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Posts tagged ‘Critical thinking’

Let’s Get Agile!

Agile 2Agile

Recent blog posts nationally and internationally have called upon educators to consider changing their practices to meet the needs of students for a digital age.

In Australia Geoff Masters, Chief Executive of the Australian Council for Educational Research, has identified the following five challenges to improve Australian education:


“1.Raising the professional status of teaching

A first challenge is to raise the status of teaching as a career choice, to attract more able people into teaching and to develop teaching as a knowledge-based profession.

Meeting this first challenge requires an understanding of why teaching is currently not more attractive, what high-performing countries have done to raise the status of teaching, and what strategies are likely to make teaching a more highly regarded profession and sought-after career in Australia.

2.Reducing disparities between Australian schools

A second challenge is to reduce the disparity between the schooling experiences of students in Australia’s most and least advantaged schools.

Meeting this second challenge depends on identifying and implementing policies – including school funding policies – capable of reducing disparities between Australia’s schools.

3.Designing a 21st-century curriculum

A third challenge is to re-design the school curriculum to better prepare students for life and work in the 21st century.

Today’s world is vastly different from that of 50 years ago. And the pace of change is accelerating, with increasing globalisation; advances in technology, communications and social networking; greatly increased access to information; an explosion of knowledge; and an array of increasingly complex social and environmental issues. The world of work also is undergoing rapid change with greater workforce mobility, growth in knowledge-based work, the emergence of multi-disciplinary work teams engaged in innovation and problem solving, and a much greater requirement for continual workplace learning. The school curriculum must attempt to equip students for this significantly changed and changing world.

Meeting this third challenge requires a significant rethink of the school curriculum. Objectives should include giving greater priority to the skills and attributes required for life and work in the 21st century – including skills in communicating, creating, using technologies, working in teams and problem solving – and developing students’ deep understandings of essential disciplinary concepts and principles and their ability to apply these understandings to complex, engaging real-world problems.

4.Promoting flexible learning arrangements focused on growth

A fourth challenge is to provide more flexible learning arrangements in schools to better meet the needs of individual learners.

The organization of schools and schooling also has been largely unchanged for decades. Although composite classes are common, students tend to be grouped into year levels, by age, and to progress automatically with their age peers from one year of school to the next. A curriculum is developed for each year of school, students are placed in mixed-ability classes, teachers deliver the curriculum for the year level they are teaching, and students are assessed and graded on how well they perform on that curriculum.

Meeting this fourth challenge depends on more flexible ways of personalizing teaching and learning – for example, by using technology to better target individuals’ current levels of achievement and learning needs – and on defining learning success and failure in terms of the progress, or growth, that individuals make over time, regardless of their starting points. In this way, excellent progress becomes an expectation of every student, including those who are already more advanced.

  1. Identifying and meeting the needs of children on trajectories of low achievement

A fifth challenge is to identify as early as possible children who are at risk of falling behind in their learning and to address their individual learning needs.

Meeting this fifth challenge depends on better ways of: identifying children at risk of being locked into trajectories of low achievement at the earliest possible ages; enhancing levels of school readiness; diagnosing learning difficulties upon entry to school; and intervening intensively during the early years of school to address individual learning needs to give as many students as possible the chance of successful ongoing learning.”

In addressing these challenges schools need models of practice, professional development and evidence of effective strategies. Schools need support in redesigning the way they teach, the way they construct learning spaces and deliver technology solutions.

An international model was shared by UKEdChat posting about a Swedish school which has transformed the way it is providing learning. The blog post described how the Free School in south Stockholm, Sweden has redesigned how students learn, preparing them for the digital future they will experience. The school opened in August 2011, welcoming children from the preparation class (6 years of age) to year five years (11 years of age and will grow to include year nine.

The Principal, Jannie Jeppesen says the educators have given each child school days filled with a strong set of values and belief in their own capacity. This has created confidence to experiment, to think innovatively and to work with motivation. Several pioneering projects over the years have attracted attention. It was obvious to choose to work with the world around us. Parents, cultural institutions and businesses have contributed, and they have also learned something from the children in various projects.

The design of the school was based on what actually happens when we learn, a difference from traditionally built school buildings. It stimulated the children’s curiosity and creativity; it offered reflection and cooperation in the school, in mobile teams and on the web. The students were equipped with the latest digital technology in a rapidly changing world.

When we look into the future, we need an understanding of what skills are required in the future and the knowledge of how we learn.

The blog post reported that the school accommodates pupils speaking 26 languages, and that 84% of Grade 6 pupils passed the maths assessment, achieving better results than the Swedish national average, although the principal acknowledges that it is still too early to generalise.

Their promotional video shows the inside of the school, showing the relaxed, calm and technological nature of the school.


Recently to assist schools, Professor Stephen Heppell, Juliette and Melissa Heppell have released a draft of “Agile Learning Spaces a user manual for teachers and students”. It is a ‘living document’ asking for input from other educators around the world. It notes that “ all around the world new agile spaces and zones and nooks and new approaches to seating and organisation are appearing because they make better spaces and places for creating, engaging learning. Engaged minds achieve… but how to use those spaces, how to work together as teachers and students in those spaces- and how to avoid gainsayers trying to drag us backwards and losing all the advantages the spaces can offer? A user manual is needed. This primer in the form of a user manual has been written for the new integrated science learning spaces at Wesley College in Western Australia’s Perth but it should help others everywhere too”.


As many schools, jurisdictions are changing the way they are delivering education, redesigning learning spaces personalizing learning and embracing CYOB ( Choose Your Own Technologies ) teachers need to be supported to be able to change their practices to create learning in these environments.

These are significant but exciting challenges which can be solved by sharing knowledge of best practices, listening to student voice and supporting teacher professional learning.

ELECTROBOARD Education has assisted many schools in the redesign of their learning spaces by using state of the art technology. Our training academy can also support teachers to use these technologies effectively for teaching and learning in a digital age. https://www.education.electroboard.com.au/training


Critical thinking, stupidity and SMART Boards.

I’m constantly surprised by the amount of adverts for beauty products or health foods on television that claim some form of validity for their boasts based on what could be described as very dodgy statistics or other data.

Putting to one side the ‘75% improvement in 2 weeks’ claim that is based on a study of 43 women who self-judge and don’t compare to any meaningful measure; the anecdotal evidence, “my mum tried ‘X’ and found that her skin looked so much younger that builders whistled at her as she walked passed”; or the even more bizarre collection of ‘science’ phrases that give an air of credibility to any product; putting all this to one side, here is a great opportunity.

A great opportunity to engage the pupils in maths, science or English lessons (what do those words mean, do they make sense in this context?). Using the adverts as a starting point and incorporating the SMART Board interactively we can focus not only on the content and skills but also on Higher Order and Critical thinking as we take apart the claims made by these companies.

What are the pedagogical benefits of using these adverts in a lesson?

One of the key benefits is RELEVANCE. These are adverts that the pupils will see day in day out and it is certainly something they will spend money on. If the material is relevant then this will;

  • allow all students to have an opion as they will all have seen the adverts, engage the pupils in the harder maths or science material to follow, motivate them to find out more, encourage them to take ownership of the material and continue to learn outside of the classroom

Also important is the incorporation of Higher Order Thinking. Using Bloom’s Taxonomy we can get the students to:

  • Analyse the content of the advert
  • Evaluate the content and compare this to other sources or data they themselves have obtained from experiments or statistical analysis
  • Create a critique or more accurate advert for the product (it’s a shame that the product in the new advert may be less fantastic sounding)

We will also be able to encourage the Critical Thinking of the pupils by forcing them to consider information they get presented with on a regular basis. I suppose the key issue is to equip the pupils with tools to be able to deal with this type of advertising:

  • Can we test the claims and do they hold up to a simple analysis?
  • Compare to what we know and see if the claims sound plausible?
  • Can we look to an authority for clarification of the claim?
  • Who wrote it and for what purpose (if it was a test commissioned by the company for the advert it may be less reliable)?

How do we incorporate Interactivity?

I’m not a Maths or Science teacher so my ideas are rather general and generic, but hopefully we can add ideas in the comments section for this post.

For any of the subjects I’ve identified links to adverts on YouTube or  to a recorded source or from a selection of adverts on the internet would be the simplest way to start, we could analyse the claims and look at how we might test these in a Science lesson or question the statistics in Maths. Using some simple activities like ‘Drag and Drop’ or ‘reveals’ we can introduce new ideas or hint at approaches the students might want to take in their own research.

What we have to make sure is the students are using the SMART Board and creating their own activities and sharing ideas.

Using Notebook software and the IWB to deliver this type of lesson will have several benefits:

  • Reducing the time taken to produce resources for the class – if you do them digitally they can always be updated, reviewed or altered as needed
  • The use of technology is something that the pupils understand and are comfortable with (this reinforces the idea of ‘relevance’ to them)
  • It gives plenty of opportunity for the pupils to come and present their ideas and interact with the material – taking control of the lesson and presenting ideas for the class to critique is very powerful.
  • We can engage the ‘multiple learning styles’ present in the room.

As long as we follow the design principles set out in Tracy’s recent post then the lessons we create will engage and motivate the entire class especially when we combine it with relevant and interesting material and give them the opportunity to question big companies who advertise on TV.

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