Friday, October 11, 2013

Learn to Think

The new school year has started and the waves of emotion around Common Core Standards are picking up amplitude. I am not an educator, so I don't have hands on experience about some of the criticism. But one comment I recently read made me so angry, that I immediately grabbed my 6-year old and confirmed that he fulfills the requirement in question.

Here the standard: Grade 3 — CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.3.5c – “Distinguish shades of meaning among related words that describe states of mind or degrees of certainty (e.g., knew, believe, suspected, heard, and wondered).”

The criticism going viral claims that "this is developmentally inappropriate for young children because they do not think abstractly until much later in life. They do not grasp their state of mind, other people’s states of mind, or the nuances of words". (No, I will not provide a link. This person, despite much media coverage of the claim, did not provide a reference to any scientific research that would back up this or other claims made, so I will treat them as that person's opinion, not fact, until proven).

I find this insulting. This person basically just told us children are too stupid to think, or learn the definition of English words. 9-year olds who have played 3 seasons of baseball can tell you the difference between a curveball, a fastball and a changeup. Talk about nuances! Of course none of them was born with that knowledge, but they are able to learn. They learned how to think baseball, to differentiate the paths the ball takes and how to check which definition matched that path. They learned how to think.

And now this person said it is developmentally inappropriate for 9-year olds to learn the difference between knowing, suspecting and believing. Well, my 6-year old gets it, so either he is a genius, or children can indeed learn the difference, if taught. I have been pointing out the difference between knowing something and believing something since he is 4. In fact, I consider the ability to differentiate between belief and knowledge, between suspicion and solid evidence, one of the key life skills I want my children to perfect by the time they are adults. Possibly in the top 3 of skills. Everything from deciding whom to vote for, negotiating with a used car dealer, building a future with a life partner, deciding which career to pick and job to take - all these activities require to differentiate wishful thinking and believes based on unsubstantiated claims from the facts, the evidence. Being able to assess where your mind is, and how to move from wondering to suspecting and knowing is key to understanding ANY problem and being able to solve it. This is what it means to THINK. 

So why do I (and the people who developed Common Core, mind you) consider it so important that children learn the exact meaning of these 5 words? Well, let me put them next to some adult versions for you (they don't match up one on one):

Wonder /  Believe  / Heard  / Suspect  / Know 
Question / Hypothesis / Experiment / Data Collection / Analysis and Conclusions

Voila. Little scientists in the making, learning the principles of the scientific method!

So - how about you make an experiment of your own with your children? I have put together some examples and illustrations for each of the words in question. Explain them to your kids, one per week. Common Core gives them till the end of third grade, but I bet this can be done faster and earlier. Bring up the word in everyday conversations whenever applicable. And report back here in a few weeks if your child can a) give a definition and an example for each word and b) check which word applies to his/her own state of mind. I bet we're all going to find out our children are geniuses. Or maybe thinking is a normal thing that normal children do ...

Here we go:

1) Wonder: Wondering means to pose a question and to collect a list of possible answers, without evaluating or judging yet which answer is more likely or definitively true.

What's for dinner?

2) Believe: Believing is to select one of the possible answers to a question, without evidence for its truthfulness and/or without evidence of other answers being incorrect. You pick one and make it your opinion. Why? Just because.

I believe we're having ice cream for dinner today. My 2-year old believes that a lot. 

3) Heard: Someone else is telling you what he believes, suspects or knows. Unfortunately, that is not considered evidence. People can be mistaken, or lie. You do not make any progress in your own quest.

We're having lentil soup for dinner. (Evel Knievel living up to the "evil" part of his name, just to annoy his brother).

4) Suspect: Collecting clues and evidence, some possible answers seem less likely, and one answer emerges as most likely true.

I suspect we're having lasagna. There is an empty lasagna box in the recycling bin, and the kitchen smells like lasagna. But when we eat spaghetti, it smells the same. I am not sure.

5) Know: 100% solid evidence that confirms one answer, and rules out all others.

I know we are eating lasagna today. I can see it in the oven.

See? That wasn't hard! And now your child is ready for Common Core. Well, at least one line item of it.

How do you teach your children analysis and problem solving skills? Leave a comment!

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Geek factor: 5 out of 5
Fun factor: 2 out of 5

1 comment:

  1. This is so fun!! I wish my printer was working so I could print it off. I've never thought about using the scientific method in every day situations! thanks!! :)