Category Archives: critical thinking

The purpose of standardized tests

It was explained to me that the purpose of standardized tests is to measure a student’s level of retention of material.

I don’t disagree with this statement, but it shines a light on the fundamental problem and philosophy of standardized tests.  By default, this assessments can’t require critical thinking or problem solving, and the primary skill a student needs to be successful is a strong memory.

Last year, a former student would use my room during lunch to tutor students in other classes.  One day, he was trying to explain how to solve a particularly difficult math problem.  One of the students in the group turned to him and asked him how he could possibly understand how to do this when no one else in the class did.  He said that when he was in my class, I had the students watch videos that explained topics in the class.  Whenever he doesn’t understand what his other teachers are saying, he just goes on the Internet and finds other resources that explain it in a way he understands.

To all my students who read this blog:  I am not preparing you to win at Chemistry Jeopardy.  Hopefully,
during our time together, I will help you develop the skills to solve problems creatively and, if nothing else, learn how to find the answers you seek.

Winning at Jeopardy doesn’t prove you are smart.

Creating the show Jeopardy does.


Keep kids busy or they might start thinking

While reading Teacher Man, Frank McCourt makes the comment “Keep kids busy or they might start thinking.”  He is talking about how too many teachers are just assigning work, yet they have little meaning for the students and rarely makes them think.

I had a conversation with a former supervisor over mandating summer assignments in all Honors science classes. The reason he gave me was: 1) we need to reduce the number of students who are dropping out of the honors program after school starts; this will hopefully scare a few of them off, 2) we need to provide assignments that keep the kids busy for the summer, and 3) we need to eliminate the summer slide that so many of them experience.  You can imagine my reaction.

Now, I am not opposed to summer assignments, but the kids need to find meaning in them.  Give them articles to read and perform research on or give them experiments to do in their kitchen so they can explain the science behind them (or food is always a great experiment) or let them pick their own book to read to demonstrate their understanding of theme or character development.  Don’t give them copies of a textbook (which is what came out of my colleagues) and have them mindlessly complete exercises.  If the teachers don’t want to grade it because it is so boring, what makes you think the students will want to do it?

One of my goals this year (a formal list will be coming later this week) is to have the students develop 1 assignment in each unit.  I will give them the requirements and the learning objectives and let them run with it.  If one of my classroom rules is going to be “Think Critically” then I need to give my students the opportunity to do so.

Am I wrong?

That’s the way we’ve always done it

I hope you cringe at this phrase as much as I do.  The problem is, I think I am starting to become that person.  I have procedures, activities, labs, assignments that I love to do and believe they are meaningful for my students.  However, as the last year of teaching has taught me, sometimes you need to just change, to reinvent what you are doing.  

So, I have decided to make massive changes this year starting with my classroom rules.  For the past 5 years my rules have been:
1.  Be Respectful
2.  Be On Time
3.  Be Prepared
4.  Be Safe
While this is a pretty concise list, I realized that I circumvent most of them.  I allow my students to be slightly late for class because if I send them back to their previous teacher for a pass they are going to miss valuable parts of instruction.  I also keep my room stocked with pens, pencils, paper, etc. just in case they happen to forget their supplies.  After all, they are kids and there is no way I should punish them for forgetting a simple writing utensil.  The biggest problem is that these rules are no longer meaningful to me.  I rarely refer to them and they just collect dust on my bulletin board.
I wanted to make a list that was better aligned to my new goals and philosophy of education; a list that was less about procedural rules and more about being a better person.  Below is my tentative list:
1.  Be Respectful
2.  Take Initiative
3.  Be a Critical Thinker
4.  Dare to Fail
When I look at this list I don’t see rules that incur punishments when disobeyed.  These are more about common sense and making sure you are the best person you can be.