Another dot in the blogosphere?

Posts Tagged ‘critical

 
My son visited an organic farm with his classmates at the end of the school term. The trip was organised by his school as part of a week-long programme.

According to my son, the owner-farmer claimed that organic farming was superior to all other farming methods, e.g., those that involved genetically modified organisms (GMOs), hydroponics, aeroponics, vertical farming, etc.

I asked if the accompanying teachers conducted a discussion or debriefing after the visit, but there was none.

Organic farming has its advantages, e.g., no pesticides, but it is not superior in all contexts.
 

 
For example, mankind has long genetically modified plants for higher yields, better taste, greater resistance, etc. We used to rely primarily on crossing varieties; now we can do it directly with genes. The result is the same and this has helped us feed the world with less land, water, and other resources.

Hydro and aeroponics rely little or not at all on pesticides. They also do not require soil management and crops can be farmed vertically or horizontally in stacks.
 

 
Vertical farms also take less space than traditional farms and can be housed in urban areas. This means that the crops are closer to the consumer and reduce or remove the need to transport crops over large distances.

Organic farming is great because it returns farmers to their roots while possibly marrying them with modern techniques. However, the claim that it is the best method does not take other options and contexts into account.

From an educator’s perspective, it is irresponsible to feed young and impressionable minds with biased information without providing some balance.

I am not saying that what the owner said is totally wrong. As someone with a stake in organic farming, she had every right to be proud of her efforts. But she had no right to present her opinions without rebuttal or balance.

According to my son, science teachers did not accompany that group of students. While other teachers were present, their roles should not just be to chaperone. If the mindset of teachers is to focus on group management, then this was a lost opportunity to model and teach critical thinking.

In fact, any teacher could have sparked a reflection and discussion. He or she would not have to provide all the answers. The rise above could have started with questions like:

  • What do you know about farming?
  • What do you think about what you heard today?
  • If you had one important question for the farmer, what might it be? Why would you ask that question?
  • If I said that I did not agree with everything the farmer said, what might some of my disagreements be? Why?

I reiterate: The farm visit was a lost opportunity to teach important critical thinking skills and to practice important pedagogical strategies outside the conventional curriculum. If schools are to venture out into the “real world”, then they should think and operate like they would in order to survive there.

Note: This is not an attempt to bash teachers even if it looks that way. It is my way of being a vigilant educator.
 
The best defense against bullshit is vigilance. So if you smell something, say something. -- Jon Stewart.

What would prompt Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King, to weigh in on Pepsi? It was an advertisement so ill-conceived and reviled that the company had to withdraw it [NYT] [Wired].

Stephen Colbert gave this withering but humorous critique of the ad (click here for the segment).
 

Video source

It would be easy to accuse Colbert of being mean because he was making fun of the company in the name of entertainment. However, such critiques are deeper and more important than we might think.
 

Video source

Vox unpacked what Colbert and others do: They inform in an easy to digest manner and they leverage on not being neutral.

While proper news channels might try to report just the black or white facts, we recognise today that most issues are subjective and nuanced greys.

Satirists use fun and laughter, and in doing so, disarm their audiences and combine emotion with logic. They inform and educate in ways that not many teachers have been taught or believe in.

They embrace subjectivity and make a stand. They combine creativity with critical thought. They call bullshit when they see it.

The best defense against bullshit is vigilance. So if you smell something, say something. -- Jon Stewart.

 
Breaking news: Nutella causes cancer. That is what this video will have you believe.


Video source

I am guessing that the video maker, SourceFed, was not interested in the facts, just the views, because it did not do its homework.

This Gizmodo contributor did and showed how the science and math do not add up.

What are some take home point points?

Get the facts right. The study did not mention Nutella specifically. You are not in any likely danger unless you consume jars of Nutella every day (and if you do, you have a bigger problem than by-products of palm oil).

What are some educational applications?

You cannot just take creative license — like creating the YouTube video or linking a study on palm oil with Nutella — without combining and balancing it with critical thinking.

To teachers who say they cannot find enough material to nurture both in their students, I point out that these examples are all around us. Serve them up along with a reasonable dose of Nutella spread on toast.

 
Two recent newspaper articles [1] [2] kept referring to one study that claimed that tuition did not have an impact on Singapore’s high PISA score. I question this research.

Today I reflect on how the articles might be focusing on a wrong question asked the wrong way: Does tuition impact Singapore’s PISA score?

It is a wrong question because it begs an oversimplistic “Yes” or “No” answer when the answer is likely “Depends”. There will be circumstances when tuition helps and when it does not.

Tuition is not a single entity. The are the sustained forms of remedial, enrichment, some combination of the two, or other forms. There are short interventions that focus on just-in-time test exam strategies. There are broad shot forms that deal with one or more academic subjects and there are formulaic forms that focus on specific subtopics and strategies.

Add to that messy practice the fact that a phenomenon like learning to take tests is complex and will have many contributing factors, e.g., school environment, home environment, learner traits, teacher traits, etc.

Wanting to know the impact of tuition, not just on PISA scores, but also on schooling and education in Singapore’s contexts are questions worth asking. A better way to ask one question might be: “How does tuition impact X (where X is the phenomenon)?”

This core question bracketed by: “What forms of tuition are there in Singapore?” and “What other factors influence the impact of this form of tuition?”

Methods-wise, the study would not just play the numbers game. Narratives flesh out and make the case for numbers or even explain what might seem counterintuitive.

We live in a post-truth world. You cannot believe everything you read online. You cannot take what you read offline or in newspapers at face value either.

One of my approaches in life and in education is that it is better to be cruel to be kind.

I would rather be candid and even blunt if you need to be told you are wrong. I would rather not pad a punch if you deserve it.

I reserve such directness for contexts when a bridge is clearly out and only I can sound a warning. Most other times I can gradually and gently get to the issue.

However, I know that my role is often that of the critical mirror during discussions. If people talk nice or skirt the issue, I will be frank and direct if I sense that if the hearer is not listening.
 

 
For example, I have been approached by two corporations with grand designs on educational technology. In one instance I was asked to say something nice about a delivery platform. In another, I was asked to give feedback on a product release.

In the first case, I was said I was not a mouthpiece for the company. Furthermore, in my previous capacity of researcher, I had found evidence contrary to the claims of the company. The company had not dug deep enough and I offered to provide a more balanced view.

The second case is pending and will remain in limbo as long as the company thinks I will offer my time and effort for free. If I offered it, my review would one that combines experience with a distillation of reflective practice and critical research. You would not ask an accountant or a dentist to do professional work for free. I do not work for free either.

In both cases, I hold up a critical mirror to the companies so that they might reflect on their current practices and attitudes towards potential partners. A hard look reveals things they might not like to see, but that is something I offer for free because we all benefit from reflection.

I have written previously about how games like Pokémon Go might be used to teach attitudes and thinking skills instead of content.

The game does not lend itself directly to curricula or standards, so some teachers tend to use the game peripherally. Students do not get to actually play the game during a lesson and teachers use the social phenomenon to bring in Pokémon as examples or quiz items. Teachers say this motivates learners and it might, but this is superficial use of the game. Students soon tire of this method like they would with a drill-and-practice math “game”.

Teachers might also use the misconceptions introduced in the game to teach correct concepts and model critical thinking. For example, Pokémon can be “evolved” in the game. The actual equivalent process in real life is metamorphosis. The “evolution” sold in the game is similar to a layperson’s misunderstanding of evolution, e.g., ape to man, when the process is actually a transformation, e.g., caterpillar to butterfly.

If a teacher focuses on content, then the misconception of evolution could be illustrated by the transformation of a Magikarp (fish) to a Gyrados (a dragon-like creature). A better example of metamorphosis could be represented by the transformation of Weedle (larva) to Kakuna (pupa) to Beedrill (adult form).

Such content is limited by the design elements of the game. However, the opportunities to model and teach thinking skills are rich. My reflection is an example of critiquing superficial use of the game for teaching that focuses on content.

The YouTube videos below provide more examples of critical thinking.


Video source

The video above deconstructs weak aspects of the game and suggests improvements. For example, the narrator points out that the gamified elements of the badges and stars do not do anything beyond providing milestones. This does not add value to game-play because the gamer cannot actually benefit from collecting better badges and more stars. If the game company, Niantic, addressed this critique, gamers might enjoy richer game-play and be inclined to stay longer.


Video source

The same narrator projected that other game developers might be tempted to create more location-aware and augmented reality games. He also suggested that future games include safety elements.

He critiqued Pokémon Go for not incorporating in-game features to prevent accidents. While people should be on the lookout for obstacles or dangers in real life, a good game draws the user in. No amount of warnings like “Be aware of your surroundings” are going to change what an outsider sees as distracted behaviour. So the narrator suggested in-game affordances like the ability to socially crowdsource dangerous spots.

The videos are examples of critical thinking using the game-play as content. They are analyses of game elements and phenomena, evaluation of game-play, and the creation of new content.

The videos can be used as models of critical thinking and examples of how teachers might get learners to create content that showcases their ability to think critically and creatively.


Video source

Neil deGrasse Tyson had a great perspective on when we might make use of critical and imaginative thinking.

This video clip is an example of finding lessons and distilling wisdoms from everyday life.


http://edublogawards.com/files/2012/11/finalistlifetime-1lds82x.png
http://edublogawards.com/2010awards/best-elearning-corporate-education-edublog-2010/

Click to see all the nominees!

QR code


Get a mobile QR code app to figure out what this means!

My tweets

Archives

Usage policy

%d bloggers like this: