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12/21/2016

Teaching Students to Think for Themselves, Solve Problems and Think Critically

By: Steve Gratz

I spent most of my teenage years working on the farm. My experiences there naturally taught me how to solve problems, and we referred to this as “common sense.” We would even use the term to describe our more astute neighbors and friends who used good sense and sound judgment in practical matters.

As I think about my days working on the farm, I realize the agricultural way of life was built on a solid foundation of solving problems. Confronted with a unique problem, I could engineer a solution or temporarily jerry-rig it until I could get back to the shop for a permanent solution. I also remember the time one of my friends made a delivery of construction materials to a client and during the delivery he realized that he forgot a large box of nails. Instead of driving 30-miles back to the company, he simply purchased the large box of nails at a competitor’s store. He used good sense and sound judgment – common sense.

Like many of my friends, I developed my problem-solving skillset through work-based learning experiences throughout high school. In fact, I can’t remember a time during high school where I wasn’t working and serendipitously honing my ability to solve problems in the context of real-world situations.

In my 30+ years of education, I have participated in my fair share of philosophical conversations. Most of these conversations focus on the teaching and learning process, but the conversations often bleed over to a more holistic discussion on education. Some of those conversations focus on how to teach students deeper thinking skills and the ability to solve problems.

One of the most authentic ways to help students develop deeper thinking skills and the ability to solve problems is through work-based learning experiences. Recently, I was meeting with education and business leaders at the North Central Ohio ESC. A local physician shared that one of his recent hires earned her medical assistant credential through her work experience and not through the traditional path of attending medical assistant training program.

Absent of the ability to have work-based learning experiences, educators can help students develop deeper thinking skills and the ability to solve problems by requiring them to solve realistic problems. This can be done easily by using the project-based learning approach promoted by organizations like the Buck Institute. Another example is the Southern Region Education Board’s Advanced Career model. Most project-based learning approaches call for designing and implementing challenging, authentic projects and assignments in the context of realistic problems, ideally with employer and business involvement.

The passage of Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) marked a major step toward ensuring all students are prepared to graduate from high school ready for college and careers. For example, districts may support efforts to integrate academic and technical content in the classroom that lends itself to students developing deeper thinking skills and the ability to solve problems. This can be done simply by developing and implementing coordinated instructional strategies that may include project-based learning and experiential learning opportunities for in-demand careers and occupations.

Here’s an example that provides a real-world application using the Pythagorean theorem. The picture below shows the formula for the Pythagorean theorem. In the picture below, side C is always the hypotenuse. Remember that this formula only applies to right triangles.

Picture1.png

Students may be taught the Pythagorean theorem as illustrated, or the lesson could be enriched by making it a real-world application or, better yet, as part of a project-based lesson.

And here is how the theory is applied to roof framing in the construction industry where the Pythagorean theorem is referred to as the 3-4-5 rule.

Picture2.png

This example is overly simple, but it is used to illustrate how connecting academic content standards to real-world applications can make the teaching and learning process more engaging and relevant for students. By helping students solve more real-world problems, students should begin to think more deeply about the standards they are learning.

One of the tenets of project-based learning is that the teacher helps students navigate through the learning process and assists students in solving problems, allowing them to take more responsibility for their learning – effectively teaching them to think for themselves. Teaching students to think more critically and to solve problems is a life skill that is immeasurably valuable to students.

I’m indifferent if it is called common sense, good sense and sound judgment, or the ability to solve problems; it is a life skill that needs to be integrated into all aspects of student’s education. It can even instill a sense of confidence in students, especially as they learn to apply this life skill to other aspects of their life.

Let’s teach students to think for themselves, solve problems and think critically.

Dr. Steve Gratz is senior executive director of the Center for Student Support and Education Options at the Ohio Department of Education, where he oversees creative ways to help students in Ohio achieve success in school. You can learn more about Steve by clicking here.

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3/7/2017

Superintendent’s Blog: Putnam County Districts Collaborate to Engage Students

By: Paolo DeMaria

On Monday, State Board of Education President Tess Elshoff and I had the privilege of visiting four districts in Putnam County. Although they are small, the districts — along with all the districts throughout Putnam County — are collaborating with one another to improve student engagement and student preparation for their future success. The Putnam County Educational Service Center plays a key role in facilitating all of this great collaboration. The students are taking exciting and relevant courses that are preparing them to go down any number of paths after high school — to college, to other postsecondary training or right into in-demand jobs. I saw 3D printing capability being used at Kalida High School and a garden gazebo designed by vocational agricultural students at Leipsic High School. I heard original music composed by a student and played by the band at Columbus Grove High School. These are fantastic examples of project-based learning and other strategies to engage the young minds of students. While at Ottawa-Glandorf High School, I recorded a conversation with a fantastic teacher, Mrs. Holly Flueckiger. We discussed how hands-on teaching and learning has benefited her and the students in her Human Body Systems, Anatomy and Bio-Medical classes. See our conversation here:

You can see more of our visit to Putnam County at twitter.com/OHEducationSupt. You can also follow State Board of Education President Tess Elshoff at twitter.com/Tess_Elshoff.

Paolo DeMaria is superintendent of public instruction of Ohio, where he works to support an education system of nearly 3,600 public schools and more than 1.6 million students.

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5/4/2017

Hooked on Education: A Personalized Learning Project

By: Steve Gratz

Fish on prototype lure.jpgA few months ago, Dan Keenan, executive director, Martha Holden Jennings Foundation, called and asked if he could send my contact information to Fairport Harbor School District superintendent, Domenic Paolo. I agreed and had a wonderful phone conversation with Dr. Paolo about the schools’ Hooked on Education project. Domenic invited me to Fairport Harbor to witness the project and visit with teachers and students.

Hooked on Education is a personalized learning project that had an authentic beginning that started with a 3-D printer, a student-centered teacher and a struggling student with a great idea. Fairport Harbor is located next to Lake Erie and much of the economic development of the region is stimulated by the lake. The Fairport Harbor School District has a K-12 enrollment of around 750 students. It is a unique district as they do not have a transportation department — all students walk to school.

One of the students at Fairport Harbor had a history of consistently being in trouble during his middle grade years. Domenic indicated that the student’s discipline was such a challenge that many teachers confronted him on how best to handle the student. It just so happened that one teacher was finally able to connect with the student due to a shared interest in fishing. The teacher encouraged the student to use the district’s 3-D printer to create his own fishing lure. Fortunately, the student accepted the challenge, and that’s how the Hooked on Education project was born.

After several weeks of work, the student provided Domenic, who is also an avid fisherman, with his prototype lure. Visually, it left a lot be desired, but Domenic was positive and told the student he would give it a try on his next excursion. Domenic shared with me that he pulled that lure out toward the end of his last fishing trip and much to his surprise, the student created a lure that worked!

Fundamental to the success of Hooked on Learning is the need for excellent teaching, which places students at the center of the instruction; and deeper learning where inquiry and higher order thinking are incorporated into relevant curricula. Today, the project has 30 students learning Ohio’s Learning Standards that are embedded in their project-based learning lessons. Observing the classroom where students and teachers were engaged in multiple disciplines and at various grade levels was refreshing. The teacher’s enthusiasm for being part of this unique culture left a smile on my face and feeling as giddy as I was when I was in the classroom. Moreover, the Hooked on Learning project has been designed to give students a better and deeper learning experience by developing community connections, increasing access to excellent teaching and engaging student talents and interests by personalizing their learning, so they can develop all their “intelligences.”

Domenic commented that, “personalized learning makes our project possible.” He shared that the power of the district’s model of personalized learning grows out of four interdependent components used to develop personalized learning plans:

  1. A detailed understanding or profile of each learner;

  2. A clear set of standards toward which each learner is progressing;

  3. Collaboration with each learner to construct a customized learning plan;

  4. A well-chosen project that is relevant, embedded in the community and developed around the talents and interests of our students.

Domenic and I wrapped up my visit by tagging along with a few students and one of the project-based learning teachers to visit MJM Industries, where students were negotiating the final specs on their initial production-quality mold that will be used to launch the manufacturing of their first line of fishing lures. After the brief review of documents, the CEO and the teacher discussed the process more thoroughly to enrich the learning experience for the students.

What a rewarding visit, and how lucky these students and teachers are to be engaged in the educational system at Fairport Harbor. Domenic has more planned for the future and is hoping to share the lessons that he has learned throughout this process and to learn from other educators. This summer, Fairport Harbor and Mentor Schools will host a symposium for blended and personalized learning at Mentor’s Paradigm Building, and participation is free for Ohio school district personnel. The objective of the symposium is to learn from the nation’s best practitioners and create a foundation for Ohio to harness the power of personalized learning. Contact Domenic Paolo for more information at dpaolo@fhevs.org.

Dr. Steve Gratz is senior executive director of the Center for Student Support and Education Options at the Ohio Department of Education, where he oversees creative ways to help students in Ohio achieve success in school. You can learn more about Steve by clicking here.

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6/2/2017

Superintendent's Blog: STEM Students Offer Solutions to the Opioid Crisis

By: Paolo DeMaria

Last fall, I invited Ohio’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) students to join the conversation about one of the biggest problems facing our state — the opioid crisis. I worked with the Ohio STEM Learning Network to issue a design challenge for students. I asked them to come up with innovative solutions to opioid abuse in our state. I know that Ohio’s youth are a great source of creativity and brilliance. So, I was not surprised when more than 1,200 students responded to the challenge and came up with hundreds of possible solutions.

On May 18, Battelle hosted the Opioid Solutions Showcase, where some of the best ideas were shared. These included a pill bottle that could be programmed to limit medication doses and an app that allowed concerned family members to track the whereabouts of a person struggling with addiction. I was really inspired by these young people. In the video, I interviewed a student team from the Dayton STEM Academy. The team created a piece of legislation that addresses the opioid crisis. The project is a fantastic example of how STEM education is so much more than rigorous coursework in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It is actually about project-based learning that allows kids to apply the skills they learn from a variety of classes to real-world problems.

Paolo DeMaria is superintendent of public instruction of Ohio, where he works to support an education system of nearly 3,600 public schools and more than 1.6 million students.

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Last Modified: 6/1/2016 4:16:44 PM