Saturday, 11 April 2015

Fostering Critical and Creative Thinking Skills with Technology

A kindergarten student said something to me the other week that really hit home for me. He told me he wanted to be in my class when he was older. I smiled and asked him if it’s because I'm a funny teacher (all the kindergarten students think I'm very funny).

"No, I want to be in your class because you're the technology teacher."

I smiled at him, but this statement bothered me. It bothered me because I believe technology is an important part of my teaching practice, but technology is just a tool. It is a means to an end. An interesting, fun, and engaging means to an end, but still a means to an end.

Technology is a tool that allows me to foster critical and creative thinking skills in my students. It certainly isn't the only way to develop the skills, but it allows for a lot of interesting opportunities, and ways to engage both skill sets. While critical thinking has been a key component in my class for several years, I was beginning to see that creative thinking skills were equally important as well.

In the past couple of years Google 20% Time, or Genius Hour, started to become an important concept for me.I saw the value in student choice, and wanted to give more opportunities to my students to have control over their own learning. When students are given choice in what they learn, and how they share it, their creativity becomes a bigger part of the process.

Just to clarify what I am talking about, here is how I see critical, and creative thinking:

Critical Thinking
In order to have students think critically about something, they need to be challenged with tasks that have more than one choice. Instead of telling them what is right, or correct they must make their own decisions. We help them to move away from bias, and to be more objective in their decision making process by applying agreed upon criteria to the process.

Creative Thinking
In order for students to have the opportunity to think creatively we have to give them more freedom. Time to play, and tinker with new concepts and tools is essential. As they figure things out they share with each other, collectively the class figures out new ways to build, design, and modify existing ideas and concepts. This "play time" allows them to properly understand the tool, or concept they are learning about.

As I started to give my students more opportunities to choose what they were learning, or how they were expressing it, I began to realize that creative thinking skills were a whole separate spectrum that wasn't being addressed by the critical thinking strategies I had formerly learned. As I watch students take ideas, or tools and flip them from their traditional use and create something new I realized that both critical and creative thinking skills were crucial parts of the learning process.

What happened next was that the creativity fostered by the hour a day where students were allowed to make their own choices in how, and what they learned bled over into the rest of the day. No longer was there one way to show their learning. 

In a recent lesson we were creating an advertisement to develop our persuasive writing skills, and a student approached me and checked to see if she could code the advertisement in Scratch. My students had recently started learning to code in Scratch and she had a great idea of how to use the application to share her idea. Her creative thinking skills got her started on the project, but in order to be successful her critical thinking skills became a key part of the task as well.

So many students are held back from showing their intelligence by the very fact that they struggle with reading or writing skills. These students may have excellent creative and critical thinking skills, but are unable to show it in the traditional sense in school. Minecraft allows students to be both critical and creative thinkers and removes the barrier of language. I'm now starting to see Minecraft as a precursor to coding. Students are building and creating things from blocks similar to blocks of code, that they then put together to create a complex world.

Quantitative v.s. Qualitative
No matter what digital tool they use, the end goal is to have students become quality thinkers. Traditionally, we have taught with the quantitative model, where there's a great quantity of information we must somehow force into the minds of our students before they graduate our class. More recently, I'm beginning to see a qualitative model as much more relevant. Rather than covered many topics, we're covering less topics but in deeper capacity. Rather than a bunch of facts, the learning becomes an experience, where they find out about something exciting, and using their creativity, and their ability with technology twisting it into something new, something that is their own.

This process is still clunky, it is messy and I'm still feeling my way through it. But in understanding the creative thinking skills, and critical thinking skills that are needed I begin to understand how to value the learning my students are doing. The next step for me now, is how do we measure these skills.

If we want students to become the innovators of tomorrow, the tinkers and makers of a brave, new world. We have to allow them the opportunity to learn as tinkers and makers, to fail regularly and learn from their mistakes. To use that failure to eventually become successful.


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