How to Teach Critical Thinking: A Summary’s Summary

Critical Thinking Can Be Taught

1. Teach strategies and principals and integrate those principals into your teaching

Teaching Critical Thinking for General Transfer

1. Transfer is only possible when there is a relationship between topics.
-Ex: Writing a paragraph will not improve your ability to use a shading technique in drawing
2. Even seemingly related topics do not always allow for transfer.
-Ex: Estimating the area of rectangles does not improve ability to estimate the area of other geometric shapes
3. Teaching general critical thinking skills leads to limited success

Transfer And The Nature Of Critical Thinking

1. Critical thinking is not a generalizable skill because “analyze, synthesize, and evaluate” mean different things in different disciplines
2. Goals for critical thinking must be domain specific
3. There are some logic rules that transfer across domains, but students will struggle to apply them to new, unfamiliar domains

Critical Thinking As Problem Recognition

1. Challenges to transferring knowledge: Deep and Surface Structure
-Deep structures: Deep structures are often abstract and difficult to understand. Understanding the deep structure requires many examples (rich knowledge of surface structure)
-Surface structures
2. Speed recognition of deep structure
-problem comparison (2 worked examples with differing surface structure and the same deep structure)
-Teach the sub-steps of a process (label the sub-steps) to make knowledge more flexible

Open-Ended Problems And Knowledge

1. Critical thinking for routine and open-ended problems relies on extensive stores of domain knowledge.
2. Knowledge helps by…
-Improving the recognition process
-Allowing working memory to treat disparate groups as pieces of a single unit. (Frees up space in your working memory)
-Enabling you to deploy thinking strategies
3. Even experts struggle to think critically outside of their domain of expertise!

How To Teach Students To Think Critically (4 Steps)

1. Identify what is meant by critical thinking in your domain. Be specific.(Think like a scientist is not a helpful goal.) Identify what tasks would demonstrate critical thinking. Explicitly teach and have students deliberately practice said tasks.
2. Identify the domain content students must know. Identify the knowledge students need to successfully complete the tasks in step 1. This will involve uncomfortable, but necessary trade-offs. We interpret new information in light of what we know.
3. Choose the best sequence to learn the skills and knowledge.
4. Decide which skills and what knowledge should be revisited across years

Link to Article

How to Teach Critical Thinking

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Teaching The Scientific Method: Hypothesis

If you teach primary science, you will inevitably find yourself teaching the scientific method.2013-updated_scientific-method-steps_v6

  1. Asking A Question
  2. Background Research/Knowledge
  3. Hypothesis
  4. Design Experiment
  5. Test and Retest
  6. Analyze Data
  7. Draw Conclusions
  8. Communicate Results

In order to teach students how to write a hypothesis, you must first give them background knowledge. This is imperative. Elementary students are, by definition studying elementary topics, even top students will have a relatively low level of background knowledge.

In short, you must plan out what your students will need to know before they begin a lab. What background knowledge do they need? How will you make sure they know it before the lab?

 After your students have made observations and obtained the necessary background knowledge, they can begin working on their hypothesis.

Hypothesis: An idea that helps you learn about the world that is testable and repeatable

I start by teaching what testable and repeatable are by using a seemingly ridiculous hypothesis. “If I let go of this pen, then it will go up because of the force of gravity.”

Students think it is funny because the hypothesis is obviously wrong. And I want them to know it is wrong! So I repeat the phrase, and let the pen go to test my hypothesis. Next, I ask my students what happened. Finally I repeat the hypothesis and experiment.

Then I ask, “Was the hypothesis testable?” and “Could I repeat the experiment?” And I follow that with, “Was my hypothesis correct?” 

This leads to something many students find counterintuitive. A hypothesis can be both valid and wrong. Over the course of a school year, I will repeatedly ask my students if a hypothesis can be wrong and be valid because it is important.

Writing A Hypothesis

Then, when we begin working on writing hypotheses. I teach my students to use the “If….Then…Because…” format. I always keep the format the same. This makes the scientific method easier to learn because this step is never changes and makes it easier for students to focus on the science content.

The Variables

Next, I teach my students about variables by writing the definitions and linking them to my hypothesis and the If, Then, Because format.

Independent variable: The variable you change
The ‘If’ statement identifies the independent variable/s (what the student changes).
Letting go of the pen is the independent variable.

Dependent variable: The variable you measure
The ‘Then’ statement identifies the dependent variable/s (what the student measures).
What happens to the pen is the dependent variable.

Next we go over the control variable.
Control variable: What you must keep the same
The height and force that the pen is let go with must be the same in every trial of the experiment.

The Reason

The ‘Because’ statement identifies the proposed reason “something” will happen. This should be based on their background knowledge that you have already taught them.
The force of gravity is the proposed reason.

Putting It All Together

The ‘If’ statement identifies the independent variable/s (what the student changes).
The ‘Then’ statement identifies the dependent variable/s (what the student measures).
The ‘Because’ statement identifies the proposed reason “something” will happen.

What I do in the next class is to have students practice identifying variables in various experiments. Generally, elementary students will be better at identifying control variables than discriminating between independent and dependent variables. That is fine. Expect them to struggle initially and give them regular practice. They will improve. You will improve in your explanations and examples too! Hypotheses are tricky. Work at them and practice it with your students.

Research Apértif: Retrieval Practice, with or without Mind Mapping, Boosts Fact Learning in Primary School Children

According to dictionary.com, an apértif is a small drink of alcoholic liqueur taken to stimulate the appetite before a meal. This research apértif is likewise designed to stimulate your mind’s appetite.

If you enjoy the appetizer, click-through at the bottom of the page for the main course!

Background Research/Lit Review

1. Most experimental evidence for retrieval practice is with adults. Most studies with children have been with children aged 11 and up.
2. Retrieval practice can be effectively incorporated into the curriculum w/ low/no-stakes quizzing . Retrieval practice has been shown to be beneficial for 6th grade students (aged 11-12) performance on delayed exams.
3. retrieval practice has been shown to be effective w/ children aged 6-14 for learning nonsense syllables and biographical material.
4. Retrieval Practice helps with learning fictional map locations compared to ‘study only’ in children aged 9-11
5. Concept mapping can be combined with retrieval practice for better results than concept mapping or retrieval practice alone (undergraduate students)


Experiment Setup

1. Students aged 8-12
2. Used simple mind mapping
3. Cross-factorial design to test effects of retrieval practice and mind mapping and their combination
Experiment 1
1. 109 students
2. The number of facts recorded in the learning phase was significantly related to the final test score
3. Retrieval practice group recalled more facts than the non-retrieval practice group.
4. Mind maps did not improve results for retrieval practice group. But mind maps did improve results for non-retrieval practice group


Experiment 1 Discussion

1. Retrieval practice effect is reliably found in elementary school children
2. Children in retrieval practice group had significantly higher recall after 4 days than the non-retrieval practice group
3. Mind mapping is more effective than note-taking, but less effective compared to retrieval practice. And mind mapping does not improve retrieval practice in elementary aged students.


Experiment 2 Setup (replication of experiment 1)

1. 209 students aged 8-12
2. shorter learning phase, interval between learning and testing phase=1 week
3. Final test after 5 weeks to assess longer-term outcomes


Experiment 2

1. Retrieval practice group recalled significantly more facts than the non-retrieval practice group
2. Retrieval practice alone was more effective than retrieval practice with mind mapping and mind mapping alone after both 1 week and 5 weeks


Experiment 2 Discussion

1. Elementary teachers would benefit their students by including retrieval practice in the curriculum.
2. Retrieval practice improves elementary student fact recall better than mind mapping
3. Mind mapping with retrieval practice does not improve learning in elementary students
4. Retrieval practice groups recalled 8.5% more facts than the non-retrieval group on the final assessment 5 weeks later

Link to Article

Retrieval Practice, with or without Mind Mapping, Boosts Fact Learning in Primary School Children

Citation

Ritchie SJ, Della Sala S, McIntosh RD (2013) Retrieval practice, with or without mind mapping, boosts fact learning in primary school children. PLoS ONE 8(11): e78976.

Research Apértif: Guided Retrieval Practice of Educational Materials Using Automated Scoring

According to dictionary.com, an apértif is a small drink of alcoholic liqueur taken to stimulate the appetite before a meal. This research apértif is likewise designed to stimulate your mind’s appetite.

If you enjoy the appetizer, click-through at the bottom of the page for the main course!

Background Research/Lit Review

1. Retrieval practice improves long-term simple learning (lists, word pairs) and long-term complex learning (concepts, inferential questions).
2. Retrieval practice improves performance on conceptual and inferential questions.
3. Retrieving an item successfully just two times produces large gains in long-term memory.
4. Low-stakes quizzing (retrieval practice) in/out of the classroom can improve performance.
5. Effectiveness of retrieval practice outside of the classroom depends on students’ ability to monitor and regulate their own learning. Students struggle to regulate their own learning!
6. Students are unaware of retrieval practice’s benefits.
7. Students do not choose repeated retrieval.
8. When students choose to study with retrieval practice, they cannot accurately assess if their answer is right or wrong. (They believe they retrieved a correct answer even when it was false!)

Experiments and Findings

1. Authors created QuickScore to automatically, objectively grade retrieval practice on human anatomy.
2. Experiments examined the effects of repeated study vs repeated retrieval.
3. Final test given after 2 days.
4. 68 Purdue undergraduate students participated.

Experiment 1a and 1b Findings

1. Performance topped off after 4th session for both repeated study and repeated retrieval (initial learning is ~the same rate)
2. For the final test (after 2 days), in both experiments, students in the repeated retrieval condition (70% correct) outperformed those in the repeated study condition (55% correct).
3. False negatives (wrongly marked incorrect by QuickScore) increased learning because it resulted in additional exposure & retrieval chances.
4. QuickScore is significantly better at assessing student performance than students themselves are.

Link to Article

Guided Retrieval Practice of Educational Materials Using Automated Scoring

Citation

Grimaldi, P. J., & Karpicke, J. D. (2013, June 24). Guided Retrieval Practice of Educational Materials Using Automated Scoring. Journal of Educational Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0033208

Research Apértif: Practice Tests, Spaced Practice, & Successive Relearning

According to dictionary.com, an apértif is a small drink of alcoholic liqueur taken to stimulate the appetite before a meal. This research apértif is likewise designed to stimulate your mind’s appetite.

If you enjoy the appetizer, click-through at the bottom of the page for the main course!

Lit Review

1. Summary of 10 learning techniques
2. Self-explanation and elaborative interrogation hold promise, but need more classroom evidence
3. Interleaving is gaining evidence as an effective learning strategy

Most Effective

1. Spaced Practice and Practice Testing: Both have been proven in the classroom and work well for a variety of content, student ages, and student abilities
2. Successive Relearning: Combines practice testing with spaced practice across multiple sessions.

Using Practice Testing and Spacing While Teaching

1. Practice tests with feedback increase student performance, improves meta-cognition, and increases student ability to transfer what they ahve learned.
2. Regular practice testing and reduce test anxiety
3. Successive Relearning has been found to increase test performance by around 10% and increases long-term retention for months

Link To Article

Practice Tests, Spaced Practice, and Successive Relearning: Tips for Classroom Use and for Guiding Students’ Learning

Citation

Dunlosky, J., & Rawson, K. A. (2015). Practice tests, spaced practice, and successive relearning: Tips for classroom use and for guiding students’ learning. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 1(1), 72-78. doi:10.1037/stl0000024

Teaching The Scientific Method: Background Research/Knowledge

If you teach primary science, you will inevitably find yourself teaching the scientific method.2013-updated_scientific-method-steps_v6

  1. Asking A Question
  2. Background Research/Knowledge
  3. Hypothesis
  4. Design Experiment
  5. Test and Retest
  6. Analyze Data
  7. Draw Conclusions
  8. Communicate Results

Background research is the cornerstone of any experiment, even in elementary school because your students will use their background knowledge to come up with their hypothesis.

The best way to develop background knowledge is to teach with the science of learning in mind. If you are new to this and want more information, Anita Archer and Retrieval Practice both have some excellent resources and can walk you through how to apply the science of learning to your teaching.

Background Research/Knowledge

Before planning a lab it is helpful to start with some questions.

  1. What content knowledge will my students need in order to perform the lab?
  2. What procedural knowledge will my students need in order to perform the lab?

And the all important follow up, “How will I know my students have that knowledge?”

Content Knowledge

The first question will always depend on what type of lab you are doing, because different labs require different knowledge. 

For example, pretend for a moment that you are planning common elementary lab on rates of plant growth.

Before beginning the lab, your students should at minimum know…

  1. The basic anatomy of a plant (roots, stem, leaves, flower, petal, etc)
  2. How a plant gets nutrients (roots and soil)
  3. How a plant makes food (photosynthesis)

How will you ensure that you students know this? Test it first! Now, you do not need to create a test, the point is that you must assess your students understanding of this knowledge in some way. It would be best if your students do not have access to a neighbor, their book, or notes during this assessment. The purpose of these limitations is to help you accurately assess your students. Do they actually know it? Note: The assessment does not need to be for a grade. No-stakes assessments can be very strategic!

Ideally you will have enough time to reteach information to correct misconceptions but that will not always be possible.

Procedural Knowledge

Procedural Knowledge: knowing how to do something

First, this type of knowledge is often difficult for students to grasp because it is not by itself. You always map the content knowledge onto the procedural knowledge. 

With procedural knowledge, I think there are two main questions:

Do I want my students to learn what happens? Do I want my students to know how to set up and perform the experiment along with learning what happens?

Your students will need to have the procedural knowledge to make observations and record data. This will seem simple to you, but it is not for them, remember, you are an elementary science teacher. Review with your students. A great way to review is to use physical objects and have students make observations together. Monitor their responses. You will need to check to make sure they are scientific observations, not opinions or inferences.

In many elementary experiments, gathering data is straightforward. However, you still need to teach it. Anyone who has ever watched a group of elementary students measure distance, weight, volume, or temperature knows that it isn’t second nature for our students.

We should explicitly explain how to take measurements and model it. Give multiple, short in class assignments where students take different types of measurements depending on what your experiment will be. After all, if they gather bad data, how will they be able to trust the experiment’s results?

As far as designing the actual experiment, it can be a smart choice to reduce the level of procedural knowledge needed. 

For example, instead of having your students set up an experiment and plan the steps, you can provide them with the set up and steps.

“Ok class, we have three pea plants that are in the same type of soil with the same amount of water, the only difference is their location. One will be in full sunlight, one will be in half sunlight, and the other will be in the dark.”

Doing this allows your students to focus on applying their content knowledge. It greatly reduces their cognitive load, and increases the chances of them learning from their hypothesis. However, you obviously do not want to keep your students here, dependent on their teacher to perform an experiment. The solution is to explain why each plant has the same soil and water. And then to explain why you are only changing the amount of sunlight.

Then, as the year goes on, have your students design more and more of the experiment. Small assignments where students are given part of a hypothetical experiment can be very helpful. Your students will read the available information and then finish the designing the experiment. The gives them practice, and then you can give them feedback!

Procedural knowledge must be tested too! If your students do not have it, they have no hope of a successful experiment. So, assess it!

Background knowledge is key. We must teach and ensure that our students have both the content and procedural knowledge that our lab demands. If we do this, then our students will learn more, labs will be less stressful, and I have found that students have more fun if they know what and why they are doing something.

Give them knowledge, make fun possible!

Research Apértif: Across Domain Transfer

According to dictionary.com, an apértif is a small drink of alcoholic liqueur taken to stimulate the appetite before a meal. This research apértif is likewise designed to stimulate your mind’s appetite.

If you enjoy the appetizer, click-through at the bottom of the page for the main course!

Background Research/Lit Review

1. Productive Failure (PF) process: Exploration and Generation (activate prior knowledge), Consolidation and Knowledge Assembly
2. Learning about complex systems with computer models can help students learn complex systems principles and transfer their knowledge
3. Far across domain transfer can be encouraged by allowing two scenarios to be seen as embodying the same principal (lab only, so far)

Study

1. Female 9th grade students at a high-achieving all girls school in Australia used computers to understand climate change
2. Study was conducted in 6 class periods of 80 minutes
3. One group used a single climate model and wrote down the “key ideas”
4. the other group used two models (one climate model and one non-climate model w/ similar deep structure) to compare/contrast

Findings

1. Both groups improved in declarative and explanatory knowledge
2. Students taught by an expert teacher w/ high content knowledge showed significantly higher complex systems knowledge
3. Students taught by an expert teacher showed higher performance for near within domain transfer
4. Performance for the one model group were more dependent on the quality of the teacher
5. Two model group showed better far transfer regardless of teacher expertise

Implications

1. Prior knowledge activation and differentiation may give students more chances to practice and encode critical info for the studied concept
2. Highly contrasting models may activate more prior knowledge (of structural and surface features) allowing for more connections between prior and new knowledge (creating a more integrated schema, making schema abstraction more likely)
3. It is most effective to use maximally contrasting models, w/ same deep structure along w/ explicit teach instruction about the shared deep structures of each model

Link to Article

Schema Abstraction WIth Productive Failure And Anological Comparison: Learning Desings For Far Across Domain Transfer (Free for ~50 days)

Citation

Jacobson, M. J., Goldwater, M., Markauskaite, L., Lai, P. K., Kapur, M., Roberts, G., & Hilton, C. (2020). Schema abstraction with productive failure and analogical comparison: Learning designs for far across domain transfer. Learning and Instruction,65, 101222. doi:10.1016/j.learninstruc.2019.101222