ISTE Update: Take Thinking Deeper in Digital Age Problem-Based Learning

Posted by Matt Berringer on June 25, 2013

PBL-BetterAt ISTE 2013, Suzie Boss, Edutopia blogger, and Mike Gwaltney, teacher and chair of the PK-12 History Department at Oregon Episcopal School in Portland, offered a series of six “signposts” or suggestions for taking thinking deeper in digital-age problem-based learning.

According to Boss, the process of inquiry is “the personal path of questioning, investigating, and reasoning that takes us from not knowing to knowing.” She said that it is not a once-and-done activity. “Inquiry is not a straight-lined path. You have to come back to inquiry throughout the project,” she said. “It’s not enough to ask a question at the beginning and assume that great thinking is going to happen throughout the project. It’s a spiraling path.”

The following are six suggestions for generating deeper thinking:

Set the Stage for Inquiry.
The presenters encouraged educators to “set the stage” before any project. Tweet out inquiries to your students. Post signage in the hallways. Hang banners along the road outside the schools. All of these activities will create curiosity and get people talking. Gwaltney encouraged educators to ask themselves: “How can you set the stage—create a climate, an atmosphere that supports inquiry? Also think about your virtual spaces—how can you find some online space that drives inquiry?”

Make the World Safe for Thinking.
Students need to feel safe to take the risks associated with great thinking. Educators can propel their classes by creating a safe space. Gwaltney said, “As you start to create this atmosphere to drive good thinking, start thinking about how to create a culture of that in the classroom. Set up agreements for communication and collaboration.” He suggested the following question to begin the discussion: How can I bring my gifts to class?

Necessary for this is a culture of trust and respect, not only among the students, but also between the students and the educator. He suggested trying the Marshmallow Challenge to get the dialogue started.

Invite Feedback.
Boss said truly great thinking occurs only with the input of others. “At the prototype stage, everything needs to be subject to change,” she said. “Create situations in which students get feedback outside of their own circles. And educators want to create opportunities to get feedback from their colleagues.”

Gwaltney discussed a number of ways to seek feedback from students about their learning, including blogging about class projects and formative assessments.

Think about Thinking
“Another type of thinking that we want them to do is thinking about their own thinking and their own learning,” said Boss.

The pair discussed a number of thinking routines and shared the following links:

Project Zero: Thinking Routines

National Center for Teaching Thinking: Thinking Tools

Critical Thinking Consortium: Tools for Thought

Gwaltney discussed reflection. “Reflection is one of those ways of thinking that is very critical for students drive deep learning.” He noted that he uses Google Forms with really targeted questions.

Think as Experts Do.
To take thinking deeper, Boss suggested that educators should encourage their students to think like experts. “If I really want to think like an expert, I want to put all [the distractions] away and go deep to think like an expert does,” says Boss. “How do you find out how experts think? Connect with them. Bring them into your classroom. Or better yet: Take your kids out to see them in their environment.”

Watch for Spirals.
Both encouraged educators to watch for opportunities to “go deeper” or “get bigger.” Boss says, “This is about a spiral that creates a bigger energy field for a project. What’s the opportunity? Is it worth taking this further?”

Their slides can be found at THIS LINK. Connect with them on Twitter @suzieboss and @mikegwaltney.

Topics: problem-based learning, education, 21st-Century Learner