I divide each Social Studies unit into content and conceptual mastery, analysis and creative interpretation because public education, has three core objectives:
1. To impart a body of knowledge and academic skills deemed valuable by society.
2. To teach the students to think analytically, critically and independently.
3. To render the students capable of discovering original insights and pursuing the discovery of new knowledge or invention.
The first goal has been delved into depth by educational researchers and gurus like E.D. Hirsh of “Cultural Literacy” fame, Chester Finn, William Bennett, Diane Ravitch and others. Depth in terms of high qualitative standards is the goal.
NCLB, by contrast, has put tremendous pressure on school districts to focus on test scores in a few basic subjects( Reading and Math) and decreasing the net amount of content in the whole curriculum ( across all subjects) by increasing the time spent on rote memorization exercises and skill-based drills. For NCLB “accountability” for “proficiency” not ” high standards” is the emphasis.
In my view, while we all need to be accountable for learning, a rich curriculum has to be part of the process if we are to help students prepare for the 21st century. Basic skills are a starting point, not an educational destination.
The second goal is reflected in what used to be termed ” liberal education” or “Great Books” programs or the upper tiers of Bloom’s Taxonomy.
Schools do this less effectively across the nation but there is still a fair emphasis on eliciting critical thinking in public education, most of all in Honors and AP classes, gifted and talented classes and special programs like and Paideia and International Baccalaureate. Colleges and universities, of course, are also intended to focus on liberal education but the degree to which this is true in practice has declined since the 1960’s.
The final objective, made possible by the teaching of creative thinking and synthesis to students, public education does not do well at all at present, here or in any industrialized nation, where measurable declines in the creativity and problem-solving abilities of k-12 students appear across the board. Some people even consider creative thinking to be inimical to mastering content or logical analysis; this is untrue. One cannot think creatively or engage in analysis without content knowledge and content is itself meaningless unless the student can effectively put it to use in the real world.
Content knowledge, critical thinking and creativity are like the three legs of a stool – our students need them all.
Ken Robinson, noted educational expert, giving a lively talk on creativity and public education ( 20 minute video clip):
One of the activities that I often use to get students to consider their own state of knowledge is brainstorming.
Brainstorming is a cognitive technique that is frequently employed in university seminars, corporate boardrooms and in k-12 classrooms to generate divergent thinking and alternatives to commonly held ideas or practices. Brainstorming is also the cornerstone of the many lateral thinking exercises of creative thinking guru, Edward De Bono.
(This slideshare is best viewed by clicking to go to the slideshare site and then clicking the full screen icon)
Unfortunately, according to Frans Johansson, author of The Medici Effect, research tells us that most brainstorming sessions are not as productive as they could be for the following reasons:
1. Insufficient time allotted and/or too low a quota of ideas to generate
2. Poor interpersonal group dynamics inhibiting participants from making contributions due to negativity, intimidation, apathy, intolerance or personal criticism
3. Starting with whole group idea generation rather than building upon individual brainstorming with extended whole group idea generation
4. Absent or ineffective facilitation that is risk-averse, unprepared or biased, that reinforces rather than breaks down tendencies toward ” groupthink”.
Brainstorming properly requires anticipation of associative conceptual barriers to be broken ( inevitably, somebody will say “You can’t do that”) or circumvented; motivated engagement by the participants; the devotion of adequate time and resources; and skillful management of group dynamics by the facilitator or teacher to keep groups moving forward, generating ideas.
With these cautions in mind, periodic brainstorming sessions can be a powerful tool to enhance creative thinking at school or in the workplace.
Welcome back 8th graders! Hope that you had a great summer!
On to official business……
It is required that you have a notebook dedicated to Social Studies:
You will be filling it with……
- Lecture Notes
- Concept Maps
- Brainstorming sessions
- Geographic Maps
And much more!