Category Archives: Thinking

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The mysterious workings of the adolescent brain…

Does this help clear it all up?

10 Ways to Teach Innovation

Clarifying “Transfer”…

Kid President

Inspires Again!!!!

Thinking Classrooms: Our “One Thing”

As the end of the year is beginning to appear on the near horizon, the student achievement team has been hard at work trying to organize and prepare for the next school year and the myriad of initiatives and changes coming. You will be hearing more about lots of things over the next two years: SB 191, Common Core, READ Act, Readiness plans, Unit Planning with Backwards Design, new state assessments, new state graduation guidelines, and the list will continue to grow. It will sometimes become easy to lose sight of our target and journey we set out on this year.

Those who may remember the movie “City Slickers” might remember Curly’s wisdom to Mitch about “finding your one thing”. We believe the philosophy of Thinking Classrooms is District 27J’s “one thing”. (If you have no idea what we are talking about, Google it ūüôā ¬†)

The idea of a Thinking Classroom isn’t something new, it’s not the latest magic pill, it’s not a curriculum and it’s not the same for everyone. A Thinking Classroom is more like a state of mind. A belief that the most important effect on a student’s learning and growth is their own thinking and hard work. A thinking classroom has relentless focus on good instruction, is about guiding student authentic engagement and discovery, and has intentional planning for learning.

One of our goals of this blog has been to offer a variety of perspectives, ideas, and videos to continue developing this state of mind for everyone. We believe this transformation could be monumental, but it starts with small yet significant steps. You must believe….believe that we can ¬†and should do better for our students, believe you can do better for your students, believe they need better, and believe learning lives and happens with the student first.

Every building is working towards creating and implementing their vision of a Thinking Classroom and what it looks like, sounds like, and feels like. By creating a strong foundation around instruction, the coming work of content Standards transition, new state assessments, and other external factors will fall into place as a part of the work we are already doing, rather than yet another thing to do.

The world is changing faster everyday. What worked in school for our parents and worked for us will no longer work for our own children and students. What will work for them most likely won’t work for their children. As educators and an educational system, we must become agile, flexible and quicker to respond to change. Not for us, but for them. They will be forever shaped by our actions today.

Are you ready? Have you made the mind shift yet? Have you convinced your colleagues?


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Note-Taking Shouldn’t Be Just “Copy the PowerPoint”

A big thanks to Val McElhinney for sharing this link (via Rob Behrens, PVHS science teacher) that provided the topic of this week’s post. Here are her comments: “I absolutely love the first paragraph and feel like the whole blog connects to the “Thinking Classroom” focus we have.¬† I also love this last sentence, “I only want to challenge teachers to think about how they really want to spend their precious time with their students.”

Copying Notes from a PowerPoint – Not Enough

When you think about the ideas of the Thinking Classroom, one of the guiding concepts is that “facts are free” and students can access them instantly from their phone or tablet. Learning needs to be about applying facts, or knowledge, in a new setting or authentic purpose. This leads one to wonder about the use of the age-old classroom tradition of note-taking.

In this recent blog post by Susan Lucille Davis–Why We Need a Moratorium on Meaningless Note-Taking–the author shares her “distaste for mind-numing note taking sessions”.¬† Her thoughts about what makes note-taking effective:

  • Note-taking should have an authentic purpose.
  • Note-taking should be the beginning, not the end, of knowledge curation.
  • Note-taking should be interactive and absorb multiple formats.
  • Note-taking should be shared.

Referenced in the post is a new study released January 9th by the Association of Psychological Science on learning techniques. Here is another article referencing the same report, with another take: Highlighting Is a Waste of Time: The Best and Worst Learning Techniques.

Our take from skimming the report, is that ultimately, passive techniques aren’t the most effective for students in creating meaningful learning. Active learning, requiring students to interact with information rather than just copy or memorize, is a best practice, and we all know it. Isn’t that one of the hallmarks of the Thinking Classroom?

Today’s “Strategy Spark”

Here are some suggested active learning techniques from Virginia Commonwealth University you might want to check out.


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Guest Post: Beyond Rote Learning

rotelearningHere is another example proving the work we are doing in 27J around instruction and student thinking will lead the way.

A¬†blog post by @HeatherHiles, titled Moving Beyond Rote Learning¬†appeared in the “Twitterverse” that seems to describe¬†a vision very similar to¬†our own work¬†on Thinking Classrooms.¬†Here’s a few excerpts:

…a national consensus is forming around the idea that in order to fix education in America, we‚Äôve got to move beyond the bubble test. Learning by rote must be replaced by something more effective. Memorization must be thrown out in favor of deeper learning ‚Äď cognition and metacognition.

Such changes begin when teachers are allowed to move beyond teaching to the test and toward more effective learn-by-doing methods. Change is also possible when we start to understand that each child is unique and learns in his or her own way and time.

She references an example public school system from Union City, New Jersey. Her additional comment rings true:

Helping students to not only hear and memorize concepts, but to actually apply them in the real world‚ÄĒthat‚Äôs where the magic happens. When students bring the evidence of having applied what they learn into the classroom, something deeper than memorization has occurred. Knowledge has been acquired.

NOTE: She does use the blog post to promote her company, and just for clarification, we are not endorsing the product or company in any way. Simply liked her words and viewpoint on classroom work and wanted to share!

At a Student Achievement meeting today, there were lots of celebrations around the room of great work and transformations happening in classrooms in our district, from Preschool all the way to high school. We feel humbled and honored to be part of such a great movement and wave of meaningful change. It is happening every day because the work YOU DO to make our kids think and grow.

Carry on!!

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‚Äôs content knowledge is an¬†offshoot¬†of successful¬†ongoing¬†learning in a changing world ‚Äď in which ‚Äėlearning‚Äô means ‚Äėlearning to perform in the world.‚Äô

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 ‚Äėknowledge‚Äô; 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 ‚Äď about rules, strategy, and technique ‚Äď 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 ‚Äď 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 ‚Äď even more puzzling ‚Äď 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 ‚Äď 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 ‚Äď 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 ‚Äúplug and chug‚ÄĚ?

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A Day with Planning, Standards and Thinking Classrooms

This week the Student Achievement team met with¬†a cohort of district teachers, literacy coaches and administrators to continue the work they started last year. The work centered around the three “stages” of backward¬†unit planning–The Big Idea, Assessment Evidence, and Daily Instruction–based on the Understanding By Design principles.

The question of the day was “Why the Thinking Classroom?” Attendees had several opportunities to answer this question within the frame of one of the three stages. Here are some of the responses and comments¬†–

“…to teach the skills and processes to access the content”

“…to instill inquisitiveness in our students”

“…It hurts to think, especially when you are asked to do things you haven’t been asked before”

“…innovation needs space to breathe”

“…why wouldn’t we want thinking classrooms?”

To facilitate our work and our thinking about this question, we used several videos as “thought jump-starts”. Check them out and then share your answer to the question.

Above and Beyond
Above & Beyond is a story about what is possible when communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity take center stage in schools and transform learning opportunities for all kids.

Tedx Talk: How to Learn from Mistakes
Diana Laufenberg, a teacher in Philadelphia, shares surprising things she has learned about teaching — including a key insight about learning from mistakes and the history around where knowledge is stored.

The Formative Principles of the Common Core Standards
Phil Daro, a mathematics expert who helped author the national Common Core Standards, talks about what the new standards are, and what they are not. Our work is starting with instruction in the classroom, and we will be spending more time in the upcoming year delving more into standards, including Common Core, Colorado Academic, WIDA and others.

Seinfeld Teaches History
In this classic Saturday Night Live skit, Jerry Seinfeld plays a teacher trying to get his students to “Think History”. It is an entertaining reminder that the mindshift of teaching in a Thinking Classroom is not only hard for teachers, but hard for students as well.

Add you Comments and share your answer to the question: “Why the Thinking Classroom?”
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