Learning Critical Thinking Through Astronomy, Week 2

I’m a few days late with this post. It applies to last week.

We began the activities in earnest this week. Activities are named as ActivityCCNN where CC is a two digit chapter number (there are five chapters in the course) and NN is a two digit activity number. Chapter 01 is critical thinking and reasoning. The first activity, Activity0100i, is intended to get students to buy into group work and collaboration. The i indicates a particular version of this activity; I currently have ten different versions, each of which presents a different puzzle or question for students to consider first individually, and then in collaboration with other students. The questions are the same in all versions. Students also see their first standard in this activity.

As you might expect, students usually don’t see the connections between this activity and astronomy. I take great pains to explain that astronomy is a science, and this is a science course, and we must therefore start at the very beginning with detailed discussions on how the process of science works. I don’t think any introductory science course can genuinely leave this out and yet, most do. It really bothers me. It also bothers me that we traditionally treat subject content as though it were more important in these courses. I have come to realize that it is not, at least within the supposed mission and purposes of such courses. If we force subject content too soon, we are reinforcing the notion that both science and this course are about ingesting facts and not about reasoning. Think about it. Music teachers never start introductory instrumentalists out by playing concert selections and yet, that is precisely the analogy to what is typically done in introductory science course.

Students also did Activity0101 this week. I wish I knew how to make this activity more engaging. I’m certainly open to suggestions. It’s partly intended to generate good class discussion and it usually does so. It’s important for students to understand that they will never be asked to simply regurgitate definitions. My expectation is that they will learn correct terminology by context. For example, they will, hopefully, recognize that when they hear “only a theory” they recognize it as a misuse of the word “theory” and immediately recognize two legitimate ways (which I won’t divulge here beucase students could find them) to respond to this commonly heard antiscience trope. That’s relevant science literacy and awareness, and no numerical facts need to be memorized in order to understand it.

One section had the guts to admit that they were still confused about the standards-based grading approach. They said they didn’t entirely understand the differences among standards, assessments, and proficiency indicators. This is valuable stuff to know. So to address this, we did a formative assessment of the standard associated with Activity0100i. I asked for three advantages to working in groups and three disadvantages to working in groups, each of which should be articulated in a complete sentence (for a total of six sentences). Most did fine. They even commented that they didn’t expect something so straightforward. Some expected a “trick question” of some sort. Given that the other two sections probably had similar concerns, I did the same formative assessment in those sections too. Everyone now says they feel more comfortable with this new approach and that they actually feel relaxed and ready to learn. This is precisely what I wanted to instill. Learning shouldn’t be stressful.

As always, I welcome comments, questions, and other feedback.

 



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