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Posts Tagged ‘when

Today I build on my reflection yesterday on how to encourage systemic thinking by teaching learners to ask “What else?“.

I listened to a podcast interview by Conan O’Brien of former US President Barack Obama. Towards the end of the interview, both explored a theme that started with this quote (54min mark):

…if we are to have another contest in the near future of our national existence, I predict that the dividing line will… be between patriotism and intelligence on one side, and superstition, ignorance, and ambition on the other.

In the context of the US political system, the quote could have been from a pundit or scholar on a news talk show yesterday. But it was by Ulysses S Grant in 1875.

Obama then described we how tend to pay attention only to what is immediately in front of us. If you asked me, I would say that we deal with the urgent and forget what is important.

Both men were trying to say how important it is to study and learn from history. The problems we face now are not new; they are just different.

So if we are to nurture critical thinkers who think systemically, another powerful question they might ask is: When else?

Last week I read this tweeted question in #asiaED.

I have a simple response for why we use chopsticks. The food is too hot to handle directly with one’s fingers.

This might come across as a mean response. It is not meant to be. It is an honest response and one of many that you might get if you asked that question.

Another interpretation of the question revolves around the invention and adoption of chopsticks in east Asia as a tool for eating. Who thought of it first? What were its origins? Why did other people think this was a good idea? Why make it so difficult to eat? Those are interesting questions and I bet there are interesting answers.

I am not here to answer those questions. I am here to suggest a way to teach teachers and students how to ask questions and seek answers.

Teachers need to get students to refine their questions. A question generated one way can be interpreted another. Where there is no luxury for clarification (like in Twitter), the question must be better phrased. The lesson here is one of better problem definition.

Teachers also need to learn how to teach their students when to search for answers themselves and when to ask someone else. Given a classroom that has peers and connections outside it, it is easy to ask first. There is nothing wrong with that.

However, this question might have been better answered by searching online and in a library first for answers. This would promote learning that is more independent, deeper, and more reflective. With some preliminary answers, better questions can emerge.

It is one thing to talk about higher order thinking skills (HOTs). It is another to design and conduct learning opportunities that promote HOTs. Promoting HOTs is not always intuitive. It takes a humble and reflective teacher to learn to be a learner first. Depending on mindset, doing this might be as easy or as difficult to learn as using chopsticks.

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