5 1/2 Ways to Hone Inquiry and Questioning Skills….

Originally published by GettingSmart on March 26, 2017

funniest-kids-questions

Underneath the flash and dazzle flowing into classrooms on the current that feeds 21st-century technology is a newly important skill. A singular skill made more important in the digital age but developed independently from the devices and digital tools that define it. Fake news, media hyperbole and the seeming end of simple answers have all contributed to the increased importance of asking better questions.

Questioning is perhaps the single most important skill we can teach our students. It crosses all curriculum, it plays directly into the real world, and is not reliant on any type of software or hardware to apply.

In a real sense, much of our history and success as humans has been built strictly on our ability to ask great questions and then search for their answers. From the first wandering cave dweller to look at a coffee plant and ask his partner, “If we pick those berries, dry them out, cook them, crush them, then soak them in water do you think it will taste good? Or shall we use that tree bark instead?” to “How do we land a man on the Moon?”, good questions have moved us forward and rippled into every aspect of our lives. Good questions are what has gotten us where we are today.

Perhaps just as importantly, it must be noted that not asking good questions has also gotten us into many of the problems we face today. That we never bothered to ask if the industrial revolution’s increased production of pollutants could have negative repercussions, or the fact that the brightest minds of the age never questioned if maybe splitting atoms could have complicated geopolitial effects going forward, are good examples.

Much of creativity is rooted in questioning old patterns and paths, and even more of science is grounded in our endless pursuit of curiosity.

As critical to 21st-century thinking as inquiry is, it does not require a one to one classroom, special software or even bandwidth. Below are five examples of lessons that do a great job of building an inquisitorial mindset with no or little technology.20160831_095945

1. Math without numbers. This is simply taking rich math question and pulling strategic data out of the problem before giving it to the kids in groups. The students then work together to figure out what questions will get them the information they need. The result is a demonstration of the student understanding of how the math they are learning applies to a problem they are working to solve. (Here’s one of my personal favorite web resources for rich math tasks).

2. Lateral Thinking Puzzles. Some of us remember these as “trip fillers” from our childhood. Those mystery scenarios asked to the back seat during long road trips, like “A man escapes from a room with no windows or doors, how does he do it? “ The back seat gets to ask only yes or no questions to work toward the solution, building off the collection of answers. The result is a training session on refining and distilling questions to offer the greatest depth. Some of my favorites can be found  here , and  here.

3. 90% stories. A bit more work from the teacher, these come in a variety of forms–but the foundation stays the same. A historical event, scientific discovery, or personal narrative that is “mostly true” (thus the 90%) is researched and questioned by the students in order to find the lie. These stories are told by teachers as often as read. Some examples of 90% stories can be found here.

4. Mystery Hangout / Mystery SkypeBoth Google Hangouts and Skype, through Microsoft classroom, offer teachers and their students a chance to play 20 questions with classrooms around the world. Just project one screen to the front of a room and get the students ready to try and figure out where their counterparts are from using yes or no questions.

5. 3 Act TasksA small but growing movement in math education started by Dan Meyer, the idea is simple enough: use the classing structure of story to explore or use a mathematical practice.

  • Act 1 -Hook a class of students with a short video that leaves the audience hanging.
  • Act 2- Mead out information to develop the story so that a path from cause to effect can be followed.
  • Act 3- back to the video for the conclusion of the story to compare its outcome with that of the students.

Here is Dan’s webpage with a rich list of 3 Act tasks, and Graham Fletcher’s collection is better suited to elementary and well worth knowing.

This last offering is designed for whole class use where everyone has a device, but I wanted to include it as a bonus, because with only the slightest of variations it can be used on a singular machine or even phones:

5 1/2 . S.M.I.L.E. Stanford Mobile Inquiry Learning Environment. The idea for this site seems almost too simple have come out of a genius farm like Stanford until you recognize the brilliance within its simplicity. Students go online to create and answer each other’s questions, then rate the quality of that question. The depth of the questions is a reflection of students’ conceptual understanding of the subject, as well as its application.

In his book A More Beautiful Question Warren Berger says that kids come to us in kindergarten asking 100 questions a day, but by middle school that number is down to almost zero.  Humans are curious animals, and properly formed that inherent inquiry is the most important piece to our success both collectively and individually.

So Crazy It Just Might Work (250 words)

I think I have come up with a way that we could solve all of the problems in education if we just start our own cable channel.

The EDchannel

we could produce shows like…

IRON TEACHER:

Where teachers master teachers from across the country are given one hour to prepare and present a lesson and include the mystery curriculum to our panel of experts.

Teachers Tutors and Trainers:

“Watch as Gal Fieri drives across the country in a Prius to explore experience an exploit classrooms and the amazing ways educators are getting the job done.”

Extreme Classroom Makeover:

A whole bunch of shop teachers join forces with designers and architect to remodel classroom to create engaging learning environments.

Keeping Up with the Kindergartens:

More drama, more tears, and more authentic beauty than any other reality show.

Cutthroat Classroom:

Teachers compete to finish the best lesson possible while being sabotaged with strange but somehow entertaining limitations.

Think of the power behind this lunacy

  • The Food network pulls in over 100 million in ads alone.
  • The general public would actually see what teachers do.
  • Teachers would get to see what other teachers do.
  • Merit pay would be called profit sharing.

Last year (pre-cable in our house) my son would come home from practice and fix himself a PB&J or burnt grilled cheese.

 

This week he broiled turkey, bruschetta, and provolone on Focaccia, with a garlic aioli spread.

I asked…

He said “What…Bobby Flay does this all the time.”

STEM Inspiration 250 words

A 2014 report on student motivation toward STEM careers, out of The University of Nevada (How to Motivate US Students to Pursue STEM Careers by Md. Mokter Hossain, Michael G. Robinson) suggested, “Students need to be inspired in STEM subjects beginning in the middle school grades with course work and extracurricular activities focusing on honing probleboinkm solving skills in the high school grades.”

While I have no issue with the research of the Nevada team their conclusion seems short-sighted on two fundamental points. Students are not inspired by extracurricular programs. They do those things because they have already been inspired. More importantly, waiting to provide inspiration until middle and high school is a large part of the problem.

Programs, like Science Olympiad and First Robotics, are building and inspiring students to continue to pursue lofty and rigorous goals. However, these activities are limited to those teens that already see the appeal in such groups, in effect enhancing the growth rate of the stem but not the root.

A child’s opinion and attitude toward both math and science are formed long before they enter middle school.  Even the most conservative estimates suggest that student perceptions of their own abilities are established by seven or eight years old. While there is a clear distance between perceived ability and inspiration, there is also a tangible link connecting the two.  Students who do not feel they can be successful in math or science are not likely to be inspired to do math and science.

sJ48rmc

 

Spring Break Poetry (250 words)

this one

For those that may actually take the time to count,

(You should have better things to do)

But I will run short this week, at least I am honest with you.

But poetry has its own precision, based on meter and rhyme.

Counting the words betrays the form and therefore wasting time.

 

“The Week before spring break”

I’ve got a great big problem,

And it has to do with time:

My school’s clocks must be broken.

I’m about to lose my mind!

it’s the week before vacation,

And I’m standing at the board

Writing out 100 times in chalk

“I’ll not tell teacher I am bored.”

But I am bored, and I’m tired,

And I’m ready for a break.

So I’m pretending like I’m sorry,

But I’m feeling like a fake.

I peek out the window.

I see green grass and sun.

I want so bad to be outside;

To fly a kite and run.

To Einstein, time was relative.

And E was MC squared,

But he’s never come to my school,

so I think he doesn’t care.einst

Time is not MY relative!

I’m not concerned with E!

 

I sure hope they start vacation soon

So I can just be free!

I’m ready for vacation,

And I know that teacher is also

‘Cuz she’s writing on her notepad

“These kids are driving me nutso!”

I’ve written mine ‘most thirty times,

But my teacher’s got me beat.

She’s written hers a hundred times EACH DAY FOR THE PAST WEEK!

(250 words)

The Cootie Bias Analogy 250 words

d42d68a8ac806f0a6c7e0a8109966a4b

A big piece of metacognition, or thinking about our thinking, is knowing that we all have biases.

Biases are a lot like cooties; they are a naturally occurring phenomena. You can stop them for a short time, but they never go away.

They are a product of who you are, and much like cooties, bias is only an issue when you forget that everyone has them.

To be critical thinkers, students have to be aware of bias.  Here are a couple examples of my favorite cognitive biases:

  • The Anchor bias:
    • I believe the first information I get because it was first.
  • Available Heuristics bias:
    • The information I remember is most important…because I remember it.
  • Confirmation bias:
    • You agree with me, so you must be both smart and right.

If there are people in your classroom forming opinions, making a decision or thinking about stuff, then these factors are in the mental mix.

Fake news is built and propagated with these tools; wars have been fought because of them. More importantly, a quick mental check can do a great deal to counteract their impact. Asking three quick questions can create a strong bias disinfectant:

  • Ask them to explain why they made the choice.
  • Remind them to always look for more than one source.
  • Have students look at the issue from someone else’s perspective.

Bias is not something that can be resolved in 250 words.  But that should be more than enough to make you think about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Pedagogies 250 words

critical-thinking-cartoon

 

I just read about “new pedagogies” in Michael Fullan’s latest contribution to educational thinking A Rich Seam. This was a great professional read for me if only because it stood in the face of my kids who complain that I am “like the only person in America that uses the word pedagogy, so please stop.”

Beyond offering fodder in my battle with my children Fullan has several ideas worth noting. Based on the understanding that teaching and learning structures should be built on real classrooms rather than “flagship” or marquee concept school prototypes Fullan team has labeled 3 “major shifts” that arise as schools add technology in significant ways:

  1. Personalization: The best result of new learning partnerships that arises between students and teachers when digital tools become pervasive.
  2. Change leadership: The best result of the merger of top down, bottom up and sideways energies to generate change.
  3. Cheap content: The best result of learning tools, information and educational resources expanding and competing for our digital attention.

The result of adding these three power hitters to our pedagogical lineup means that students will need to not only create new knowledge but connect that knowing to the world around and use it to do things that matter to them.

That last piece is the real selling point for me.  “Creating new knowledge, connecting it to the world, and using it to do something that matters.”

I see evidence of all three of these “New Pedagogies” all over the place.

 

5 1/2 Ways to Build Questioning Skills

funniest-kids-questions

Underneath the flash and dazzle flowing into classrooms on the currents that feeds 21st-century technology is a newly important skill.  A singular skill made more important in the digital age but developed independently from the devices and digital tools that define it.  Fake news, media hyperbole, and the seeming end of simple answers have all contributed to the increased importance of all of us to ask better questions.

Questioning is perhaps the single most important skill we can teach our students.  It crosses all curriculum, it plays directly into the real world and is not reliant on any type of software, or hardware to apply.

In a real sense, much of our history and success as humans has been built strictly on our ability to ask great questions and then search for their answers.  From the first wandering cave dweller to look at a coffee plant and ask his partner, “If we pick those berries, dry them out, cook them, crush them, then soak them in water do you think it will taste good? Or shall we use that tree bark instead?”   To “How do we land a man on the Moon?”  Good questions have moved us forward and rippled into every aspect of our lives. Good questions are what has gotten us where we are today.

Perhaps just as importantly it must be noted that not asking good questions, has also gotten us into many of the problems we face today. That we never bothered to ask if there was a smog we have been putting into the air since the industrial revolution would be bad, or that the brightest minds of the age never questioned if maybe splitting atoms could have complicating going forward does not speak well of us as a species.

Much of Creativity is rooted in questioning old patterns and paths, much more of science is grounded in our endless pursuit of curiosity.

As critical to 21st-century thinking as inquire is, it does not require a one to one classroom, special software or even bandwidth. Below are three example of lesson frames that do a great job of building an inquisitorial skill set, that require no technology at all.

  • Math without numbers:
    • This is simply taking the rich math question and pulling strategic data out of the problem before giving it to the kids in groups. The students’ then work together to figure out what questions will get them than information they need. The result is a demonstration of the student understanding of how the math they are learning applies to a problem they are working to solve. (a link to a web resource with rich math tasks)
  • Linear questions:
    • Some of us remember these as “trip fillers” from our childhood. Those mystery scenarios ask into the back seat during long road trips, (i.e.) A man escapes from a room with no windows or doors, how does he do it?  The back seat gets to ask only yes or no questions to work toward the solution, building off the collection of answers. The result a training session on refining and distilling questions to offer the greatest depth.  ( lists of good linear questions here)
  • 90% stories:
    • A bit more work from the teacher these coming in a varied of forms, but the foundations stay the same; a historical event, scientific discovery, or personal narrative that is “mostly true”, thus the 90%. The students then work, question or research to find the lie. These stories are told by teachers as often as read by them.   (Examples of 90% stories here)

Here are 3 ½ more that can be done with one computer in a classroom.

  • Mystery Hangout / Mystery Skype
    • Both Goggle Hangouts and Skype, through Microsoft classroom, offer teachers and their students a chance to play 20 questions with classroom around the world. Just project one screen to the front of a room and have the student ready to try and figure out where their counterparts are from using yes or no questions
  • 3 Act Tasks
    • A small but growing movement in math education started by Dan Meyer, the idea is simple enough, use the classing structure of story to explore or use a mathematical practice. – Act 1 -Hook a class of students with a short video that leaves the audience hanging.      -Act 2- Mead out information to develop the story so that a path from cause to effect can be followed.                                                                                                                                         -Act 3- back to the video for the conclusion of the story to compare its outcome with that of the students.

This last offering is designed for whole class use, where everyone has a device, but with only the slightest of variations, it can be used on a singular machine or even phones.

  • S.M.I.L.E. Stanford Mobile Inquiry Learning Environment
    • The idea for this site seems to simple have come out of a genius farm like Stanford until you recognize the brilliance within its simplicity. Student go online, to create and answer each other’s questions, then rate the quality of that question. The depth of the questions is a reflection of students’ conceptual understanding of the subject as well as its application.

In his book, A More Beautiful Question Warren Berger says that kids come to us in kindergarten asking 100 questions a day, by middle school that number is down to almost zero.  Humans are curious animals, properly formed that inherent inquiry is the most important piece to our success both collectively and individually.

As Soon as it Becomes a Real Thing

pedagogical Engineer

I have decided to make a career change. I am going to be a pedagogical engineer.  As soon as it becomes a thing.

I believe I am eminently qualified for this game changing post.  It is a position that will combine a deep understanding of the art and the science that is good teaching with the complex problem solving and dynamic technology acumen of an engineer.

In this age of personalized learning where the teacher’s role has been simultaneously dropped from center stage and elevated to individualized student muse, I imagine this new role will be very demanding. Once someone other than me recognizes its importance.

Pedagogical Engineering (PE) is more than just an impressive new buzz word I am trying to establish, it might actually be a good idea, for three reasons.

  1. Right now there is no role in our schools that has the capacity to effectively manage all the information, programs, tools, data, best practices and curriculum that come with the shifting educational paradigm that is personalized learning, these tasks would be juggled by the PE.
  2. Pedagogical Engineering, like all engineering careers, is inherently collaborative. These are groups of professionals that work to help students get the most out of their own learning. Kids seeing us working in teams sends them a powerful message.
  3. The creation of this career path could offer an inroad for Teacher-leaders to both share their expertise and take on broader challenges.

Maybe I can get Bill and Melinda behind this idea.

 

 

 

Inferences in shorts

hobbes_bed

Last week we had the opportunity to listen to one of the authors of Amplify address a group of Evergreen coaches and principals. She did a great job of breaking down the flash and dazzle of students with devices into real world, real classroom experiences that make both teaching and learning better.

One of the ideas that struck home for me was her mandate that we pay attention to visual literacy and start using close looking as much as close reading. In an age with so much of our information coming to us via videos and visual formats, it’s important that we teach and learn to consume that info as carefully as we would text.

As an example of either the power or the importance of visual medium, please try this experiment in your class.

Watch any one of these three videos with your class and ask them to record what they saw, what they thought and what they wondered. (Yes I am stealing/ using one of those thinking routines form Making Thinking Visible).

Two of these are Animated Shorts that won or were nominated for an Oscar this year. For the most part, they are wordless.  Which means the viewer, your students, have to do some of the storytelling themselves. The viewer must infer meaning. Wordless also means that no two people are telling themselves the same story.

We tend to lump inference and critical thinking in as literacy skills, there are many forms of literacy.

Piper

 

Pearl:

Alike:

Elementary Logic –250 words

calvin-and-hobbes-dad-logic

 

Elementary Logic

Logic, sounds fancy and looks pretty smart in the secondary grades, but broken down into its component parts is it simply a sequence of events each of which can be explained using reason.  Sequencing and reasoning and explaining your thinking are skills that start in Pre-school.

Primary Logic:

Based on actual events in a real first grade classroom.

  • They had just finished studying the water cycle and are moving into weather.

“Miss Durry, Miss Durry, I have finally figure out how gravity works.”

“That is super awesome, Tre.  Tell me, how does gravity work?

“Well… gravity is controlled by water.”

“Pause… Can you explain that to me.”

“Well, ok, see water goes down and up. Plus there is more water than anything else in the whole world….  So that’s why.”

Intermediate Logic:

Based on actual events in a real third grade classroom.

  • They had just started to study the circulatory system.

“Miss Hap, I been thinking bout how you said that the arties are the tubes that carry blood around the whole body.”

“Arteries, yeah that’s right.”

“No, that can’t be right, because my Mom says she had her tubes tied, so that would mean she don’t have any blood in her, but she does.”

****

When we teach critical thinking skills in elementary school, we are teaching kids to use the schema they have the water cycle, or the flow of blood and expand those thought process with new ideas, more complex  reasoning tools and deeper thinking