Your Kids’ Education Just Got Cooler with Tech: Part 3

The essential skills identified by the Partnership for 21st Century Learning, look at how kids are developing the 4C’s – Creativity, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Communication – through technology, both in the classroom and out. It’s important to understand how these skills translate from K12 education to the careers students will eventually choose.

As the landscape of learning and the possibilities for the future are in turn shaping and being shaped by tech, today’s students need these skills to be flexible and to make informed choices with the technology at their fingertips. The ability to think critically is proving more relevant than ever, beyond education and work, but in terms of global citizenship as well.

Headlines this week are about headlines. As journalists look back at the last year of reporting, they are thinking critically about how the polls and their own assumptions could have been so inaccurate. Facebook and Google are evaluating their own publishing practices to determine where their responsibility lies.

Until this week, Facebook allowed paid advertisements to be published and spread through people’s feeds that looked like legitimate news stories, but in fact were little more than click bait. They have since stopped this tactic, and are working to devise better fact-checking systems. More than one billion people are on Facebook, and the average user opens Facebook at least once per day.

Whether we like to admit or not, many of us are now getting our news through social media. And, it seems not only that this news is not comprehensive, it is often completely fabricated. As Facebook, Google, and other tech giants begin to look critically at how they contribute to the shaping or our global society, consumers need to be thinking critically about what to do with the information received.

What Is Critical Thinking?

Educators and families are faced with the challenge of teaching kids how to think, not what to think, and preparing them to respond to the complex problems they will face. This is a big shift away from the norms of most parents and grandparents, and more suitable to a world profoundly influenced by technology and information far more vast than ever before.

“As repetitive tasks are eroded by technology and outsourcing, the ability to solve novel problems has become increasingly vital,” writes Jeevan Vasagar in the Financial Times. In order to do so, tomorrow’s adults must be adept in critical thinking, a higher order cognitive skill which is really the culmination of a set of sub-skills: knowledge comprehension, analysis, synthesis, evaluation and metacognition, or reflecting about one’s own thinking.

Critical Thinking in the Classroom

In an effort to equip kids with the critical thinking skills they need to succeed in the 21st century, school curriculums are requiring students to employ them by leaps and bounds, and interfacing with technology to support it. They are doing it by including aspects of critical thinking within assignments, such as evaluating real-world materials from the subject matter and using them to solve proposed problems; using graphic applications to poll students and have them defend their positions using knowledge acquired through the lesson; requiring online discussion boards during collaborative projects, then asking students to reflect on their projects through peer and self evaluations.

At home and abroad, schools are asking students to use their critical thinking skills to solve real world problems. A group of tenth graders in New Zealand used critical thinking skills to see a problem through from identification to solution, using technology to solve it. They realized that deaf students at a nearby community college would be unable to hear a fire alarm at the school. Understanding how frightened and powerless these students would feel, they were driven to find a solution.

They used a creative problem-solving process to analyze the situation, research, apply critical thinking, and then implement an action plan that resulted in real-life vibrating alarms that will buzz in the deaf students’ pockets in the event of a fire. These kids used the critical thinking skills of inquiry, followed their interest, and synthesized their collected knowledge with thoughtful use of tech to solve a problem millions of people face.

Think Critically Beyond the Classroom

According to Partnership for 21st Century Learning, “critical thinking happens when students analyze and evaluate evidence, arguments, claims, and beliefs. They can then learn how to make judgments and decisions based on others’ points of view, interpret information and draw conclusions.” The need for this skill is more apparent than ever.

Kids will need to analyze what’s in their inboxes and feeds, evaluate whether it’s a complete picture from a reliable source, ascertain where and how to get more information, and synthesize it all in order to guide their decision making. Understanding that each individual holds a unique perspective, kids need these skills as they enter the professional world, and to become responsible citizens of our global village.

If you are interested in supporting your child’s development in critical thinking, encourage their curiosity. Ask them open-ended questions to encourage their reflection and analysis skills. Ask them why they like what they like, and to defend how they know what they know. For a list of engaging, thought provoking activities that support critical thinking skills through technology check out Common Sense’s education blog.

Jenny Kepler, MA, LMFT is a licensed marriage and family therapist and writer who has been helping families navigate parenthood for over 10 years. Her office is in downtown Portland, OR where she does in person therapy with adults, couples and families. She also offers parent coaching over the phone for people who can’t see her in Portland.

Photo credit: J. Paxon Reyes via / CC BY-NC


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