Schooling Magazine

Give Them Time to Practice Thinking.

By Mrsebiology @mrsebiology
In our department, the issue of what should/should not be taught in our introductory-level courses is being bandied about.  Specifically, the issue lies with our Physical Science class, which is our entry-level 9th grade class comprised of essential physics and chemistry concepts.  In sum, the main point of contention is this:
Should this course teach skills needed for later courses, or should it focus on skills needed in any course (i.e., thinking, reading, writing, synthesis, etc.) using only the critical content needed to teach those skills?
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know on which side of that issue I stand.  You also know from my previous post that my Physical Sciencers are near and dear to me, and perhaps I am a bit too protective of them.  But I will not stand for people doing school to them in the name of "you need skill X on the off chance you take class Y so we had better spend weeks learning it because you might need it again in a few years."
That's what I call "just in case" teaching.  I am not a huge fan of this approach.  And I said as much-and more-in this statement I wrote:
Physical Science does not exist as a class whose sole purpose is to teach students content they will need in later science courses or teach I can statements designed for other courses.  Like all classes, its purpose is to teach skills they will need for a lifetime, using the most important content as a vehicle to do that.  These skills include thinking, reading, writing, and all of the quadrant D skills that are needed to promote rigor (and “more stuff” is not rigor).  Meaningful and deep learning takes time, and that doesn’t mean more time on skills they will never remember or need for the rest of the course.  To have students practice meaningful and deep learning skills, it means cutting extraneous content in order to give more time for students to work and think with the information rather than perform rote skills and memorize meaningless content that they will never use or remember beyond the three weeks of instruction within a particular unit.  Giving students the time needed to learn how to learn and how to think is what is considered as current best practice; best practice is not practicing pedagogy that was considered best practice in the factory model of schooling started in the 19th century and dressing it up as rigor or critical thinking. Physical Science should be taught using current best practices, not outdated ones that no longer fit the needs of our students for the world into which they will graduate.  Physical Science should also be taught with the students first and foremost in mind, not the content--instruction should be aligned to what students really need, not to what instructors want taught in later courses.  If a class requires a skill, then that skill should be taught in that class--not others.
I can't write any more about this or I'll work myself up into a frenzy. But I will tell you this--we can't truly prepare students for life if we're so focused on the content that we lose sight of the students sitting in front of us every day.  We can't really prepare students to think if we don't give them the time they need to practice thinking without all our content (trivia?) stuff serving as a distraction or as an excuse not to let students do meaningful learning of meaningful skills.  

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