15 of the best apps to engage students outside the classroom

Learning shouldn’t stop when students leave for summer vacation. Rather, this extended break from the classroom is the perfect time to introduce kids to a variety of mobile apps that can continuously promote creativity and critical thinking. From kindergarten to grade 12, the vast assortment of digital offerings can meet any student’s interests, all while providing valuable lessons that will appropriately challenge each user. Here are a few great options for rainy days, road trips or any time in between.

Grades K-5: (in no particular order)

Osmo introduces children to hands-on play through the iPad. With its offerings, like Newton, Masterpiece and Coding, kids use physical manipulation to navigate a variety of digital activities. Once they master one skill, they can move on to more challenging options.…Read More

NEA Student Achievement Grants

The NEA Foundation gives NEA members grants to improve the academic achievement of students in U.S. public schools in any subject area(s). The proposed work should engage students in critical thinking and problem solving that deepen their knowledge of standards-based subject matter. The work should also improve students’ habits of inquiry, self-directed learning, and critical reflection. Deadlines for applications are due February 1, June 1, and October 15 each year.

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Kick off your Hour of Code with Minecraft’s help

Just in time for Computer Science Education Week and the Hour of Code, Microsoft Corp. and Code.org have unveiled the Minecraft Hour of Code Designer, a coding tutorial for students and educators.

The Hour of Code is an annual global campaign held during Computer Science Education Week, which this year runs Dec. 5–11.

The new web-based tutorial, available for free at http://code.org/minecraft, helps novice coders to create and share their own simple “Minecraft” game, and is designed to empower anyone to begin learning the problem-solving and critical thinking skills required in today’s tech-fueled world.…Read More

Using politics to teach critical thinking

As high school social studies teachers in a swing state, election season is some of the most fertile ground for learning, and this past cycle—with all its splashy and expensive political ads—proved no exception.

Our students are all in their mid teens, which means in the next presidential election, they will be eligible voters. With so much information (and misinformation) swirling around our students, it was imperative for us to teach them how to think critically about the political process in an unbiased, nonpartisan way, giving them the power to sift through the reams of information we’re inundated with on a daily basis and decide what to trust and what to be skeptical about—and how to go about making those determinations.

Tools to Teach with Politics…Read More

Our research shows that when students work on projects, they learn more

Educators often talk about 21st-century skills and the benefits of incorporating communication, creativity, collaboration, problem-solving, and critical thinking into lessons. These are skills students rarely learn straight out of a textbook. The best way to teach them, we’ve found, is by making these skills a relevant part of their active lives.

If that sounds daunting, rest assured, it doesn’t always have to be. One way we have taught these skills is through project-based learning (PBL), where students apply what they’ve learned during a hands-on project that is relevant to the real world — and their lives.

To that end, a new report developed by MIDA Learning Technologies, which we researchers worked on, shows that students engaged in PBL understand concepts more deeply than those receiving traditional instruction, resulting in improved problem solving skills. Past research reviewed in the report also suggests that PBL students perform better on a wide range of assessments including standardized testing. The full report includes quantitative and qualitative evaluations of students’ problem-solving abilities after implementation of a pre-built, project-based STEM curriculum in science class.…Read More

How to sharpen students’ critical thinking skills online

With smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices, students have 24/7 access to news, information, and opinions—not all of which are well-informed or well-intentioned. In truth, we are flooded with a constant stream of information online, from legitimate news and facts to websites and social media posts taking sides in intense political debates.

In an age when students get the majority of their information from the internet, how can we make sure they know that not everything they find online is reputable? How can we help students become critical thinkers and smart consumers of information who also have empathy for others?

Monitoring students’ internet access in school won’t help them once they leave the classroom. Instead, they need the skills to evaluate online information for themselves. At a time when anyone with a basic understanding of search engine optimization can have his or her personal website appear atop the results of a Google search, students must be able to discern opinion and bias from fact.…Read More

Stretch student collaboration skills with Breakout EDU

There is a new platform for immersive learning games that’s taking classrooms across the world by storm. Based on the same principles as interactive Escape The Room digital games — which challenge players to use their surroundings to escape a prison-like scenario — Breakout EDU is a collaborative learning experience that enhances critical thinking and creativity while fostering a growth mindset in students.

There are two types of games available for teachers to run in their classrooms: the physical games (which are the main games) use the Breakout EDU box (or any box with a hasp that can be locked) with a set of locks, and the digital games which only need internet-connected devices.

Gameplay revolves around a Breakout EDU box that has been locked with multiple and different locks including directional locks, word locks, and number locks. After listening to a game scenario read by the teacher, students must work together to find and use clues to solve puzzles that reveal the various lock combinations before time expires (usually 45 minutes). Teachers can either purchase the Breakout EDU kit, which includes a plastic or wooden box and a set of locks, or the individual pieces of the kit can be ordered from Amazon directly. Either way, it takes about $100 to get started with the physical games; the digital games are free.…Read More

Encourage critical thinking by turning your class into a Socratic Seminar

With so much talk about the Common Core standards and truly increasing our student’s argumentative powers and critical thinking skills, some teachers are starting to think critically themselves about how best to engage students in thoughtful debate and discussion around texts they need to analyze anyway.

One method, called the Socratic seminar, challenges to students to formal discussions about a text based on open-ended questions. Throughout the exercise, students must alternately employ good listening, critical thinking, creativity, and rhetorical prowess.

The Socratic style of discourse lends itself quite well to establishing critical thinkers due to the fact that Socrates believed that enabling students to think for themselves was more important than filling their heads with knowledge. Even if you’re new to the concept, it’s easy to get started.…Read More

Stanford course prepares educators for the new school year

The ability to communicate effectively is increasingly recognized as an important skill for students entering the workforce. Two new initiatives that guide educators – the College and Career Readiness Standards and the Framework for 21st Century Learning – identify communication and collaboration as key elements of student learning. The standards particularly describe the importance of students understanding the reasoning of others and engaging in meaningful conversations using critical thinking.

Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education has launched a short online course designed specifically to help educators create rich and meaningful opportunities for communication within the classroom. The course, Effective Conversation in the Classroom, launches this August with three online sessions. K-12 classroom instructors, instructional coaches, and educational administrators are invited to enroll.

Each session includes expert video screencasts, classroom video clips, readings and resources, and assignments that will help participants create a strong foundation of communication within the classroom. The course has been developed by Understanding Language/SCALE, a Stanford research and practice center focused on K-12 language and performance assessment. The teaching team consists of Stanford Professor Emeritus Kenji Hakuta, Senior Researcher Dr. Jeff Zwiers and Lecturer Dr. Sara Rutherford-Quach.…Read More

Girls outpace boys in tech and engineering problem solving

First-ever Nation’s Report Card for Technology and Engineering Literacy measures how eighth graders solve real-world problems using innovative scenario-based tasks on computers

White and black female students outperformed their male peers in technology and engineering literacy, according to the first-ever nationally representative assessment of technology and engineering literacy from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). But gaps remain as less than half scored at either the proficient or advanced level.

Forty-three percent of eighth-grade students performed at or above proficiency on questions related to skills in thinking through problems systematically, including using technology and engineering information built into each task to arrive at the best solution.

The assessment used scenario-based tasks on computers to measure the eighth-grade students’ understanding of the use and effects of technology in their lives. Students interacted with multimedia tasks using a variety of tools to solve practical problems.…Read More