EnFORCING Actual Thinking: 200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 minutes

February 17, 2012 at 4:14 PM 1 comment

Have you seen “200 years, 200 Countries, 4 minutes” and the accompanying, glorious graphing site to educate 8th graders about public health, energy and the economy? It’s by Hans Rosling, a Swedish professor of statistics. If you are nerds like Krissy and me, you will LOVE it. Enough said.

The trend toward health and wealth over the past two hundred years is profoundly hopeful. Well, except for a few countries – don’t move to the Congo or Afghanistan any time soon. Dubai, and Qatar are tops for wealth, and there was a huge ‘bounce’ at the first world war and the 1918 flu epidemic. My students were clearly fascinated too, and mostly understood what was going on, according to their answers on their sheet: 4.200 years 200 Countries, Oil, Initial Research.

Then we asked them to ‘play’ with the interactive graphs on Prof. Rosling’s site http://gapminder.org and find out some more interesting trends. Much less well done, in fact, pretty frustrating. Sad again, that the instruction to play, was not seized upon. They know how to fiddle with software to get it going, how to figure out complex, new video games, so they have the skills but not the motivation to try this.

Vague answers, repetitive or circular answers. Kids frantically copying something, anything to fill in the blank spaces in case I was just looking for writing only. The open-ended questions on their sheet above, mislead them into thinking it was easy.

As their teacher, I have options:

1: Get frustrated and scold them for being lazy idiots. Tempting.

2: Just give bad grades and let them put THAT in their hats.

3: Sigh, be a grown up and COACH each student in what’s expected. Give the exact grade they deserve and tell them I know they can do better so that’s why I’m marking them hard. Like that’s a good thing (which it sort of is). Smile and send them back to their seat.

I’m having to tighten up in the last half of the year as they get all antsy for summer. Grading more stuff, entering it right away on the online PowerSchool and, cruelest of all, e mailing parents when grades drop below a C-.

The new Common Core Standards will increase the emphasis on critical thinking and this kind of activity is so spot-on. I have to find a way to push and pull them to meet the challenge. Not quite there yet. Will the coaching pay off with better stuff tomorrow?

Oh, I forgot, it’s also Valentine’s Day. I think maybe that might have been uppermost in their thoughts today. Ahh, Adrian, my middle school heart throb, where are you now? (A pilot for BA, as it turns out 🙂

Post Script: So the next homework due yesterday was in fact, significantly better done. I’m awfully relieved. Not surrounded by idiots after all, just kids who like to have someone pay attention to them and give focused, individual feedback.


Entry filed under: Assessment and grading, Class Management, Creativity, Critical Thinking, Curiosity, Data Analysis, Education Psychology, Energy Opportunities Project, Environmental Education, Inquiry and critical thinking. Tags: , , , , , , .

Socrates Cafe “How do you feel about the future?” Concise Climate Change, for a Change

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Gina  |  March 7, 2012 at 10:47 AM

    I appreciated the link to your blog that you left on Edutopia (here: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/critical-thinking-necessary-skill-g-randy-kasten#comment-102919). So glad to be brought here. I thought I’d say thanks here, too, for your point about giving kids focused, individual feedback, especially in the context of teaching critical thinking. It can be too tempting (as you mentioned) to get frustrated when they take the superficial route, and scold them for laziness (which could just end up silencing them from sharing any further attempts at critical thinking). On the other hand, a little coaching can go a long way toward making the skill one they enjoy using.



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