By Michigan Fellow Mike Lerchenfeldt
I am tired of hearing negative comments about how the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) inhibits creativity. It is a directional pacing guide that provides teachers the freedom to be flexible and creative with their instruction. These standards encourage students to develop their critical thinking skills in order to obtain deeper levels of understanding rather than rote memorization.
I have certifications and experience teaching language arts, advanced math, and integrated science. The critical thinking skills students develop in our classrooms are essential for a successful career.
In language arts, students investigate the different techniques used in persuasive writing. Using texts of my own choosing, I push students to comprehend and reflect on what they read. They use critical thinking skills such as interpretation and evaluation to analyze the material.
Interpretation is the ability for students to understand the information. In addition to understanding, students must be able to communicate the information effectively to others.
Evaluation is the ability to measure the validity, creditability, and reliability of the information provided. Students learn how to evaluate a website by searching for the author’s and organization’s credentials.
I am always thinking of fun ideas to engage students when I facilitate my lessons. Using resources from John Stossel, students write persuasive essays on current controversial topics involving national security, government regulations, and global warming.
Students learn how to search for information by identifying relevant sources and gathering current data. They use logical reasoning to draw conclusions supported by evidence.
In advanced math, students learn to use multiple problem-solving strategies that involve critical thinking. This shows that there is more than one way to do math in real life. After students solve a problem, they write sentences explaining what happened and the strategy they decided to use.
The steps to problem solving include understanding the problem, developing a plan, and implementing a solution. First, students read the problem for understanding, paraphrase in their own words, and visualize by drawing a picture.
Next, students develop a plan by estimating quantities and sharing strategies with partners. Lastly, students implement a solution by experimenting with different strategies and showing all of their solutions.
Problem-solving strategies include: changing your point of view, making an organized list, looking for a pattern, solving a simper problem, drawing a diagram, making a table, using a variable, acting it out, using logical reasoning, guessing and checking, working backwards, and experimenting. Students will take time to reflect on the multiple strategies used to solve one problem.
In integrated science, students generate and test hypotheses. This involves the critical thinking skills students learn and use in language arts and advanced math.
As a science teacher, I help students develop these skills even further by providing them with more opportunities to experience critical thinking firsthand. I hope that some form of critical thinking is being taught, cultivated, and encouraged in all general education classes, not just language arts and advanced math.
Critical thinking encourages discoveries and innovation. However, critical thinking skills can only be acquired through practice.
Project-Based Learning (PBL) is a teaching method that provides the student-centered practice required to develop critical thinking skills. Students increase their knowledge by working for an extensive period of time to investigate an engaging question or problem.
The project also helps students develop success skills such as collaboration and self-management. Students locate the resources for information and decide what they create.
There is time for teachers and students to reflect on learning or work quality. Students use this feedback to improve their product. They should have the opportunity to share their project with people beyond the classroom.
An example of an inquiry project that I use in my science classroom is called “What are things made of?” Students investigate their surrounding environment and research what elements are in the things around them.
They try to find patterns and make connections. They conduct research, gather data, and draw conclusions based on evidence.
A service-learning project can give students opportunities to practice their critical thinking skills. This school year, our students will be Stream Leaders for the Clinton River Watershed Council. They will have the opportunity to monitor water quality in our area and interpret data. The Common Core allows teachers to be flexible enough to utilize teaching models like Project Based Learning to meet the needs of our students.
Mike Lerchenfeldt earned his Bachelors of Science Degree in Elementary Education from Oakland University and his Masters of Education Degree in Educational Leadership from Saginaw Valley State University. He taught in New Zealand through a teacher exchange program. Since 2008, Mike has been a math and science teacher in the Chippewa Valley Schools. He is a member of Michigan Education Association, Michigan Association of Computer Users in Learning, and he is an America Achieves Michigan Educator Voice Fellow. Mike is dedicated to student success and enjoys being an active member of the community. He is a Blogger at The Light Bulb for Digital First Media. Connect on Twitter @mj_lerch.