At what age does critical thinking begin; when do we as parents, or teachers help our students learn the critical thinking that goes with the territory of being online in the 21 century? We used to think that around 11/ 12 years of age was the age of logic according to educational theorists like Piaget. However university professors can attest to the fact, that many graduate students still do not understand Bloom's taxonomy of higher level thinking when publishing their first hypothesis. So how do we expect children as young as six to assimilate, adapt and formulate their own opinions on what they are reading online? We see toddlers consuming content already on iPads, and we know the research shows that reading digital content is all part of improving literacy skills at younger ages, but again where are the parameters?
Here are some suggestions to help your students incorporate critical thinking skills, and be able to learn how to evaluate online:
- Parents need to be involved in providing guidelines for their students, with tools to help them assimilate content using computer filters, curation, and organizational apps to help collect websites that pertain to education and their interests. (Bookmarking tools such as Symbaloo, Mentor Mob, Scoopit, Diigo, and RSS feeds, or apps like Flipboard, are all excellent ideas for helping your students traverse the net and share with others). But for younger students, starting with resources like Commonsense Media, or Media Smarts, and our HCOS linking library to help find quality authoritative resources, are also useful. Remember those great, child friendly search engines too, like SweetSearch and Google SafeSearch for Kids. Set guidelines for Internet time that are appropriate for your family's needs and balance. Teach digital citizenship lessons using online games for younger students, and for high school students encourage the creation of a digital dossier!
- Once your students are old enough to enjoy more time online provide some critical thinking lessons. Project based learning will help create an environment to substantiate the kind of cognitive concepts you want to see in place, to ensure your students can gravitate towards aggregating data online. Teach your students to research projects that relate to their passions and interests, which in turn will lead to engaging discoveries!
- Teach your students about brainstorming a topic using keywords. Discover lessons that help with keyword search in Google Lesson plans. Create topics which include basic questions that include what, when and where, as well as more open ended questions, why, and how?
- Assess their work based on how they went about the research process, as opposed to the content they listed, copied or shared. Give good marks for a qualitative bibliography, where students have researched links from wiki's or other references from websites. Share tools like Bib me to make their bibliography stress free! Make sure students have gone beyond Google to find their sites, using educational indexes, following links, wiki's and academic databases like Ebscohost. Applaud if they have used different means for sharing their projects like video, podcasting, animation, virtual worlds, infographics or blogs. All of these online tools teach 21 century skills, and help students create a digital identity which is true to their learning style, and can be collated from Kindergarten through graduation as a reflective tool for online learning and also for a life long digital portfolio!
- Plan the research process using Big Six skills, mind mapping like Popplet, databases like Webspiration, and research/writing websites like Owl of Purdue. Encourage and teach your students to learn how to research what makes an infographic appealing, and then suggest they make their own infographic using tools like Piktochart.
- But most important before your student has been give the freedom to explore the net on their own, expand on how to evaluate a website. Kathy Shrock's website has a plethora of lesson plans for you to share with your students on web evaluation. Teach copyright and creative commons to your students if they are already publishing. This should be all part and parcel of a middle school journey into becoming an educated, and discerning producer of content.
Once your student understands how to evaluate websites, blogs and infographics, they will be more critically attuned to sharing a digital identity, understand how to assess their own presentations, and be safer online for life.