Monthly Archives: January 2013

Is Your Question Google-Proof?

googleproofAn important part of learning and the “student experience” is answering questions (and better yet, asking good questions). In the age of information abundance, and with more and more of our students having access to the repository of global knowledge in their pocket, how do we ask questions that are meaningful? How do we ask questions that stretch our students to think, and not just regurgitate facts?

Part of the planning process involves identifying the big idea, or the “so what?” in the learning you want to design for your students. When you ask your students a big idea question, whether it’s within a classroom discussion, a research project, a PowerPoint presentation, or a written paper, try the Google-Proof test. Are you asking a fact-reciting question or are you asking students to analyze, support an opinion, interpret or investigate? What is your ratio of Googleable to Non-Googleable questions in a week? (try saying Non-Googleable 10 times fast!)

Here are a few more education posts about Google-Proofing your next big question or project.

Google-Proof Questioning: A New Use for Bloom’s Taxonomy

Teaching Critical Thinking Skills around a non-Googleable Driving Question

An example of students classifying their own questions


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More Wisdom from Grant Wiggins

In a post from last March, Grant Wiggins published a blog post titled “Everything you know about curriculum may be wrong. Really.” It seems here is another connection to our philosophy of Thinking Classrooms. We’ve added an excerpt of his post here, but be sure to check out the full post. Grant Wiggins is the co-author of Understanding By Design, along with many other books, articles and other published works.

So, suppose knowledge is not the goal of education. Rather, suppose today’s content knowledge is an offshoot of successful ongoing learning in a changing world – in which ‘learning’ means ‘learning to perform in the world.’

As odd as that might sound for academics, it makes perfect sense in our everyday lives. The point of child-rearing, cooking, teaching, soccer, music, business, or architecture is not ‘knowledge’; rather, knowledge is the growing (and ever-changing) residue of the main activity of trying to perform well for real.

In athletics this is very clear: the game is the curriculum; the game is the teacher. And each game is different (even as helpful patterns emerge). Knowledge about the game is secondary, an offshoot of learning to play the game well. As I learn to play, knowledge – about rules, strategy, and technique – accrues, but it is not the point.

So, it would be very foolish to learn soccer (or child-rearing or music or how to cook) in lectures. This reverses cause and effect, and loses sight of purpose. Could it be the same for history, math, and science learning? Only blind habit keeps us from exploring this obvious logic. The point is to do new things with content, not simply know what others know – in any field.

Video games are especially startling from the perspective of conventional views of curriculum and instruction. According to the standard view, I should never be able to learn and greatly improve at the games since there is no formal and explicit curriculum framed by knowledge, and – even more puzzling – no one teaches me anything! I shouldn’t learn but I do. In games (and in life), I begin with performance challenges, not technical knowledge. I receive no upfront teaching (or even manuals any more in games and other software!) but I learn based on the attempts to perform and feedback from trying – just as I did when learning to walk or hold a spoon. How is that possible? Conventional views of curriculum and instruction have no good explanation for it.

  • If curriculum is a tour through what is known, how is knowledge ever advanced?
  • If learning requires a didactic march through content, why are movies and stories so memorable – often, more memorable than classes we once took?
  • If a primary goal of education is high-level performance in the world going forward, how can marching through old knowledge out of context optimally prepare us to perform?
  • If education is about having core knowledge, and we are more and more teaching and testing all this knowledge, why are results on tests like NAEP so universally poor, showing that over decades American students have not progressed much beyond basic “plug and chug”?

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The Lecture…Version 2.0

medium_3228729514Why does the lecture persist? Should it?

As teachers, we sure love to talk at our students! The most intense form of this “teacher-talk” is delivered every day in classrooms across the world, from middle schools through universities, as the age old LECTURE.

For decades, perhaps centuries, it has been argued that lectures are not the most effective form of teaching. Indeed the ideas of a Thinking Classroom itself leads us to less teacher talking and more student thinking. But yet lectures remain a common occurrence in many classrooms. Like all instruction, lecture is not necessarily bad in itself, but it can be done badly.

We believe the use of lecture, when used effectively, can be helpful when used with a variety of other learning modes. BUT — It definitely needs a re-vamp, an update, an overhaul. In fact, people have been trying to get it re-vamped for…well, let’s just say awhile…

Some thoughts from others on lecturing

From 2000:     Hativa, N. “Lecturing and Explaining.” Chapter in Teaching for effective learning in higher education. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

“The success and effectiveness of the lecture depends upon its quality–there are good lectures and bad lectures…effective lecturing is much more than just communicating knowledge. It arouses interest and motivation…”

From 1981:    G.Gibbs Twenty terrible reasons for lecturing, SCED Occasional Paper No. 8, Birmingham.

“I would not like to leave the impression that I feel that there is no justification for ever lecturing. I lecture myself (though seldom for more than fifteen minutes at a stretch and then seldom when written substitutes are available). I believe there are circumstances when a well structured, well paced, varied, lively lecture can be the most efficient teaching method. But I do believe there is far more lecturing going on than can reasonably be justified by the evidence concerning the efficiency of lectures, especially bearing in mind the nature of the educational goals we claim to be striving for.”

From 1968: The Modified Lecture: A Useful Technique for the Teacher, Charles K. West, The Clearing House, Vol. 43, No. 3

“The chief disadvantage of the traditional lecture is the total lack of involvement, the passivity, of the student in the situation. It is true that some types of learnings take place when a students is passive. For most complex types of human learnings, however, involvement is a necessary correlate of learning. Typically, the only person involved in the traditional lecture situation is the lecturer. It can be said that at least one person learned, in any case.

Investigators of interaction analysis have begin to attack teacher talk in terms of the amount occurring in the classroom. Analyses indicate that less learning occurs in the classroom in which “teacher-talk” proceeds in an uninterrupted sequence.”

Upgrading the Lecture to Version 2.0

Lecture As Content Delivery is Dead
Jeff Utecht, a former teacher and blogger, shares the idea that lecturing for content delivery is no longer relevant with the explosion and abundance of free and open content through the internet. He proposes that “Lectures should be used to inspire, tell stories, and push ideas”.

Don’t Lecture Me: Rethinking How College Students Learn
Here’s a post from the Mind/Shift blog, written by Emily Hanford, describing a strategy of peer instruction, in place of the lecture, as used by Eric Mazur.  “….[he] now teaches all of his classes using a “peer-instruction” approach. Rather than teaching by telling, he teaches by questioning.”

TED Talks: Ideas worth spreading
If you haven’t watched or heard of TED Talks, it is popular website that houses a collection of lectures. The only limit? The talk must be 18 minutes or less. Here’s their description: “We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world. So we’re building here a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world’s most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other.”

Some Ideas to help Start Your Upgrade

Need some ideas on how to use technology to make your next planned lecture more interactive? Jeff extends the discussion in his post on “The Evolution of Lecture”

An collection of resources/ideas (some good, maybe some not so good) on designing Interactive Lectures, part of the SERC Pedagogic Service. The authors suggest the use of “engagement triggers” and “interactive activities”.

Like the TED Talks? There is now a new site created just for educators, TED ED – Lessons worth Sharing. Lessons build from TED-like videos are available on a variety of topics. The lesson includes three pices: Watch (the video), Think (questions to explore) and Dig Deeper (additional resources). Perhaps the most powerful feature, you can upload any video from YouTube and turn it into a TED-ED lesson!!

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