Monday, February 1, 2010

Critical Thinking in The 21st Century Classroom

Teachers have the responsibility of giving students the skills they will need to thrive in the world after graduation. Historically, these skills revolved around reading, writing, and arithmetic. Organizations like The Partnership for 21st Century skills are urging educators to meld those important core competencies with the essential 4 C’s (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation).

As Dr. Peter Facione more eloquently put it, “Education is nothing more, nor less, than learning to think!” In the 21st century, we are inundated with information coming at us from a multitude of sources. There are emails telling us of new scams to avoid. Our GPS tells us where the traffic is and the best alternate route. Great new apps on our phones let us keep up with friends we hardly remember on facebook, while we learn of all the latest current events in the world wherever we have cell phone coverage! If we are feeling bored, we can play a few games on our handheld video game systems. Our exercises are tracked by little chips in our shoes that report to our ipods and to an online site. There is hardly a time in the day when we are not finding and sending information through one type of technology or another. With all this information around us, it is important for our students to learn to use it wisely. Critical thinking will prove to be a key 21st century skill for successful members of our society.

The internet is a major source of information for students and teachers. We can learn about almost any subject we can think of just by typing it into the search bar of our computer. We need our students to be able to look at this information critically and separate fact from fiction. What good is a huge bank of knowledge when a student has not been trained how to deal with that knowledge effectively?

We can teach our students to use the internet effectively and to use critical thinking skills at a very young age. If students grow up understanding how to decipher fact from fiction on the internet, it will be second nature for them to use this lifelong tool. Joann’s Picks this week are great activities designed for students to practice using internet research. The topics of the activities can be tweaked to fit into many different subject areas. There are also some neat enrichment activities for younger students here that teach students how to use critical thinking in their every day lives.  If students can think for themselves, the knowledge they gain in school will be much more useful in their lives.

After teaching internet skills in your classroom, your students will be able to do self-directed internet research projects. These activities can allow students the freedom to choose their own topics, within your boundaries. That seems to be really fun for them, since they don’t always have control over what they are learning. The students are discovering new things for themselves, a great way to make the learning stick! If they do a creative presentation at the end of the project, they will learn even more by teaching the rest of the class. If you really let them be creative in their presentations, they can be a lot of fun to watch, too. I have even had each student make up a few questions covering their material to include in a quiz at the end of the presentations.

We are currently in the process of adding more wonderful resources to the Gateway, so keep checking back. Do you teach internet research or critical thinking skills in your classroom? We would love to hear your success stories. Our goal to create thinkers for tomorrow starts with great ideas to teach these important concepts today.

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