Friday, September 5, 2014

Getting Comfortable and Thinking Critically

Days 3 and 4 were devoted to Critical Thinking.  Day 3 was that beautiful Friday, so se moved class outdoors under a tree in the quad.  The opener with the white things caught a few of us and I admitted that it caught me a couple of weeks ago as well.  The students expanded on their definition of CT and worked with the handout on elements of thought and intellectual standards, looking for biases and assumptions in our readings.  Readings chosen included Wes Moore (two groups), Jane English, “What do grown children owe their parents?” and Rousseau, the short section “the Right of Life and Death” from the Social Contract.  I encouraged them to choose something short that expresses an opinion and gave them 15 minutes to apply the handout’s elements.  This was effective.  Even in the two fairly large groups, everyone listened and contributed, and at the end the variety of topics and discussions of bias were lively.  Questions that came up were about the author Wes Moore telling the convict’s story when he was capable and literate enough to tell his own story, the content of the Jane English essay – owing versus what you would just do, out of love, and what claims parents have on an adult child’s life, and the right to preserve one’s own life.  

One of the Wes Moore groups started with an interesting challenge – they decided not to go with the textbook on the basis that since it was put together specifically for Quinnipiac students, it was therefore biased.  I asked the groups that did choose from the book if they agreed.  While all agreed that it was pretty obviously put together for this course, they were not comfortable enough with the contents to argue that it was biased or not.  Maybe this will tempt some of them to browse through and make up their own minds on the question.

On Wednesday, it was just too hot, so we stayed inside.  By three o’clock, most looked wilted, as I must have after a quick trot back to ABL for my QCards, which still didn’t unlock the classroom.  Someone in one of the nearby offices had a card that would do it.  I’m getting better at keeping my openers/new information short and to the point, so there’s plenty of time for the group activity.  This worked out, even with a short discussion of how to post to journals on Blackboard and where to find the questions that I’m posing, at least for now.  I hope that eventually the journals will become student-directed as well, and mentioned that eventually they may not all be reading the same thing at the same time.  Even in our awkward classroom, groups formed and we got some interesting mini-lessons on fallacies.  One group found a brief, unified example, working off an argument that “the sky is green” and having a green-sky quote for each fallacy.  Another worked off propaganda posters, and it would have been nice to be set up to project from an iPhone to see their illustrations, although they described them well.  I suspect that quite a few of the handouts from Friday got left behind, as some teams needed prodding to get them out and use them again.  But all groups managed to scrounge one up and complete the task.  The small-group work engages everyone and it was a little hard to reconvene the large group and end on time.  That’s a good thing.

I love not fussing over the number of groups or their size.  Molly sorts out major imbalances and I remind everyone to be sure that every student is welcomed into a group.   

Molly and I both agreed that we do need to have some in-class time to get more comfortable with one another, without concentrating on content or tools.  On Monday, we will take 20 minutes at the beginning of class for a more extended icebreaker or similar activity, then start on Design Thinking and Problem-Solving.  Today, Friday, Janet Valeski will visit and lead the discussion on Information Fluency.  My logic for scheduling it early is that information fluency is another application of critical thinking, and we will be getting into PSPs and the Wicked Problem soon enough.

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