There are few buzzwords in K-12 right now as big as "rigor." The Common Core has been hailed by advocates as a more rigorous set of standards, but a big question that keeps popping up is how to measure that rigor. A good place to start is with evidence, which is what many of the new tests plan on incorporating into their structure.
Using evidence — the ability to support and explain your point — is not only a good way to measure rigor, but an important skill for students to learn. It gives insight into a person's train of thought and how they came to their conclusion, additionally opening opportunities for more innovative, but also structured, thinking patterns.
Placing emphasis on how a student backs up what they believe, and not "the answer," takes pressure off of a student to get the "right" answer — or what they think the teacher wants to hear. This, in turn, encourages students to be creative with their thinking. Through emphasis on evidence, teachers can facilitate an environment where deep, critical thinking and meta cognition are the norm.
Below are some activities to help teachers incorporate curiosity, evidence, and critical thinking into their classrooms.
1. Gap Fill In
Students are shown a picture, projected in the front of the room, if possible. At the top of their paper, students should write: "What is happening in this picture?" At the bottom of the page, they should answer (very simply, in 1-2 sentences) with what they believe is happening in the photo.
In the middle of the page — and this is why it's called "Gap Fill In" — students write down all of the steps they took to arrive at that answer. Students are encouraged to write down the evidence they see that supports their conclusion.
GOAL: This activity not only uses evidence, but supports meta cognition skills by asking what prior knowledge brought you to your conclusion. This is a good activity to Bell Work or "Do Now."
Example Gap Fill In image (images should be modified to match grade level)
Set up an inner circle (or fishbowl) and an outer circle in your classroom. Students should not be sitting in this setup yet, but rather in their regular classroom seats. The class should be presented with a question or a statement and allowed to reflect individually for a few minutes.
During this reflection period, count the class off into small groups by 3s, 4s, or 5s.
Students should now transition to the fishbowl setup. In the numbered groups, have students facilitate a conversation while others on the outside observe without comment. (For example, a teacher may have all 1s go to the fishbowl, while the rest of the class sits in the outer ring.)
Once the inner group has discussed for a bit, have the outer group evaluate two things: Their process (Did they listen to one another?) and their content (Did they provide evidence or just opinions?).
GOAL: This activity helps students understand how and if they use evidence, as well as hear the difference between giving an opinion and backing an opinion with evidence.
Introduce a statement written in a clearly visible location. (Example: "Prisons are effective in stopping crime.") In each corner of the classroom, positions (Strongly Agree, Strongly Disagree, Somewhat Agree, Somewhat Disagree) should be posted and students should be asked to move to whichever best represents how they feel about the statement.
Without help from the teacher, students should move into a self-facilitated discussion where everyone is to discuss why they have selected their position. During this time, the teacher should transcribe the speech of the participants. If possible, this should be done in real-time with the transcription projected onto the board during the debate.
After a decided amount of time (5-7 minutes), the debate will be concluded and students will return to their seats for debrief, during which the class should evaluate the debate using the transcription as evidence.
Ask the class: Was the debate good or bad? Use evidence from the transcription to support your analysis.
After the first classroom debate, the teacher should present the rules for the debate. It is recommended that the teacher conduct the first debate without rules, so students can have a comparison for what works and what doesn't work.
Rules for debate:
A. SEEK first to understand the statement, EVERY WORD.
B. PROJECT your voice; don’t yell.
C. Your PERSONAL experience is NOT the rule. Connect it to bigger example.
D. RESTATE the previous point made, make your point, and move on.
E. General examples, ok to start; SPECIFIC EVIDENCE, this kid’s SMART!
GOAL: This activity allows students to not only debate a point, but, like the fishbowl, analyze their communication skills. Additionally, by keeping the transcription log, students can actually see how they progress throughout the year.
These activities can and should be morphed to match the culture and needs of the individual classroom. This specific list comes from activities used in the Allied Media: Detroit Future Schools curriculum.
Click the above link to view Word documents for all the handouts for this chapter.
Critical Thinking Exercise: Crime and Punishment
This critical thinking exercise is based on a current news article in which a young woman was arrested for selling $400 worth of heroin to an undercover police officer in 1974. She was sentenced to a 10-20 year prison term, but escaped after 8 months. She was caught 34 years later in 2008. She had become a model citizen with 3 children that she had raised as model citizens. She was returned to Michigan to complete her jail sentence. Her family and friends petitioned the governor for clemency. The details are described in the exercise,Crime and Punishment. These is also a worksheet that helps students work through the steps of critical thinking for this case. See theCritical Thinking Worksheet: Crime and Punishment.
Review the concept that critical thinking involves looking at a problem from many points of view. Divide students into discussion groups for this exercise. Have each group write a different point of view on the board. As a summary, have students volunteer to state their personal values and reasonable point of view at the end. This exercise is included in the printed text and available as a supplement for the online edition.
You can use any interesting and complex current event or social issue for this type of exercise. Copy interesting shows or news specials from TV and use them for this exercise. Topics that have been good for class discussion include elections, health issues such as smoking, welfare, violence in the schools, and cults such as Heaven’s Gate. If they are complex and controversial, you will get a variety of opinions and the discussion will be interesting. This exercise works well if students respect each other’s point of view. If it becomes a debate, students can get sidetracked and have difficulty going through the critical thinking process.
Critical Thinking Exercise: Assisted Suicide
A critical thinking exercise on the controversial topic of assisted suicide for terminally ill patients is available as a supplemental exercise. See theCritical Thinking Exercise: Assisted Suicideandthe Critical Thinking Worksheet: Assisted Suicidefor this exercise. You can also use any current complex issue in the news. When using these exercises with your class, emphasize that they are complex and controversial issues. The purpose of discussing them is to practice a critical thinking process rather than to reach a solution. Stress that there is no right answer, only reasonable views. Ask students to respect each other’s point of view. Try to be neutral on these issues and wait until the end of the discussion to share your reasonable view.
For the assisted suicide article, have students discuss the issue in groups and fill out the work sheet provided at the end of the chapter. You can divide students into groups and ask each group to summarize a different point of view. Write these headings on the board: the judge in the courtroom, the husband, the wife, the children (of this couple), medical doctors and a member of the clergy. Sometimes students even want to write down the point of view of animal rights groups. Wait until the groups have begun the discussion and ask for groups to volunteer to write the point of view for each topic written on the board. You might suggest that certain groups take a particular topic to match their interests. For example, if a group is talking about religious issues, assign this group to write under the religious heading. If they are talking about the law, have them pretend to be the judge and write their answers under the legal heading. After the different points of view are written on the board, objectively read through them with the class. Often the group suggests additional ideas, but remind the group that we are just trying to understand the different points of view without making a judgment at this point. After the discussion, have each student write his or her own reasonable view. Ask for volunteers to share some of their reasonable views as a summary. Ask students to be aware of their own particular mindset and to respect views that may be different from their own. Save your reasonable view for last and share it with the class.
Stress the fact that there is no right or wrong answer to these situations. Each person will construct his or her reasonable view based on personal values and experiences. What is important is to think through the process and look at the problem from many different perspectives.
Critical Thinking about Your Decisions
Use the worksheet,Critical Thinking about your Decisions, to help students to apply what they have learned about critical thinking to their own decisions.
Examples of Fallacies in Reasoning
Recognizing fallacies in reasoning is an important part of critical thinking and can help students to avoid using them or allowing someone else use them for their own purpose, power, or financial gain. Ask students familiarize themselves with the fallacies in reasoning presented in this chapter. Then have them look for a news editorial, magazine article, or advertisement to illustrate a fallacy in reasoning. Students can then paste this example to a sheet of paper and identify and explain the fallacy. These papers can be posted in the classroom or presented to the class.
(From Carla Edwards, Instructor, Cuyamaca College, El Cajon, CA)
Play jeopardy with the fallacies in reasoning definitions and examples presented in this chapter. Use the PowerPoint template for theJeopardy Game. Just substitute your own questions on the slides.
Fun with Critical Thinking
Have some fun using these brainteasers to engage your students in critical thinking using the handout,Fun with Critical Thinking. (From Paul Delys, Cuyamaca College)
Moral Reasoning Exercise
Analyze this dilemma using the stages of moral reasoning:
Mr. Allen’s son was seriously injured, but he had no car to take him to the hospital.The approaches a stranger and asks to borrow the car, but the stranger refused saying that he had to go to an important appointment.Mr. Allen steals the car by force to take this son to the hospital.Was it right for Mr. Allen to steal the car? Use the handout, "A Moral Dilemma," to analyze this scenario and guide students through the stages of moral reasoning.
Brainstorming with a Peanut Exercise
For this exercise, you will need to bring peanuts in their shells for each of your students and a timer. Review the rules for brainstorming listed in the text and on theBrainstorming Exercise. For the first half of the exercise, have the students do the brainstorming individually. Set the timer for 3-5 minutes and challenge them to come up with 10 answers before the time is up. The first question is, "How is this this peanut like me?" Half way through the time, remind them that they should have at least 5 answers. Remind the students that they can be wild and crazy and come up with unusual answers. Challenge them to use their imagination.
At the end of the time allowed, ask them to place an asterisk (*) next to their best items. Ask for volunteers to share their best answers. Here are some answers that have been given in the past:
How is this peanut like me?
It is wrinkled, like me.
It is brown, like me.
It cracks under pressure.
What you see is not always what you get.
Everyone is different.
It just sits in class.
You can find both of us at ballgames.
I can make any sandwich delicious.
For the second half of the exercise, do the brainstorming as a group and have students call out as many ideas as possible in the five minutes. Pose the question, “How is this peanut like going to college?” and ask for answers from the class as a whole. Remind students that they can steal other’s ideas, add to them or change them around. For a warm-up, share some of these ideas:
How is this peanut like going to college?
There are 2 nuts inside; one is the teacher and the other is the student.
We’re all nuts to a degree.
Some professors are nuts.
We both went to _________’s class today.
College drives me nuts.
A bag of peanuts is like a room full of students, all different shapes and sizes and not anyone is the same.
The college professor is the peanut farmer and the student is the peanut. A good farmer makes for good peanuts.
Sometimes a class is not all it's cracked up to be.
You have to pay for peanuts, just like you have to pay for college (only peanuts are way cheaper!)
The instructor is the farmer and the students are the peanuts.
The first step in cracking a peanut is cracking the shell. The first step in college success is cracking a book.
A peanut can be used for many things such as peanut butter or peanut oil. College helps use to develop our skills to prepare for a variety of careers.
After the brainstorming exercise, go over the other ways to cultivate creativity:
Serendipity Relaxed attention
Idea Files Visualization
Journal Critical Thinking
Brainstorming: How to Graduate from College
Have students brainstorm the answer to this question, "What are all the things that could interfere with graduating from college?" Then have students choose one item from the list and generate as many solutions for this problem as possible. This is a good creativity exercise as well as getting students to apply creative problem solving to their own lives.
Creative Visualization with a Light Bulb Exercise
Bring an ordinary light bulb to class. Hold the light bulb in your hand so that everyone can see it. Ask students to close their eyes and see if they can still visualize the light bulb in their minds. Ask students to raise their hands if they can see the light bulb in their imagination. Then ask them to visualize the following:
Turn the light bulb on.
Turn it off.
Turn the light on.
Change the color to blue.
Change the color to yellow.
Change the color to green.
Change the color to orange.
Make the light bulb bigger.
Change the light bulb into a television screen.
See your favorite program on the screen.
Change the channel.
Turn the television off.
See another light bulb.
Turn it into a flashlight.
Shine the flashlight on a dog.
Make the dog bigger.
Turn the dog into a cat.
Hear the cat meow.
Turn the cat into a bird.
Put a light bulb in each hand.
Pretend that your light bulbs are jet engines and run down the street for a take-off.
Zoom off into the air.
Circle over your house.
Circle over your city.
Zoom away and look at the mountains.
Zoom back to your house.
Throw the light bulbs away and open your parachute.
Float down into your back yard and tell someone that you are home.
I’ll bet that you never thought that you could make a jet plane out of a light bulb!
You can if you use your imagination.
The above exercise was adapted from Robert F. Eberle, “Developing Imagination Through Scamper” printed in Sidney J. Parnes, Ruth B. Noller and Angelo Biondi,Guide to Creative Action, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1977).
The Tomatoes Exercise
Bring two tomatoes to class. Hold up the tomatoes and ask the students to come up with as many different words or proper nouns as possible using only the letters in the word “tomatoes.” After five minutes, write the numbers 10-20 on the board. Ask how many students came up with 20 words or more. Tally the result. Then list the number of people who were able to write 19 words and so on down the list to 10 words.
Then ask students to join together with three other students. Using the word, “tomatoes,” see how many words the group can come up with in 5 minutes. Again tally the results. Usually the groups are able to come up with many more ideas than individuals. You can make this exercise more interesting by offering a prize to the group that comes up with the most words. When the exercise is complete, discuss the idea of synergy. When two or more people work together and share ideas, the result is greater than any one person could produce.
For Online Classes
Online Discussion Question
The topic for this week's discussion is critical and creative thinking. For the critical thinking part, give an example of a fallacy in reasoning. Here are some examples: 1. When my children were very young, I would tell them to brush their teeth in the evening. I told them that if they did not brush their teeth, the sugar bugs would eat their teeth all night and eventually their teeth would turn green and fall out. By predicting dire consequences, we try to influence behavior. This is an example of using slippery slope. Maybe some of you child development majors would have a better way of getting children to brush their teeth, but this worked for me. Here is another example: When my daughter was in middle school, she died her blond hair black. I asked her why she did it and she said that she was tired of blond jokes. She was the victim of the stereotype that all blondes are dumb.
For the creative thinking part, read about creativity and brainstorming and have a little fun with this exercise. Provide at least 3 answers to these questions: 1. How is a peanut like you? Here are my answers. 1. A peanut is wrinkled, like me. 2. A peanut is curvy like me. 2. I have a hard outer shell and a soft inner shell. How is a peanut like going to college? In every classroom there are at least 2 nuts, the instructor and at least one student. The squares on the peanut remind me of rows of chairs in the classroom. 3. There is usually something good on the inside.