This is the fifth post of an eight-part series about classroom activities that will help raise student engagement and create awesome learning experiences for kids! Check out other posts within this series: Making Connections, Reflect, Curiosity and Learning: An Explorer's Guide, and Producing the Future.
The Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz taught us that, even if at times we don’t believe it, we are all capable of deep and rational thought. The irony in the Scarecrow’s story, of course, was that his deepest desire to get a brain turned out to be an unnecessary one. He was the most analytical and deep thinking leader of the group. His travel with Dorothy and the crew put him in a position to lead, solve relevant problems, and build confidence. You see, the Scarecrow had a brain all along, and he was thinking all along. He just needed the opportunities to show himself that he could do it.
Our students are Scarecrows. For a teacher, every child is full of potential and capable of great things. In order to unlock that potential, we have to cut them down from the perch. Let’s get them out of the cornfield so that they can show themselves they are capable of thought. We don’t have to teach kids to think. They do that as naturally as breathing. However, we do have to give them the OPPORTUNITY to think, not just memorize facts and equations. The important part is that we need to have students thinking about the right things. The way we build lessons can help them hone skills they already have, and put them in situations that allow them to lead, solve relevant problems, and build confidence. Just like the Scarecrow.
How much of what we do in our classrooms equates to real, deep thought? Firing synapses don’t equate to thinking. Opportunities for students to think deeply should be challenging and force them to put important pieces of information together in order to make original thoughts and support them. The Scarecrow solved problems and took action, but most of all he used his brain. We can help our students do the same by providing them with opportunities to think. Teachers can create more of these opportunities by investigating problems that don’t have one solution. The best learning opportunities usually leave students with more questions than answers. These questions can then be debated and discussed. Those debates require students to form original solutions and support their claims. Here are some ways to get kids to think:
Investigate questions that don’t necessarily have one right answer.
Students that don’t have problems…don’t have motivation to learn. The problem with not having a problem is that there is no need for students to access what they already know in order to connect previous knowledge with new learning. Thinking is about an internal process that needs to be sparked by external circumstances. Teachers should be creating activities that peak curiosity. Thinking is most closely tied to questioning, so by creating great essential questions for each lesson a teacher can help students begin the investigating a solution. The ASCD has some excellent advice for how to create powerful essential questions. Every unit and lesson should start with how students can mine their own information surrounding the themes in an essential question.
Students generate questions that help to drive their problem-solving processes.
The television show Lost was famous for leaving viewers with more questions than answers after every episode. The internet was full of discussion and speculation at the end of each show. Can you imagine if our students were like this after every lesson? It’s okay to leave students wondering about new material once the period ends. Require students to think about the material through questioning. However, don’t expect them to formulate powerful questions without help. A poorly designed lesson will result in poor student questioning. Engagement and excitement results in powerful questions. Want a great example? Check out Dan Meyer’s 101 Questions site. He uses video and images as a way to get students thinking about math concepts and asking questions.
Formulate original thoughts and solutions, then convince others of the position.
The questions students generate should be discussed with others. This process helps kids to understand what questions are important to a solution or argument and which ones are not. Healthy discussion also forces the problem solver to convince others that their original idea is worth further pursuit. Creativity plays an important part in this process. Students could use infographics or digital storytelling as a way to present their ideas to other students. These items become visual support for their thought processes and need to be supported by research and synthesis. In order to create, a student has to be thinking.
We know our kids have brains, and we know they can think. Giving them the opportunity to flex their brain in the classroom is critical to their future and ours. Handing out answers and study guides for memorization doesn’t encourage thinking. It’s time to start treating our students like leaders and decision makers. Let’s shoo away the crows, cut them down off their poles, and join them in their journey to becoming great thinkers. All we need to do is stand back and give them the opportunity to solve our problems.
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