Tag Archives: critical thinking

Broadband for education (bb4edu) in SA

Last month I gave a presentation at the National Broadband Forum in Johannesburg, South Africa (SA), on what broadband enablement would mean for education here. The forum aims to collectively produce a strategy for making broadband a priority in SA post the upcoming elections, similar to the recent bb4us campaign in America.

The presentation was blogged about on the South Africa Connect website, as well as covered by ITWeb.

See the forum day’s activities on Flickr and Twitter.

Process and content: education needs both

We live in a world where information is being generated at such a rate, and existing knowledge being challenged so readily, that the best education we can give children is to teach them how to learn. They simply cannot memorise content any longer. More important than knowing information is knowing how to look it up and apply it. This is the true skill of the lifelong learner.

This is one of the key tenets of the Shuttleworth Foundation’s view of education for the 21st century, and one with which I wholeheartedly agree. However, this is not a new perspective. The assertions above were made by William Heard Kilpatrick of Teachers College, Columbia University, in 1925. He pushed for a “progressive education” that set aside the teaching of facts and figures for the fostering of critical thinking in learners.

The 1940s video clip below is a wonderful piece of history, providing a summary of progressive education. The contrast of this approach with the existing educational practices of the time is significant. A critic of the new way warns that such revolutionary ideas “caused a softening of the fibre of Greek education 2,500 years ago and played a part in the decadence of Greek civilization.”

While the philosophy of progressive education is something with which I agree, it is also important not to be wholly celebratory about it, as in the video. Education is highly politicised: the pendulum usually swings from extreme to extreme. In the case of South Africa it swung from a highly instructionist model to a post-Apartheid constructivist outcomes-based education.

Perhaps the best option lies somewhere in between, drawing on either approach as it is best suited to the content at hand. For example, the instructionist approach is best for learning times tables, whereas the constructivist approach offers an appropriate way to learn fractions, as learners experiment with physical objects (2 sticks out of 4 is the same as 1 stick out of 2).

Ten years ago an essay was written — in a deliberately dramatic tone — that bemoaned the progressive approach and how it left learners all clued up on process, without any content knowledge. The author of Why Johnny’s Teacher Can’t Teach states that Kilpatrick “forged the central educational fallacy of our time: that one can think without having anything to think about.” The essay makes interesting points, but is again wholly celebratory about good old-fashioned instructionist learning. (In a world gone crazy, isn’t it necessary to return to traditional, trusted ways?)

I am really beginning to believe that the answer lies somewhere in between, tending more towards the constructivist approach, but not without a necessary does of content. Content provides the material with which to develop the higher order thinking skills. Yes, content may change, and yes, it may be easily looked up on the internet, but it is still necessary. Without it we might be teaching children to talk without the need for words.

Multimedia and multiliteracies in the early elementary years (ED-MEDIA 2008)

ED-MEDIA 2008 paper: Multimedia and multiliteracies in the early elementary years.

Abstract: The widening of the concept of literacy has many implications for teachers. In this paper three classroom activities will be discussed and linked to concepts of ICT literacy and to questions of pedagogy when language, media and computing combine in the classroom. The first activities were carried out by five and six year old students exploring computer graphics and text. The other activities were used with grade 3/4 students, and involved graphics, text and sound to illustrate or explain specific contexts or situations.

The author spoke about the need for children to reflect on their use of technology to really develop higher order thinking skills. In his examples, working with an inner-city primary school in Melbourne, the teacher would guide a class discussion during or after the learners used software to create digital artefacts. To back this up this approach he quoted the paper Literature Review in Thinking Skills, Technology and Learning.

The software the kids used was MicroWorlds — constructivist learning technology.

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Author: Anthony Jones, The University of Melbourne, Australia

Embedding critical thinking into school science lessons

At ICeL, Philip Balcaen of the University of British Columbia (BC), Canada, spoke about embedding critical thinking into science teaching in a secondary school project in BC. His presentation, titled Developing Critically Thoughtful, Media-Rich Lessons in Science, highlighted the need to develop critical thinking skills amongst youth, even while many educators who claim to be in this space do not have a sufficient understanding or definition of critical thinking.

In his paper he outlines a conceptual framework to create critically thoughtful and media-rich science learning resources. The framework is based on a model of critical thinking developed by the Critical Thinking Consortium.

This model supports critical thinking by embedding the teaching of five categories of intellectual tools into the curriculum content. The “tools for thought” include: addressing the need for focused and relevant background knowledge, criteria for judgment, thinking concepts, thinking strategies and the development of habits of mind. Ultimately this approach will develop teachers who can provide ongoing support to the process of inquiry that they have begun.

Philip Balcaen

Philip (above) believes that these “habits of the mind” need to be made explicit outcomes of a lesson. We have planned to discuss this matter further, once he has returned to Canada. The approach used in his framework has great relevance for Kusasa and its lesson formats.

The need for 21st century skills

Intel EducationAt the plenary session of eLearning Africa, William Swope from Intel spoke about the Intel Teach program. He said that African teachers and learners in 600,000 schools need 21st century skills, such as media literacy, problem-solving, critical thinking and collaboration skills. The goal is to transform Africa from consumer to innovator. This requires moving from a “silver bullet” focus on ICT to holistic transformation of teaching and learning. The new focus must be on technology access, connectivity, teacher training and content.

Much of what was said resonates with what the Shuttleworth Foundation is doing in my theme: Communication and analytical skills development. These are the key 21st century skills.

Interview with danah boyd, social networking expert

danah boydIn an interview with danah boyd, she speaks about the impact of social networking on society and education.

Key points:

  • We live in a changing world, with new technologies and social media that allow people to easily connect, communicate, create and share content.
  • These changes are reshifting and reshaping public life as we know it. Our lives today, which consist in large part digitally, are more persistent, searchable, replicable and visible (in public spaces we don’t always anticipate).
  • We socialise young people into public life (what to wear, how to behave, who to stay away from, etc.) but we also need to socialise young people into these new mediated public spaces.

Impact on education:

  • We need to primarily educate on how to deal with constantly evolving and emerging technologies (above teaching about the technology or even with the technology itself). (Of course it can be argued that the best way to teach the primary goal is through playing with current technology.)
  • We need to teach critical thinking skills and new media literacies.
  • She is working on a teachers guide to Wikipedia (out next US summer, June/July 2008) that can be used to teach critical thinking skills around Wikipedia, and is happy for someone in Cape Town to localise the guide to the South African curriculum.
  • Social networking is here to stay, but it might not be as Facebook or MySpace. As a concept it will be integrated into other technologies and media, e.g. your cellphone.

Pull quote: “Let the kids do what they need to do, but teach them how to be critical.”

Image by Loren Earle-Cruickshanks (All rights reserved)

Teaching critical thinking in History class

BooksNext year a new matric History syllabus will be taught in South African schools. For the first time ever, Grade 12 learners will learn about apartheid.

But what is equally significant is the departure in teaching approach from rote learning of historical facts to discussion and open debate.

According to a Sunday Times article, the revised content aims “to make history more inclusive, representing different points of view” and that it encourages learners “to make up their own minds about the past.” In the article, historian Professor Nigel Worden from UCT says: “I’m a huge fan of this curriculum. It’s not just the new content but also the way it encourages skills of inquiry.”

This is very encouraging! By asking questions and holding the facts up to group discussion, learners develop analytical skills such as inquiry and critical thinking. And presenting their arguments for or against, whether in written or oral form, develops communication skills.

Image by Georg via Flickr (CC)