“You didn’t teach us that!” If you work in a classroom, you’ve heard this refrain before. It’s what my biology students say when they do poorly on tests, and my colleagues who teach other subjects report similar interactions. When I point out to my students that the material they were tested on was right in front of them in their study guides, they often reply:
“Why didn’t you just ask us that?”
When students attend class and do their homework, but still can’t connect the dots, it’s a problem – both for them and for the community. The problem is that kids aren’t learning to think critically. And the challenge for teachers is to find useful tools for helping that happen.
I’m always searching for techniques to help my students make connections between classroom concepts and standardized test questions. So I was excited about the opportunity to attend IBM’s THINK Workshop at Epcot. The event was organized by IBM and the New York Hall of Science to introduce and explore new, free lessons developed for IBM’s THINK app on Teachers TryScience. The idea behind the THINK app (free for iPad and 10-inch Android tablets) is to enable students to explore how progress is shaped through a common and systematic approach that follows a five-step process of Seeing, Mapping, Understanding, Believing and Acting – or SMUBA for short. The THINK lessons on Teachers TryScience allow students to explore the process of innovation and participate in hands-on lessons that help them become innovators in their own right.
At the Workshop – with friendly and knowledgeable instructors from the New York Hall of Science – we used the THINK app to explore these lesson plans, as well as understand how it would apply to other hands-on activities. I left the workshop prepared to explore the THINK app more fully, and eventually to use it in the classroom.
Three weeks later, I used the THINK app during an introductory lesson on the Origins of Life. My students worked together in small groups, circulating through a series of learning stations – including one with the THINK app on an iPad. But before they could use the THINK app, the students were expected to discuss what they thought Earth was like before life; how life started on Earth; and what they thought life on Earth would be like 50; 1,000 and 100 million years into the future.
After their discussion, the students were allowed to explore the mapping portion of the THINK app. Mapping enables students to discover some of the world’s most important maps and explore how they organize information. The students selected a map that they could use to describe the origins of life. They were free to select any map from the application as long as they could justify their selection.
Interactions with the THINK app really stimulated my students’ critical thinking, and the discussions at that station were priceless! My favorite question that they asked was: “Is this even a map?” They were learning without even realizing how much thought they were putting into their assignment, and became so absorbed in examining the different maps that I had to extend their time at the learning station.
The THINK app proved to be an excellent tool for challenging my students to think critically about the information in front of them. Along the way, they were developing important skills for becoming productive citizens – not just passing standardized tests.
Nandie Little teaches high school biology in Orlando, Florida.