching videos like this, as I find them inspiring.  When I get excited about a topic or theme I can immediately envision how I would teach the lesson, after watching this clip I immediately thought about the little things I would do to make it my own.  The video clip included below demonstrates a learning experience where the students are educating themselves through a bit of teacher-led discovery.  This website also includes transcripts of the lesson (if you need a bit more hand holding), as well as copies of the lesson plan.  I particularly liked the check list for resources, I think this could be a valuable tool for students to use in any research project.

Here is a link that another user posted in the comments section of the page that links to the lesson themes from the above mentioned resource.

2.) Carol B. Macknight – Teaching Critical Thinking Through Online Discussion 

Type of Resource: Online journal article.
Carol B. MacKnight’s article Teaching Critical Thinking Through Online Discussion, found in the fourth edition of the Educause Quarterly in 2000, discusses the benefits of using online discussions to further student thinking and comprehension.  She provides ways teachers can improve discussions, ask better questions and how to make the experience both meaningful and worthwhile for all members involved.  Despite being fourteen years old many of her ideas are still relevant today and shockingly not all that commonly used.

3.)Media Smarts Website

Type of Resource: Online resource for students,  teachers and parents.

Media Smarts is a website funded by both public and private sector organizations and companies to facilitate in teaching kids about responsible internet use and digital citizenship. They offer lessons, games, videos and tips for kids ages 9-17.  They are a not-for-profit group whose mission revolves around  “…children and youth [having] the critical thinking skills to engage with media as active and informed digital citizens.”

4.) Holly Clark for Edudemic.com – Critical Search Skills Students Should Know

Type of Resource: Web-based global educator resource site.

Edudemic is a technology education site whose goal is to “…connect teachers, administrators and students…” they offer a “forum [for] discussion, discovery and knowledge.”   It is a collaborative website where educators can share their ideas and support one another in their learning and teaching.  The particular resource that I have selected outlines the critical search skills students should know  to effectively utilize the internet.

One of the sub-categories outlines filter bubbles and how they are helping and hindering our navigation of the worldwide web.  Here is a great ted talk about filter bubbles.

5.) Mariko Nobori for Edutopia.org – Ten Takeaway Tips for Teaching Critical Thinking

Type of Resource: Web-based teacher resource.

Edutopia is a not-for-profit organization founded by George Lucas (yes, Star Wars George Lucas) whose goal is to “improve the k-12 learning process by documenting, disseminating, and advocating innovative, replicable, and evidence-based strategies that prepare students to thrive in their future education, careers, and adult lives.”

The article I particularly found useful was titled Ten Takeaway Tips for Teaching Critical Thinking.  On this page were ten different strategies and useful classroom practices that can help encourage critical thinking in the classroom, and beyond.

I look forward to further investigations around this topic.  Please feel free to share any of your own insights, suggestions, etc.

Reading Review – One of Three

After reading about 1/3 of Will Richardson’s e-book Why School I felt the need to put it down because I was devouring it so quickly that I wanted to prolong the experience of reading it so that I could really savor it.  So, instead of continuing to read I opened my laptop and started this blog post, well I should correct myself, a version of this post that no longer bears resemblance to what is now written here in its place.  The original post I had written was a long and impassioned write where I shared my ideas about teaching and the need for quality ways of incorporating technology into our lessons.  After my day or two hiatus from Richardson’s e-book, I returned to it to read on, realizing quite quickly that a lot of “my thinking” was further articulated within Why School and were in fact Will Richardson’s ideas too.  I must say, I love having that strong connection with an author where it feels as though they are inside my brain and that I can relate what they’re saying so much that it is almost as if they’re speaking on my behalf.  The downside to this  powerful connection was that I had to go back to the original post and rewrite it because my ideas would be taken undoubtedly as plagiarism (even though I had written them before reading Richardson’s version), so redraft I did.  Once again, after editing and revising and clarifying a few of my ideas I stepped away from the computer feeling as though I had once again expressed some good ideas and read on (I do realize I was majorly dragging out an incredibly short book, but I felt I had to in order to prolong my enjoyment!).  Just as before, I found that Richardson and I shared similar thinking, even many of the same “buzz” words and of course it once again appeared plagiarized, blarg! It was my fault for not just having read the freaking book through in the first place.  So this time rather than write another post that I would undoubtedly have to revise I went straight back to Why School and finished it, then proceeded to text all my close friends who are educators, PLEASE READ THIS BOOK!  Because I know they will all GET it too.  It’s this type of read that inspires me and makes me want to implement new ideas into my teaching immediately.  Unfortunately, being on maternity leave at the moment I won’t be able to do that, so in the meantime I will use this inspiration to plan where I want to go when I return to the classroom, and live vicariously through the other amazing educators whom I know will GET this book, and who will feel like they need to spread the news and walk the walk just as I did.  Luckily for me, even though I am not in my own classroom right now, I am in an online classroom, thus the reason for this blog’s existence, my reading of Why School, and this very blog post.  So, while I am not teaching I am still exploring ways to improve my teaching and how to incorporate technology to support my pedagogy and the learning experience for my students.  Why School has helped clarify my thinking, and steer me in the direction I will take in for my personal discovery within this course (what a brilliant idea, we all get to explore and further tap into our own interests!).

Like Richardson, I see technology as a means of relating to students in a way that excites and empowers them in their learning experiences.  I do not rely on technology to make me a better teacher, but rather weave it into practices where I think it can enhance learning.  (I felt it important to clarify that, because technology is not a magic wand that will make bad teacher good; it may assist learning, but it cannot replace quality teaching). Because of all that it can offer in today’s world technology has growing importance in the future of education.  Each school year admits another group of more technologically advanced students than the last.  Today’s students were born into a world unlike the generations prior, one where every question has an answer, every idea is accessible, and conversations are not limited to your network of family and friends.  Today’s learners don’t know a world without instant gratification, everyone they know and every thing they need to know is accessible 100% of the time.  So how do we tap into this demand for technology and information and incorporate it into our pedagogy to further support learning?  The shire comprehension of how to use technology isn’t enough, we need to teach our students how to take facts that the internet serves up on a platter and make sense of them, interpret them, decipher their quality and reliability, all the while applying common sense and prior knowledge about the world to provide meaning and understanding.  So, to further educate myself I am going to take the opportunity for this reading review assignment and further explore how to teach critical thinking using technology as a supportive tool.   In my experience, I have seen students who struggle because they are looking for the one “right” answer, often life doesn’t provide us with black and white answers, yet our education system seems to want to lead us to believe something other than that reality.  I feel that the ability to think critically is a life-long and real world skill, one that somehow gets overlooked in some of our classrooms where value is placed on rote memorization and scavenger hunts in text for fill-in-the-blank answers.  I hope my exploration will provide a bit more clarity for how to use technology to support learning cross-curricular while also giving me the opportunity to stay with the changing times, and the new demands of today’s learners.  If you have any suggestions on resources that will help me in my search please feel free to leave them below, I promise to visit and explore each one.   I look forward to this collaborative and social journey with all of you, as John Donne said, “no man is an island,” especially with the invention of the internet!

Stay tuned, friends.

Oh, and please purchase Will Richardson’s book Why School.  It is only $1.99, yes $1.99!! And every single person who has made it to this point in this blog post will appreciate it, I promise.  You can get his book here.

If you want to hear more of what Will has to say about today’s learning environment check out this YouTube clip of a Ted Talk he did in 2011.