Category Archives: Activities

Teaching Critical Thinking? These Mythbusters Activities Will Help.

This year, my professional learning team has decided to invest our time, energy and effort into studying the best ways to develop critical thinking skills in our students.

Not only is critical thinking an essential skill for any developing scientist, it is an essential skill for any responsible citizen in a day and age when everyday people are rigid in their thinking and ready to shout “FAKE NEWS” the minute that they are confronted with viewpoints that run contrary to their core beliefs.

Pascal Swier

One bit that has helped us to establish a clear definition of just what critical thinking looks like in action was this piece that we found on Edutopia’s website.  

In it, author Christina Gil offers six solid strategies for helping students to write better argumentative essays — a traditional form of teaching critical thinking in schools.  Our favorite suggestion:  Encouraging kids to be critical of their OWN ideas.

Gil writes:

It’s pretty easy to be critical of others’ thinking, and anyone who has asked students to critique a sample essay or paragraph written by a fellow student has witnessed that. But if students are to learn to be critical of their own ideas and assumptions, they need to be constantly searching for biases and flawed reasoning.

When they see this as part of the process, not a judgment that they are doing something wrong, they’ll learn to improve their ideas by examining them with a critical lens.

We dug that argument, believing that being a good critical thinker really IS dependent on a willingness to question one’s own core beliefs.  Stated more simply, “thinking critically” isn’t just about spotting the gaps in OTHER PEOPLE’s thinking.  It’s also about spotting the gaps in YOUR OWN thinking.

So we have decided to make what we are calling “gap thinking” a more regular part of our classroom instruction. 

Specifically, we are encouraging students to make predictions or take stands and then explicitly identify bits of information that they would need to know in order to confirm their predictions and/or positions.  Our goal is to help students recognize that gaps in thinking aren’t something to be afraid of.  They are something to be openly acknowledged and then addressed through deliberate attempts to gather more information.

This work is happening informally in darn near every classroom conversation. 

We ask kids to explain their initial thinking to a partner and then to follow that thinking up with the phrase “but I’m not sure because ___________.”  That simple phrase is a constant reminder to students that there ARE gaps in our thinking most of the time — and we can’t speak with complete confidence until we identify and address those gaps.

We are also doing this work formally by asking kids to make predictions and to identify gaps in their own thinking while watching Mythbusters episodes.

We show students the first several minutes of an episode — where Adam and Jamie explain the question that they are trying to answer and develop a theory that they plan to test.  At that point, we stop the video and ask students whether or not they think Adam and Jamie’s test will be successful or not.  Along with their prediction, students have to include gaps in their thinking that make it impossible to have the perfect prediction right out of the gate.

All of the thinking that students do with Mythbusters episodes are written down and turned in to teachers.  That provides us with samples that we can use to evaluate the progress that students are making towards becoming great gap thinkers.

Does this sound interesting to you?  If so, you might really dig seeing the handouts that we are using with our kids. 

Here are several connected to a Mythbusters episode on Archimedes’ Death Ray:

Mythbusters – Archimedes Death Ray – Gap Thinking Handout – This is the handout that our students complete while watching the Mythbusters episode.  It includes a spot to record both predictions and gaps in thinking.  It also includes sample sentence starters that we hope will help students develop the language of gap thinking.

Mythbusters – Archimedes Death Ray – Gap Thinking Exemplars – This handout includes the scoring criteria that we have developed for each level of gap thinking that we see in student responses.  It also includes several exemplars that we have developed to help teachers, parents and students to better understand what good gap thinking looks like in action.

Mythbusters – Archimedes Death Ray – High Low Comparison Task – This is an activity that we have developed to help students to practice spotting the characteristics of high quality gap thinking.  It is built on an activity that you can find in Creating a Culture of Feedback — a book that I wrote with my friend and colleague Paul Cancellieri.

Mythbusters – Archimedes Death Ray – Revise Once Revise Again – This is another activity that we have developed to help students practice spotting the characteristics of high quality gap thinking.  It also encourages students to revise their own gap thinking statements.

Our plan going forward is to integrate one Mythbusters gap thinking activity into each of the units in our required curriculum. 

That will give us five opportunities to formally teach and assess gap thinking ability over the course of a school year — which should give us plenty of information about whether or not our strategies are helping our students to become more comfortable with questioning their own thinking.  We also plan to start recording moments where we see students using the phrase “but I’m not sure because _________” organically in classroom conversations as another source of evidence of the impact that our practice is having on our students as learners.

So whaddya’ think of all of this? 

Is this an example of good teaching?  Is it an example of what good collaboration around practice should look like on professional learning teams?  Is it the kind of work that you are doing with your peers?

I’d LOVE to hear your feedback on our plans and on our materials — particularly if you use them in your own work with students.  I think they are going to do a great job structuring the process of critical thinking for my students, but I’m not sure because* they might not be approachable for every learner — or even for most of the learners in my sixth grade classroom.  A mistake that I often make as a teacher is developing materials that are more complicated than they need to be.

(*see what I did there?)

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Related Radical Reads:

What are YOU Doing to Help Students Spot Fake News Stories?

People are Definitely Dumber.

Session Materials:  Annual Conference on Grading and Assessment

 

Note to Learning Teams: It’s Time to Complete Your Mid-Year Checkup

As a guy who has written and presented and consulted on the power of PLCs for over a decade, I’m always surprised by how little learning teams do to monitor their own health. 

We write norms and outline a plan of action for our meetings at staff development days in August — and then we file those norms and action plans away in our team folders, never to be opened again.

No wonder we get frustrated with the progress we are making together.  Without the regular implementation of clearly stated and agreed upon structures to govern our work, weekly meetings can end up feeling like a giant waste of time.

So here’s a challenge for you:  Sometime in the next two weeks, sit down with your colleagues and complete a mid-year checkup.

Clark Tibbs

 

Here’s how:

Step 1:  Have your team leader add all of your team’s commitments to the first column of this Team Meeting Evaluation Strip.  Include both norms that are supposed to be governing your team’s weekly meetings and any specific structures or plans that were important to your team back in August.  Here’s a sample of a completed Team Meeting Evaluation Strip.

Step 2: Set aside time for every teacher to reflect privately on whether or not your team is doing a good job honoring your commitments to one another.  Explain to team members that any “NO” votes need to be backed up with both reasoning and suggestions for improvement.

Step 3:  Copy your team’s commitments into the first column of this handout.  Hang a poster sized version of the handout in a private space that team members can access.  Ask team members to use sticky dots to indicate whether or not they think your team is honoring your commitments to one another.

Step 4: Use the completed “Sticky Dot Chart” to start conversations about the overall health of your learning team at your next meeting.  Areas receiving lots of “NO” votes need to be revisited. Why is it that your team is struggling with those commitments to one another?  What can be done to tighten your work in that area?

The simple truth is that the health of learning teams has to be monitored and addressed if collaboration is going to produce motivated teachers and meaningful results for kids. 

The time you invest in reviewing the commitments that you’ve made to one another is time you invest into making your team stronger.

#itmatters

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Related Radical Reads:

Note to #atplc nation:  Norms Really DO Matter

The Importance of a Clear Vision

Just How Important IS the Composition of a Professional Learning Team?

 

Three Tips for Throwing a Solar Eclipse Viewing Party for Your Students.

I’m sure that by now, you’ve heard that on August 21st, a total solar eclipse will cut a path across all of North America for the first time in over 100 years, haven’t you?

That’s HUGE, y’all.

While eclipses — including total solar eclipses — aren’t all that uncommon, because the path of a total solar eclipse is so narrow, they are typically visible to less than one HALF of ONE percent of the earth’s surface.

What does that mean for educators?

If you have ANY students on your campus on August 21st, you’ve GOT to take some time to teach them a thing or two about eclipses.  And if you are ANYWHERE in the path of the eclipse, you’ve GOT to get your kids outside to see the eclipse as it happens.

Want some help pulling some plans together?  Here are a few ideas to get you started:

You’ve got to buy approved solar eclipse viewers NOW:  It won’t come as any surprise  that looking directly at the sun for any prolonged length of time can cause significant damage to your eyes — so if you plan to watch the eclipse at all, you need to buy solar eclipse glasses that are certified as safe for solar viewing.

There’s two hitches here.  First, there are tons of companies selling knockoff glasses that LOOK safe, but haven’t been certified as safe.  Second, companies making eclipse viewers are rapidly selling out, as most of America gets in on the excitement of a once in a lifetime event.

Viewers aren’t terrible expensive.  You can get them for somewhere between $1.50 and $3.00 a pair, depending on how many you plan to order.  But ONLY order them from companies that are reputable and certified.

You can find a list of reputable vendors here on the American Astronomical Society’s website.  And you can find a list of vendors who’s lenses have been certified as safe by NASA on their eclipse safety website.

Give kids chances to practice making scientific observations:  Solar eclipses are awesome opportunities for students to practice their scientific observational skills.  Not only will the moon slowly block parts of the sun from view, temperatures and amounts of light drop, shadows cast by objects become darker and more clearly defined, reflections of the eclipse can be seen in the shadows cast by light passing through the branches of trees, and the behaviors of animals — who are confused by the early onset of night time — change.

Consider asking students to make systematic observations of these changes throughout the observational period.  Being deliberate about observations, spotting changes over time, and keeping careful records of just what is being observed are core practices of successful scientists.

Here’s the observation sheet that I’ll be asking my students to fill out.

Don’t forget to incorporate some social studies instruction into your viewing party:  One of the lessons that I always like to teach to my students is that early civilizations were just as curious about the natural events happening in the world around them as we are — but they didn’t have access to the tools and technologies necessary to fully understand those events!  That led to some interesting explanations for natural events.

Take solar eclipses for an example:  People in India believed that a headless demon named Rahu was swallowing the sun during an eclipse — but because he was headless, the sun would fall right out of the back of his throat every time that he swallowed it!  Similarly, the Chinese believed that a Celestial dragon was swallowing the sun and the Norse believed that wolves were chasing and eating the sun during an eclipse.

Because all cultures knew about the importance of the sun, eclipses were a source of great fear for them — and in many places, residents would pour out into the streets to try to save the sun from attack by those mythical creatures.  They’d scream at the sky, bang pots and pans, shoot arrows and even fire cannons in an attempt to save the sun from attack.

Why not teach kids about that mythology?  Here’s a great National Geographic bit with some of the best myths from around the world.

And better yet, why not have your students develop their OWN chant designed to save the sun from attack on eclipse day?  Maybe consider modeling it after the haka chants used by the Maori people of New Zealand to scare away perceived enemies?  YouTube is full of great videos of the New Zealand rugby team dropping hakas on opponents before games.

And then, have your kids drop their own hakas during your eclipse viewing party.

How much fun would THAT be?!

They can learn a bit about mythology, understand the connections between mythology and early scientific understandings of natural events, and have a heck of a good time all at once shouting at the sky together!

Whatever you do, DON’T miss out on this once in a lifetime chance to experience one of our universe’s most remarkable events. Science is about observing the world — so get your kids outside and learn together. 

#truth

 

Digital Portfolio Challenge Posts

As regular Radical readers know, I’ve started a Digital Portfolio Pilot Project on my learning team (see here and here).  My goal is to encourage my students to become more reflective about their own learning.  After all, feedback GATHERED BY learners is ALWAYS more valuable than feedback GIVEN TO learners.

One of the things that I’ve noticed, though, is that my students really struggle with the language of reflection.  

The vast majority of the early posts that they are adding to their digital portfolios have been simple summaries of classroom activities.  They’ve written about books that they are reading or questions that they are wondering about or movies that they’ve watched.  They’ve written about concepts that they’ve studied and formulas they’ve learned and cultures they’ve explored.

But they haven’t told me much about their strengths or their weaknesses or the progress that they are making as learners.  They haven’t shared much evidence of their learning or set new goals for themselves or celebrated successes that they’ve had.

I think that’s because we rarely ask students to think reflectively about their own learning.

Stew in that for a minute.  How often do you set time aside for students to think about what they know and what they don’t know?  Do the kids in your classroom have a chance to think about who they are as learners on a regular basis?  More importantly, are you regularly asking them to draw conclusions and set direction based on their OWN analysis of what they know and can do?  Stated more simply, do the kids in your room act like passive students or active learners?

To facilitate active reflection in my students, I’ve created a series of Digital Portfolio Challenge Tasks.

You can find them posted here in my Teachers Pay Teachers shop.

Each challenge task asks students to reflect in a different way.  Some ask students to rank order the study strategies that work the best for them.  Others ask students to compare learning experiences IN school to learning experiences BEYOND school.  Some involve creating written reflections about academic successes and others involve creating video tutorials and/or How To guides to demonstrate mastery of a particular skill or concept.

Here are a few examples of those challenge tasks:

Share a YouTube video that OTHER people can learn from.  

Whether you realize it or not, you are an expert on a ton of topics.  Choose one of those areas of expertise.  Then, find and share a YouTube video that novices can learn from.  Write about the reasons that you think the video makes for a good tutorial for rookies.  What should they expect to learn by watching the video?  What should they do AFTER watching the video?

Share a learning tip for a younger student.  

What one bit of advice would you make to a younger student about succeeding as a learner?  Why does that tip matter so much?  How do you know that tip will work?  Has that tip helped you as a learner?  How?

Share an example of work that you improved through revision.

The best learners are always revising their work.  Share an example of something that YOU have improved through revision.  Show us your first draft or explain to us your original thoughts.  Then, show us your final draft or explain to us your final thoughts.  Point out specific places where you made your work better.  Tell us HOW those changes made your work better.  Tell us what you would do if you were to revise this work again.  

My plan is to assign a new challenge task to students each week.

Not only will that give students a chance to experiment with reflecting in a TON of different ways, it will also generate a TON of different examples of just what reflection looks and sounds like in action as kids read the content being created by their peers.  Over time, my hope is that students won’t need challenge posts in order to create new content for their portfolio — but at least for the time being, their lack of experience with in-depth reflection is holding them back.

So whaddya’ think of all of this?  Do your students struggle with the language of reflection, too?  

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Related Radical Reads:

My Digital Portfolio Project Planning

More on My Digital Portfolio Project

 

 

Anatomy of a SMiShing Text Message.

An interesting text message landed in my inbox the other day.

Here’s what it looked like:

(click to enlarge)

My first reaction was to panic a bit.  I do a ton of work on public wireless networks — and even though I use a VPN to protect my deets from snooping eyes, I’m always worried that I’m going to give away enough information to get myself hacked.  Maybe it’s paranoia — but in today’s world, paranoia is probably a good thing.

But then my bunk detectors kicked in.  Can you spot the three reasons that this text message raised alarms?

Here’s what caught my eye:

The sender of the message is trying to make me panic:  Probably the most important step to detecting whether a text or email message is up to no good is to ask yourself a simple question – “Is this person trying to make me panic?”  Fear is the best friend of a phisherman, after all.  If I’m convinced that my account has been hacked or my money has been stolen, I’m more likely to take immediate action — read: hit that link and enter my most important details — than I am to stop and think.

So whenever I spot an attempt to generate fear, I force myself to slow down and look a little more carefully at the message that I’ve received.

The web address in the link is wonky:  Seriously.  Read it.  Why would a major company point me to any address as weird as http://bankofamerica.caseid-2078.com?  That’s a cheap trick that phishermen (and other shady folks like the leaders of the Fake News brigades) are resorting to.  Their hope is that as I’m panicking over my breached account, I’m going to see the first half of the web address without questioning the second half.

The harried, urgent, worried me might see “Bank of America” and click.  The thoughtful, skeptical, refuse-to-be-tricked me read the whole address and said, “Nope.  Not falling for that.”  And the Interwebs loving me typed the address into my Google Machine and found about a thousand references to a phishing scam.

#anotherwinforthegoodguys

Banks don’t usually send text messages — particularly asking users to update their personal information:  In a world where phishing — and in this case, SMiShing — has become an all too common method for evil creeps to fleece the innocents, banks have taken a pretty hard-line approach to contacting customers.  They pretty much NEVER send out email or text messages when there is a problem.  That protects everyone.

I don’t know if that is Bank of America’s policy.  I’ve never bothered to look, to be honest.  But I DO know that it is the policy of most major banks.  That means I never take emails and texts from banks seriously.

So how did you do?  Did you pick up on all three of the things that raised alarm bells in my mind?  If so, huzzah for you!

Now for a more important question:  Could your STUDENTS spot all of that sketchiness?  

If not, you’ve got some teaching to do!

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Related Radical Reads:

What are YOU Doing to Teach Students to Spot Fake News Stories?

The Anatomy of a Hoax Website

Curating Sources on Controversial Topics