Saturday, July 14, 2007

Critical Thinking & YouTube? You Bet!

"Critical thinking" has been part of the buzz for decades. Many have attempted to "teach" critical thinking with step-by-step procedures. Others, like myself, have used constructivist activities like WebQuests as both immersion and scaffolding to prompt and guide critical thinking. Most of the research these days recognizes that success in critical thinking is less a process to teach than a disposition to cultivate. A study we're conducting attempts to foster this disposition through a practice called Thinking Routines, developed by the Visible Thinking group at Harvard's Project Zero. The practice uses the power of repeated routines to make wonder, hypothesis and questioning integral to the daily life of the classroom. Examples are:


  1. What do you see?
  2. What do you think about that?
  3. What does it make you wonder?


  1. Make a claim about the topic
  2. Identify support for your claim
  3. Ask a question related to your claim
  1. What’s going on here?
  2. What do you see that makes you say that?
In the past I have referred to these activities as "Learning to Look " or "Looking Tasks." They typically require a computer and data projector so that the looking is a shared experience. What's great is that the Web now abounds in rich multimedia resources that can be used to engage Thinking Routines in ways that couple critical thinking with compelling content. Here four of my favorite examples this week:
Ironically, these days YouTube and other rich sites are commonly blocked in schools, so you may need to download a video yourself at home and bring it in to play offline. In case you aren't aware, there are any number of utilities to help you out. The approach I usually use is as follows:
  1. Find a cool video at YouTube
  2. Copy its Web address, go to YouTube Downloader and paste.
  3. "Save the link as" or "download to disk," taking the opportunity to name the file appropriately and change the file extension to .flv .
  4. Download a free .flv & .swf video player (Mac / PC) or use something like EasyWMV (Mac / PC) to convert the .flv files into mp4s that you can import to a slide presentation or show with video player software that surely comes pre-installed on your computer.
Our current research uses an online personal learning environment called "MyPlace" (MySpace contrast intended ;-) ) to which we regularly feed Thinking Routines related to the social and environmental changes people expect will shape our children's lives. You are all invited to use and share these activities. The latest one is a three minute presentation from the TED conference that raises the question, "Does Globalization have to mean adopting an unhealthy diet?" Take a look and feel free to comment.