Tagged: Critical Thinking


I wrote my first two blog posts in several years. Then the days during which I did not write piled up quickly. Feeling the weight of that quickly amassing time, I thought back to part of a lesson plan I used recently, about perfectionism.

I’m worried about a significant percentage of my students spending all of the upcoming summer mindlessly scrolling on their phones. During the last few weeks of instruction I’m trying to provide a Hail Mary of various activity choices, trying to get them hooked on websites and software where they make things. I’m trying to teach media literacy through critical thinking, with some practical life skills.

Because of the age of my students is around 11-13 years, the majority of websites and software that we use are free and don’t require accounts in order to be useful. Despite a mountain of cool, free software that students can use on their Chromebooks, tablets and smartphones, they seem to have trouble coming up with ideas sometimes. Recently this is what the lessons have steered towards: How to generate ideas. I have them write lists of things they like and go from there. Whenever a student is stalling out on a project, I try to say to them “Well what about Soccer (or horses, shoes, contouring makeup, basketball, cars, or that other thing you listed in your Do Now from today), can you think of a way to make this project about that?” It involves some flexibility, which I’m lucky to have.

During class we watched a video about how counterproductive perfectionism can be. The two points that really struck me were about the social effects this can have, and how to remedy the situation by scheduling deadlines. I tried to put myself on the spot in front of the kids and write out a deadline for something, but I blanked. I had trouble thinking of a finite project with a straightforward end goal. What I came to is that maybe I should schedule time: thirty minutes of writing, thirty of drumming, an hour of reading, exercise, cleaning, etc. Develop a routine as a series of mini-deadlines to create some momentum. Micromanaging my time has never felt quite right, but maybe I can use some scheduling in order to create healthy habits. There’s a sort of recursive element here of writing about making myself write, but that’s okay.

The video clip we watched and some of the curricula I use for media literacy, and other subjects, coms from GCFLearnfree. From what little I can tell, this site is highly underrated and under-utilized in schools. This is the kind of life-skills website that teaches things like how computers work, QuickBooks, Excel, and how to read a bus schedule. Some online and some “real” world basics to get you out there and doing your thing. When a sixth grader chirped at me the common critique “school should teach you how to do things like pay your taxes”, I thought of GCFLearnfree.

Congratulations! Your lesson bombed.

Something happened today. It happens with some regularity, and today it made me feel a bit sad and disappointed. A new lesson I planned bombed. Kind of. It didn’t really bomb so much as I hadn’t prepared enough. Or maybe it was that I had the wrong expectations for my students. Probably both of those things. I find this happening towards the end of the year sometimes. I try to give my students a little more autonomy, to treat them more like high schoolers, and it fails miserably. I let them spend last week in Scratch, explaining that they should choose the tutorials that match the skill level they’re at, and then I expected they would all be at a basic level of proficiency one week later. Ha! I presented a loose concept today, expecting that they would just play around and have fun with it. I presented the lesson, said “Go!” and my first class of sixth graders just stared at me.

“um, okay…. maybe I’ll start the project along with you on the big TV.” We went along step by step, creating a button sprite and giving it multiple costumes. I was explaining every step, and quickly realized only one of nine students (my first period is really small) was cruising along on her own momentum. I quickly scrapped it and said “you know what, let’s just do this other game…” that I’d been perfecting for years. A maze game. A Mr.GD classic. Thankfully such things exist, it’s only taken about six years to get to that point.

There are a few different lesson-planning lessons I can take from this. The kids might need a bit more hand holding. We might require more direct instruction at the end of the year, when the wheels on the bus start to wobble, with the nuts loosening from the bolts at an alarming rate. I shouldn’t expect the kids to get themselves ready for a big project; that’s my job. Similar to one technique I like to use for making music, I should probably reverse engineer the unit around a shiny final project. In music, this means diving into a full chorus at the beginning of the writing process, composing everything in a dense 8-16 measure loop. Then I’ll isolate some of the percussive and auxiliary elements and tease those out into the intro, outro and other sections of the song. In the classroom, I should create a big project addressing the themes I’d like to explore (in this case, Media Literacy) and then reverse engineer intro-lessons out of that. The final project will be a witty satire of how hard it is to unsubscribe from an app or web-based service, flashing with buttons and confusion. The first lesson will be how to make one button, and then program it do something.

Okay, well, that idea is cued up on the pedagogical to-do list, with much of the thought work and foundation already laid out. In the meantime, HERE is the Scratch game I created yesterday. I anticipate several forthcoming Deluxe and Lite versions.