critical-thinking

Deeper Learning Blog Series: How to Integrate Deeper Learning into Your Classroom (1 of 6)

As Dr. Tim Hudson discusses in his recent white paper, Algebra Readiness through Deeper Learning in Middle School: How Teachers Can Empower Students to Achieve with Confidence, using the principles of Deeper Learning both in the classroom and with digital technology empowers educators to help students overcome barriers to learning math. It is important to recognize that Deeper Learning is a set of interrelated competencies that students need to learn to develop a true understanding of algebra content and processes, and to solve problems in the classroom, in life, and at work. The competencies of Deeper Learning are divided into six distinct categories:

  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Self-Directed Learning
  • Effective Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Academic Mindset
  • Mastering Core Academic Content

This blog series will outline actionable items to implement in the classroom, and highlights personal classroom experience around each competency—beginning with Critical Thinking and Problem Solving.

Competency 1: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

critical-thinkingSupporting your students in problem solving and critical thinking is essential to building a classroom that focuses on Deeper Learning. Students must have a teacher that will cultivate a learning environment that supports a unique way of thinking. As Dr. Hudson’s white paper notes, the goal is as follows: “Students think critically, analytically, and creatively. They know how to find, evaluate, and synthesize information to construct arguments. They can design their own solutions to complex problems.”

Strategy: Empower Students to Design Their Own Solutions

The most intimidating moments I faced as a new teacher were when a student asked a question that I couldn’t answer. With time and experience, I discovered I could pose the question to the whole class rather than tackle it alone by asking students to research, gather information, and collectively draw conclusions. These inquiries culminated in engaging, fun, and creative responses.

Over time, I learned the importance of empowering students to question me, themselves, and the content. I became comfortable with not always having the answer, and recognized that I could provide deeper learning opportunities by allowing the class to discuss different approaches to solving a problem, why an algorithm exists, or how one might think differently about a concept. I felt it was important to develop a learning culture that exercises critical thinking by expecting students to not just accept what is given to them, but to also question how and why. During one lesson, groups of students asked why we have to find common denominators to compare fractions. To reward their inquisitive thinking, I encouraged them to brainstorm, research, and collect interviews on what they assumed was the reasoning for the “rule.” Once the information was shared, students discovered common numerators as a method for comparison. One group even proved why it is necessary to know larger fractions by sharing several pans of brownies, which were cut into different fractional pieces. Without looking at the size of the pieces first, students chose which pan they wanted a brownie from and quickly distinguished the larger brownies using fractional amounts. (It is not surprising how quickly everyone was able to distinguish the larger brownies using fractional amounts!) As Dr. Hudson describes, empowering students to design their own solutions provides greater context to answering essential questions, and our class came to a very yummy conclusion!

Strategy: Use Prior Knowledge to Tackle Unfamiliar Tasks

By allowing students to think critically about how a concept applies to a real-life situation, it deepens the quality of their understanding and their ability to transfer their prior knowledge to tackle unfamiliar math situations.

As a teacher, I continually challenged my students to make connections between their middle school math lessons and their daily lives, which resulted in more thoughtful and relevant classes. To demonstrate how decimals and percentages correlate to money and taxes, I asked my students to create a budget and spend their fake money on items that included discounted store prices and sales tax. We looked at real situations online and discussed if an item on clearance was a better deal than the same item in a different sale. Transferring the knowledge about percentages into a tangible real-life scenario created an engaging lesson that was fun and worth working through.

Critical thinking and problem solving that promotes Deeper Learning, as described by Dr. Hudson, begins with encouragement from the teacher. In your next lesson, try to step back and empower students to design their own solutions to real-world math situations. You and your students will likely have a richer, more meaningful experience in math class!

Read rest of the series

Kelly Urlacher

Curriculum Designer at DreamBox Learning
Kelly Urlacher began her career as a sixth grade teacher in Sammamish, WA in 2002. Shortly after, she received her Master’s in Education with an emphasis in Technology and Curriculum Development. After years of dedicating herself to students and education within the classroom, she earned her National Board Certification in 2009. Kelly currently works as a Curriculum Designer for DreamBox Learning and continues tutoring high school students in mathematics.