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While the idea of teaching critical thinking has been bandied around in education circles since at least the time of John Dewey, it has taken greater prominence in the education debates with the advent of the term "21st century skills" and discussions of deeper learning.
Meaning that a student cannot think critically if they don't have something substantive about which to think. Students do need a robust foundation of core content knowledge to effectively think critically.
Schools still have a responsibility for building students' content knowledge.
Very quickly classes learn which students are the talkers and non-talkers.
Once those roles are locked in – it’s very difficult for student for break out of them.
So I didn’t waste the opening week of school introducing the course – my students solved murder mysteries.
I took simplified mysteries and split them into 25-30 clues, each on a single strip of paper. I used a random count off to get the kids away from their buddies and into groups of 5-6 students.
Each of the pieces of paper I am holding contains one clue that will help you solve a mystery.
If you put all the facts together, you will be able to solve the mystery.
As my teaching style evolved from the lecture / work sheet model into a more engaged learning environment, I redefined how I wanted to introduce my students to my course.
I also came to understand that it was imperative that I get all my students to contribute a few comments to the class during those first few days.