Thursday, February 16, 2017

From the #edtech newsletter: Critical Thinking Update Part I and II

Students are aware of donut Thursdays
and attempt to participate
Many long-time readers or people who have watched a Jen and JD presentation know that each Thursday we provide donuts or bagels for teachers and staff in our teacher resource room. This is sheer bribery as we try to entice educator's to see some of the tools we are introducing and have #edtech conversations. It also gives us a chance to drop a few tidbits into an email that might otherwise be ignored (no one ignores the call for donuts!)

At the request of some visitors from IAIS last week and a few associates on Twitter, I am going to return to the blogosphere and highlight some of the edtech activities we are doing in the school. Our current focus is on critical thinking. (Note: Some editing of the original emails should be expected).

IT Update: Failover Results, Some Data on Critical Thinking, a few tools and more!

Happy Thursday!

Today’s carb is Bagels AND we restocked the coffee.

A special thanks to everyone who has been working to try new tools! The feedback on the voice-comments software has been impressive (yes, I just talked about feedback on feedback – I like to get Meta on bagel days). One teacher commented, “I have so many things that I want to SAY, but there is just no way to type all of that. Hopefully this will help.” Or, put another way, “Sometimes you want to say something about a paper, but you know that you would have to type so much because of TONE. This would let me express tone in the comments.”

The failover test on Monday went better than could be expected. We took down one of our major servers and we were back online and running through the backup server in Kentucky in under 5 minutes. We also tested our backup fiber line and got a clean test switching back to that. Thank you for letting us run our disaster tests – they make us all more stable in the long run.

A Few Data Points on Critical Thinking
One of the buzzwords in education revolves around giving students 21st century skills (note: we are 17 years into that century – probably we should have this down). While there are a number of traits that inevitably get listed, the ability to solve never-before-encountered problems in a systemic and rational way usually gets listed in a few different ways. – The summary term for this is CRITICAL THINKING.

The Brightbytes survey indicates that our students are encountering “Critical Thinking” activities in class pretty regularly (for example, 82% of students are regularly asked to collect and analyze data).
We are also strong when teachers are asked about having students conduct research (over half of our teachers have students research monthly or better; that is 10% higher than the national average.

Conversely, though, individual faculty members do not feel they engage in other critical thinking activities on a regular basis. The number one requested professional development from the survey was exposure to more tools for critical thinking:

Researchers have found that “students who have experience applying scientific inquiry and reasoning to real-world problems in the classroom will have an edge when faced with these types of questions as adults.” (Brightbytes, insights).

Practically Applied:
In talking to teachers around the building, some of the suggestions include:
  • ·        Increase critical thinking opportunities in the classroom by focusing on ways to “off load” essential activities that do not require classroom time. (Flipped Videos that give short lectures AHEAD of class time so that class time can be used to engage in a problem solving activity that could not be done as homework). – A number of tools exist for this including Camtasia and Youtube.
  • ·        Using a tool to give you feedback before class or in the first few minutes so that you can focus on “trouble spots” and not spend the entire class period going over things students already have down – Many of our teachers are using Google Forms and its new grading feature to accomplish this. Other options include Nearpod for a quick before-class quiz.
  • ·        Instead of having students find summaries of data from news websites or blogs, have them add the term “DATA” and ask for specific filetypes such as excel (.xlsx) or comma delimited spreadsheet (.csv) to get raw data that can be analyzed and/or visualized by the student directly.

Want to learn more about techniques to increase critical thinking in the classroom? Pick a lesson or objective that you would like to “Criticize” (Ha! Punny.) and contact JD to setup a time to meet and brainstorm. Interested in seeing a demo of any of the tools listed above? Stop down in the TRC.

  • Camtasia – Create videos using webcam and computer screen
  • Nearpod – Interactive lectures and live feedback quizzes
  • Google Forms – Data collection and online quizzes
  • Advanced Google Searching – Finding information beyond typing in keywords

Have more tools you have used or ideas to increase critical thinking in your department or content area? Please drop us a line or post your ideas/thoughts/lessons in the TRC! We all learn from sharing with eachother.

That does if for this Thursday. Have a great week and come have a bagel (while they last).

The Whiteboard in the TRC is a constant think-space for lessons,
teacher ideas, edtech tools and magnetic fling-darts.

IT UPdate: Critical Thinking Part II and Donuts

Today’s donuts are brought to you buy Dunkin’ and the letter C for Critical thinking!

Thank you to everyone who sent us suggestions or wrote on the whiteboard with your critical thinking ideas! We will keep the whiteboard up for a few more days and then compile the email and written suggestions next week.

Follow up to Authentic Problems and Data:
Last week we focused on our results for solving authentic problems and using data. There are a number of websites today that can give you activities to help highlight or introduce authentic issues in your classroom or provide data for discussion, research and reflections.
History Pin is a collaborative website that is map-based and allows students to explore the world and contribute by adding material from their own local area. Spent is like an old-school text based choose your own adventure that focuses on raising social justice awareness and issues. Players play characters living on the poverty line and must make decisions based on events. With some scaffolding on the teacher side, this could work well with students in teams or with a follow up reflection and discussion activity. 
Some notes about note taking!
One of the top uses of technology in classrooms throughout the building is for notetaking. But the style of note-taking can vary and has a demonstrated effect on how students retain information and access it later (which is really close to the definition of critical thinking.

If students type exactly what the teacher says, they have excellent notes for review, but have done very little mental exercise – essentially serving as a conduit from the teacher to their screen. Pam Mueller of Princeton University was a professor who looked into this:
“When people type their notes, they have this tendency to try to take verbatim notes and write down as much of the lecture as they can," Mueller tells NPR's Rachel Martin. "The students who were taking longhand notes in our studies were forced to be more selective — because you can't write as fast as you can type. And that extra processing of the material that they were doing benefited them." (

Many news agencies took the angle that we needed to get rid of technology completely (Bad Tech, go lay down!). Alternatively, this could be a good classroom exercise to help students discover what they SHOULD be writing down and why it is important to paraphrase key ideas. This concept is introduced in the digital citizenship class and the English department reinforces this with annotation checks regularly.

Other teachers have suggested giving students a handout (paper or digital) that students can fill out through the course of a presentation or reading. The outline format and/or guiding questions disrupt the ability for students to turn off their brain and type whatever is being said – even the act of figuring out what box to type in on a digital handout can be enough cognitive exercise to improve retention and access.

How do you help students take notes in class? What tools have you seen students use effectively? What do you recommend? Share with JD or write in the TRC and we will share out your responses!

That is it from the #edtech corner. This week JD will be recording some videos for teachers interested in using Nearpod or VoiceComments. Have other tools you would like to have added to our video library? Let JD know.