Posts Tagged critical thinking

Critical Thinking for Personalized Learning

Critical Thinking

This post is part of a series about the Building Blocks for Personalized Learning. The building block of Critical Thinking helps to construct a firm foundation for personalized learning. In many classrooms, teachers don’t provide the time necessary for critical thinking in order to develop original solutions to problems. Many of the problems that are provided to students also have only one possible right or wrong answer and don’t encourage true critical thinking. When students are given the opportunity to utilize all of the resources available within a classroom (including their own ingenuity) to solve problems, they can be challenged to personally connect to their learning and construct new understanding.

Strategies for Promoting Critical Thinking

Provide Time for Reflection – After being presented with unfamiliar content and ideas, students need time so that they can accommodate that new information within their previously developed schema of that topic. This process involves making sense of new concepts by constructing or reconstructing personal frameworks of thought. Solely telling students to accept the information and moving on to new content doesn’t enable them to work through this process. Students can reflect in a variety of ways, and an effective practice for reflection is for students to learn what ways best help them to make sense of new information. Some strategies could include drawing an illustration; creating a mind map or graphic to understand how concepts are interrelated; or restating information in your own words and making a recording for playback.

Ask Open-Ended Questions – Essential questions proposed at the beginning of a lesson can set the stage for new learning and helps students focus on the core components of a concept or process. This practice helps students answer why they should be learning this information and explains why they should give it their attention. Personalizing the questions will again help students become more connected to that content, so they should also learn how to ask their own questions about topics. Effective questioning for both teachers and students requires practice. Closed questions have one right or wrong answer, and it is virtually impossible to connect to those questions personally. Open questions provide students with opportunities to answer them in a variety of ways based on personal experiences and understandings. Encourage students to provide evidence to support their thinking as they answer open questions to reinforce the connection between personal experience and new content.

Design Rigorous Assignments – So much time in school is spent doing rote types of assignments and activities that involve answering closed questions – completing worksheets, taking notes, etc. Rigorous assignments are those that stretch student thinking with complexity, intricacy, and divergency. Even when teachers have students complete projects or hands-on activities, many of the steps for completing those assignments are pre-determined by the teacher and often stifle true critical thinking. Having students design their own strategies for showing their thinking adds rigor to an assignment. Exploring and discovering new processes for using tools (such as technology) can also add complexity to learning tasks – and promotes effective digital learning, rather than just digitized learning. This practice is often a struggle for many students, especially because many of them are unused to being asked to really think in school. Initially, teachers may have to model the process of critical thinking for students in order to scaffold steps for completing a rigorous assignment.

Expect Every Child to Contribute – When posing questions to students, teachers sometimes rely on the first few responses from a couple of students and proceed to additional concepts. Struggling or introverted students begin relying on others to answer all of the questions in class while they remain silent. This practice keeps them from thinking critically about the content. Every student needs to grapple with the information and contribute to the collective understanding of each concept. Using a student response system can provide each student with a voice and assist in sharing ideas. Likewise, synchronous and asynchronous participation in discussion forums can also serve to help students process their thinking about what they are learning. Even having students turn to each other and discuss new information or to answer an open question and then share their thinking with the class provides a greater opportunity for participation.

Provide Multiple Ways to Show Understanding – Having every student utilize the same application or complete the same process to show their understanding can limit opportunities for critical thinking. Providing multiple ways to show understanding can enable students to think through the process or the application that better meets their individual needs or capitalizes on their personal strengths or interests. Again, it can be daunting for students to learn all of the possible ways that they could show what they know, but teachers can help facilitate this process by providing choices, modeling thinking, and being open to a variety of learning strategies. Engaging students in the process of developing a rubric for evaluating their thinking and assignments can also support personalized learning.

There are many more strategies for encouraging critical thinking in classrooms, but teachers can begin utilizing the five strategies described above for personalizing the learning experience for students. As with any strategy implemented with fidelity, on-going practice and support will also help both teachers and students develop more expertise in critical thinking.

 

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Building Blocks for Personalized Learning

Building Blocks of PL

Almost two years ago, I wrote an article for eSchool News entitled, “The Advantages of the BYOT Classroom.” At the time, I was the Coordinator of Instructional Technology for Forsyth County Schools in Georgia, and the advantages that I listed were the qualities that I had observed in classrooms that effectively utilized Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) to transform teaching and learning opportunities with students’ personal technology tools.

Now, I’m collaborating with several schools and districts around the country that are beginning to implement Personalized Learning to better connect students with engaging academic content; to facilitate the development of digital age skills; and to utilize technology to provide access to anytime, anywhere learning. These benefits occur as districts, schools, and teachers recognize that students have unique strengths, needs, and interests that must be considered within the design of instruction. The methods for addressing student individuality may differ, but they include the same hallmarks of the BYOT classroom. In the illustration above, I refer to these as building blocks, as they collectively construct a firm foundation for personalized learning.

Within each of the blog posts linked below, I focused on the concepts included within the illustration of the building blocks to highlight why they are essential, foundational components for personalizing learning. I also included strategies or described necessary qualities for encouraging the development of each building block within your own personalized learning implementation plan.

Building Blocks for Personalized Learning Blog Posts

 

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Personalizing Learning in High School with BYOT

  A Note from Tim: Forsyth County Schools in Georgia is beginning its sixth year in implementing Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT).  In this post, Instructional Technology Specialist at South Forsyth High School, Carla Youmans, shares her experiences of facilitating BYOT in the SFHS Media and Instructional Technology Center.

Guest Post by Carla Youmans @cwyoumans
Instructional Technology Specialist – South Forsyth High School

SFHS_BYOT4Many school systems and businesses have started to permit students and employees to use their own computer devices within school or at work.  It saves money, allows for a certain level of comfort, and ensures that more individuals have the capabilities of working digitally.  Many people refer to 21st Century Learning in a BYOT/BYOD environment.  Perhaps we should begin saying BYOT/BYOD in a digital, personalized learning environment.   Our educational system, parents, and society expect high rigor for and from all students. Since more students are taking AP or IB courses than ever before, more students must be capable of high performing work. Therefore, in a BYOT/BYOD digital learning environment we must create a space where students learn and develop skills that set them apart from each other (creativity, problem-solving, innovation, etc).

Steps in the Process

SFHS_BYOT1We follow five simple steps in our Media and Instructional Technology Center.  The first step is to read. We want students to read for information — to understand, to question, and to infer.  As they read, the next step is to collect valid, accurate and reliable information.  Many students immediately want to create a new product; however, they have no data or research to support the reasoning for the new product.  So, once they have read and collected information, we want them to critically think — What have I learned?  What more do I want to know?  What can I share? What do others know? How could we together build something greater? This is where the fourth and fifth steps come in:  to collaborate and to create.

When we can help students understand this process and follow it then we believe we have pushed them out of their comfort zone where great things can happen.

Magic Happens

Empowering Students to Drive the Learning

Encouraging teachers to use BYOT/BYOD in our digital learning environment is best achieved through a project-based learning approach.  We teach with a “use what you have to show what you know” mentality that empowers students to drive their assessment by encouraging student choice and student voice in as much of the projects as possible. What does this really mean?  It means: possibly having 30 totally different projects submitted by 30 different students to assess the same exact standard.  WOW!  What a shift from the much discussed “differentiated” classroom to a “personalized” classroom.  Imagine all of the students in your classroom learning the way that is best for them?  AMAZING!SFHS_BYOT3

Transforming the classroom may be scary for some teachers.  First of all, teachers are known for writing great directions that explain “exactly” how they want a project to be completed. When we give students packets of directions to create a project, we take away all of the problem-solving, creativity, and innovative pieces that they may add.  Secondly, high-achieving students who typically receive a 99 on an assignment and ask “why didn’t I get a 100?” may be caught off guard when they “use what they have to show what they know.”  Our current system has molded them to be step-by-step direction followers rather than inquisitive problem solvers and creators.

We never stop learning.  Surprise yourself and your students.  Allow them to create their own assessments and watch your project based BYOT/BYOD turn into a phenomenal student-centered digital learning environment.

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Creating Thinkers with BYOT

A Note from Tim: Forsyth County Schools in Georgia is beginning its sixth year in implementing Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT).  The first year was spent on developing the infrastructure, and the last four years have focused on piloting the initiative, developing personal and professional capacity, and eventually spreading the practice of encouraging students to learn with their personal technology tools throughout the district.  In this post, fourth grade teacher, Brooke Hagler, shares her experiences of facilitating BYOT within the framework of the Thinkers Keys.

Guest Post by Brooke Hagler
Fourth Grade Teacher – Coal Mountain Elementary School

When I began the journey of implementing Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) in my classroom, I wanted to make sure it had a positive impact on student learning, rather than just for presenting information or playing games.  Don’t get me wrong these aspects of BYOT do have their time and place in a classroom.  I just did not want them to be the only ways my students used their technology.  With the potential of technology for engaging students and preparing them for the future, I wanted to make my students truly think beyond what our culture tells them is possible.  This capacity creates the future adults who test, question, and invent for the next generations to come.

In order to create deep thinkers in my classroom, I use a resource called the Thinkers Keys developed by Tony Ryan.  The keys are twenty strategies that can be used to help students think critically and creatively.  As you learn how to implement each key it becomes very clear that they are an easy resource to use in all areas of learning.   You can find more about the Thinkers Keys and Tony Ryan at his website.

The Thinkers Keys with BYOT

BYOT_ToolsI began to integrate the Thinkers Keys by introducing the students to one key at a time as it fit into the curriculum. I modeled the key with students by using Socrative or join.me. The students participated and collaborated using BYOT, school technology resources, whiteboards, or paper.  By using Socrative and join.me, I was able to model a key for the class as a whole group or in a small group and receive instant feedback about who understood the content we were studying at a deeper level.  Another reason I used these websites is because the person answering could be anonymous to the other viewers, so the students who would never answer before felt free to take risks and give answers.

Once students became familiar with the key I incorporated it as one of their centers with any content.  They could choose how they to turn something in.  They often chose to use technology to complete the assignment and either printed out their work or emailed it to me.  Not all of the keys involve writing down answers; however, sometimes students had to build models and then used their devices to take pictures to explain what they built.  Other keys encouraged students to conduct research, and students would use kid friendly websites on their technology tools to find more information.  After conducting research, students created presentations.  I did not limit the students’ choices about how they chose to show what they had learned, and they often chose to use ActivInspire, PowerPoint, Prezi, or Wixie.  My rule for presentations was as long as students knew how to use the technology and could meet all requirements of the rubric for the assignment, then they were encouraged to create with whatever medium they liked.

Thinking Differently with Thinkers Keys

BYOT_ThinkersHere are some Thinkers Keys that I used regularly in my classroom.  I used the Consequence Key during our class meeting time and with our ecosystem unit.  During our class meeting time, we discussed possible scenarios and the students had to respond with their own consequences.  For example, I asked them how bullying affects everyone when a student picks on someone on the bus.  They continued giving consequences until they saw that not just the bully and bullied student are the only ones affected.  Then, I carried this same thinking into our ecosystem unit.  After students learned about different ecosystems, they used BYOT  and school technology resources to go to Discovery Education for science explorations and virtual experiments.  They were asked to explore what consequences population growth and decline have on a desert environment.  Once they viewed the explorations, they presented their group’s findings.  Then the group completed a virtual lab and predicted what the consequences for a fish population would be by placing a hiking trail, parking lot, or playground around a pond.  The students wrote a lab report at the end of their experiment that explained if their findings agreed or disagreed with their prediction.  The simple fact that students understood that consequences can have a ripple effect could them academically and also socially.

Another key that I implemented was the Question Key.  It caused students to think backwards through a process, which I found out for my fourth grade students was not easy.  I used this key in all content areas, but I liked using it the most in math.  It let me know quickly if students truly understood a concept or if they just went through the motions of completing the math process.  I gave the students an answer like seven thousand, three hundred forty-eight and asked them to write five problems that reached this answer.  To make it more challenging, I set guidelines. They had to have at least one addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problem.  Three of the problems had to be written as a word problem.  And finally one problem had to have multiple steps to get to that answer.  In the beginning, this assignment blew my students away, but with repeated modeling and practice they were able to write and solve word problems more easily by the end of the year.  Not only could they solve math problems with more ease, they were using their ability to think backwards in all academic areas.  To think backwards through a process is a hard but valuable skill that we, as adults, take for granted, but it can be taught to students and then they will have that skill for life.

Explorer Invention RubricThe keys can be taught in isolation, like above. However, they are ultimately designed to get students to work with them in connected sequences.  I do not recommend beginning with sequencing the keys until you as a teacher have a full understanding of what each key is designed to do.  When students use the keys in sequence, they are designed to help them solve problems, analyze, etc.  I have been working with the Thinkers Keys for two years now, and this past year was the first year that I used the keys in a sequence.  Here is the first rubric I created and used this year with sequencing the keys.  It was a very powerful learning experience for my students and me, and I still have much to learn and experiment with this step myself.

The Thinkers Keys allow you as a teacher to tweak them and make them useful for your classroom.  Just stay true to what they ask the students to do so that they keep their power.  I could go on forever about how powerful the keys in combination with technology are as learning tools.  They don’t just help the students learn the content in the classroom.  They help them prepare for life in our competitive society.  They prepare them to be our future leaders and thinkers of the digital age.

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Supporting Inquiry with BYOT

inquiry2

Kim Simshauser describes the 4 C’s Cafe

Learning at Liberty Middle School in Forsyth County, Georgia, begins with a focus on inquiry in its newly remodeled media center. Through a combination of school funds and the ingenuity of the instructional technology specialist, Kim Simshauser, the media center has been reimagined into a hub of digital age learning.  In fact, Kim refers to the new space as “The 4C’s Café” in reference to the skills of collaboration, creativity, communication, and critical thinking evident throughout the school.  Students are welcomed into the media center to begin learning before the start of the school day.

inquiry1School personnel and volunteer students act as baristas (much like Starbucks) and serve up hot chocolate, decaffeinated beverages, and instructional advice while students browse the book collection, use their personal technology tools for research, study individually or in groups, or watch the news being streamed over two monitors.  Kim notes that since the changes have been made that the learning environment is being used more than ever by teachers and students, and now the media center is packed with activity from morning until the end of the day.

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Principal Connie Stovall explains the iTeam

The classrooms at Liberty Middle School also support inquiry through guiding questions and learning projects that are facilitated by the students’ personal technology tools.  Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) has been implemented school wide.  Students are encouraged to bring their own devices to school, or they may use the school’s technology resources to develop their digital age skills.  Principal Connie Stovall provides a scaffold for this emphasis on inquiry by working with her staff and students to develop an inquiry-based team or iTeam.  The teachers and students in this seventh grade team applied to participate as trailblazers in the school’s inquiry initiative.  They work with each other, their students, and Kim Simshauser to plan lessons that empower the learners. The iTeam students realize that they have a big responsibility to be leaders throughout the school, and their teachers were recently named Team of the Year by the Georgia Middle School Association.  In the 2013-2014 school year, the seventh grade team will loop with their students to eighth grade, and new sixth and seventh grade iTeams will be added.  The eventual goal is to implement inquiry-based teams throughout the school.

inquiry4Teachers and students at Liberty Middle School discover that inquiry can be more easily facilitated when students bring their own technology tools to school.  Guiding questions can lead to in-depth research, and students can explore new ways to show what they have learned about a topic.  These explorations surpass typical standards-based performance tasks and content.  They become authentic representations of real-world problems in context.  One goal of inquiry is to lead to more questions that become even more relevant to students as they become interested and passionate about a subject.

Here are some additional links and resources related to inquiry-based learning:

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Learning from the Journey with BYOT

I recently participated in the Family Online Safety Institute’s (FOSI) Annual Conference in Washington, DC.  My 13 year old son was fortunately able to go along for the trip, and as a history buff, he was eager to tour the notable sites in DC.  I arrived the day before the conference and was able to explore the city with him and my wife.  We took the DC Metro, and he immediately searched for a possible app for his iPhone to make navigation easier.  He discovered that there were several mobile apps for that purpose, and he decided on DC Rider.  With that app, he was able to see the arrival times of the different trains and to compare possible routes for each trip.  He owned this whole adventure, and I found myself following his lead as he directed us along the path to each destination.  Sometimes he selected some clever and creative ways for us to arrive at a site, when I might have chosen the direct route, but the journey became as essential to him as the final, planned location.

Later I reflected on this experience through the lens of the Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) classroom.  It is necessary for teachers to know when to make suggestions in order to guide students, but it is often more essential to understand when to get out of the way and encourage students to lead.  Students usually know more about their own technology than their teachers, and with BYOT they can use these tools to access all of the information that exists in the world.  They can explore authentic problems and discover creative solutions and design innovative products.  It is fine to have a destination in mind, but there really is no end of the line in the process of learning, and teachers and students should enjoy exploring all of the alternative paths along the way.

Finally, I realized the next day, as I had to navigate the DC Metro without my son’s assistance, that I had become dependent on his leadership and skills.  I floundered for a little bit until I was able to orient myself.  I decided that next time I would try a little harder to learn from and with him as he used his technology instead of just being a passive observer and follower.  Then we could both be learning from the journey with BYOT!

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Just in Time Learning for BYOT

I have sometimes heard the misconception that before a school begins implementing Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT), students need to be trained in the acceptable use of technology that has been predetermined by the district; however, many of the digital age skills that students are developing as they use their devices at school occur just in time as they are needed in the course of the process of learning.  Just in time learning entails that as a specialized strategy is necessary to solve a problem or share a solution, then that skill is learned and utilized in a relevant way within the context of the work.  There are several just in time skills that students begin to acquire within the BYOT classroom.

Just in Time Digital Citizenship

We have all heard of students making mistakes with technology or using it inappropriately, often with devastating consequences.  Many of these issues occur because students are self-taught or peer-taught in how they should use their devices without the just in time guidance of a teacher.  When students are empowered to bring their personal technology devices to school to assume more control of their learning, they can be coached in responsible ways to use technology.  Students in the BYOT classroom, have the advantage of learning how to use their devices for instructional purposes with the facilitation of their teachers.  Students continually practice and refine digital citizenship in the BYOT classroom as they learn with each other through the use of the same technology devices that they use at home.  Skills in netiquette, the appropriate ways to communicate with others online, as well as strategies for ensuring Internet safety, can be encouraged by the teacher within the BYOT learning community.

Just in Time Technical Troubleshooting

As devices and applications continue to change, there is no one consistent method for resolving technical issues.  Technical troubleshooting and instruction must occur just in time in the BYOT classroom according to the pertinent needs of the situation.  Teachers and students learn how to use new technology tools and programs while they are being utilized, and students often provide the technical training for their peers and their teachers.  Since students are utilizing different devices for instruction, they will have to become proficient with the technical aspects of their own tools and usually become recognized for their particular areas of expertise.  In this way, students and teachers can develop critical problem-solving strategies for working and learning within a digital world.

Just in Time Collaboration

Learning how to work with others to achieve a common purpose is essential to the BYOT classroom because students are bringing different devices to school, and those devices have different capabilities.  The students also possess different knowledge, abilities, and interests, therefore, they have to pool their resources and intellect and negotiate responsibilities for the learning.  Groups need to be dynamic and fluid as students work together and with their teacher to share information and make decisions.  Many Web 2.0 sites can be used to develop online collaborative spaces, including Edmodo and WikispacesJust in time collaboration can occur synchronously or asynchronously and capitalizes on the potential strengths of everyone in the learning community.

Just in Time Critical Thinking

Critical thinking with BYOT involves being able to distinguish among conflicting information and facts as students conduct research with their personal devices.  Recognizing propaganda and determining the accuracy of content are other essential critical thinking abilities required by the digital age.  Students need to develop the capacity to use reason as they formulate opinions based on what they already know and on what they have learned from their classmates and in online searches.  Students learning how to make these decisions just in time can be nurtured by the classroom teacher through modeling, practicing, reflecting, and questioning.  A great tool for posing questions to students is Socrative.  It works across multiple devices and incorporates various types of questions, and teachers can easily create follow up questions to responses that students have texted and shared with the rest of the class.

Just in Time Communication

In the traditional classroom, communication is often one-way – directed from the teacher and toward the student.  In the BYOT classroom, there is a potential shift in communication as students use their devices to discuss content they are learning with others, set goals for themselves, and share new concepts.  This communication happens just in time as the students are encouraged to communicate, whenever and wherever, as a function and expression of learning.  The lines of communication are now multi-directional and extend beyond the classroom as students can web conference through Skype with other students in classrooms around the globe.  They can instantaneously publish their ideas by blogging using Edublogs or through other blogging tools.  Blogs can become a lasting portfolio of student work, and this process of authorship helps students to develop an authentic and beneficial digital footprint.

Just in Time Creativity

With the abundance of free and inexpensive applications for mobile devices, students are able to develop new skills in creativity.  In the BYOT classroom, teachers can help foster creativity as students utilize their personal technology tools to invent and design original products.  These inventions are often constructed just in time as solutions to problems or for students to illustrate what they have learned in imaginative new ways.  In this manner, students aspire to become producers of content that they find relevant rather than solely being consumers of static information that has been predetermined as meaningful for students.  With netbooks and laptops, students can download the free, open source, program Audacity to develop podcasts and recordings, or they can record straight to their handheld devices.  Students can also use the camera tools on their devices to take photographs and easily turn these photos into new creations with the use of iPhoneography apps (my favorite is Pixlr-o-matic). VoiceThread is a web tool (with an app for mobile devices) that can enable multiple users to upload their original photos and comment on them collaboratively.

One more note… Just in Time

By the way, just in time professional learning opportunities also emerge for teachers in the BYOT classroom as they learn alongside their students and discover new interests, skills, and strengths in the use of personal technology for instruction.

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