The Roadblock with Critical Thinking

I remember the first time I set up a LEGO robotics lab in a middle school and how surprised we were with our initial results...

Before setting up the robotics lab we had agreed to the 21st Century Skills that we wanted the students to learn. Skills like; creativity, innovation, collaboration and above all critical thinking. We spent thousands on converting an old wood-working shop to be an new state-of-art LEGO lab. In one end of the lab we set up a viewing area where we could watch the students work -- so we kind of turned the students into little lab rats. Each class would have 20 students for a quarter so we could let every 7th grade student take the class.

The students were excited about the new robotics program and rushed into the lab on the first day to start learning how to build and program the little robots. After weeks of learning the skills it was now time for students to solve the challenges that were in the testing area of the lab. Some were simple and others were really hard challenges. I think the students at one time thought we were the evil scientists playing some sort of sick game.

The first day of the challenges was hard, most students through up their hands in frustration. They would ask where the program and designs for the robots to solve these challenges? We explained that they were none, they had to design and program their robot from the skills they have learned over the past few weeks.

What? No answer key! Imagine the possibilities!

I remember one challenge in particular, student had to back their robot into a garage and then drive out and select the red ball, not the blue, and drive back to the starting point.

After the first quarter of students not one challenge had been completed and most of the students left the program discouraged by the challenges. At first we thought that we had made a terrible mistake with these young students and we thought about changing the class and giving them the answers to the challenges. But we thought we would let it remain the same for the year and see what happens.

However, at the end of the second quarter something magical started to happen. A group of the students had completed 3 of the 5 challenges. It was like a little dam in their brains was starting to crack. These challenges were possible to complete.

By the end of the third quarter all the groups had completed all of the challenges and were now competing for fastest times.

At the end of the last quarter, the students were complaining that the challenges were not hard enough.

So what was the difference between the first and last group of students?

The number of classes was the same, the lessons and challenges were the same.  The difference was in critical thinking, the first group had never had to use this skill before and it was tough for them to imagine completing the challenges, which taught us adults an important lesson about teaching students critical thinking skills, you must teach them to imagine and that all tasks are solvable, nothing is impossible.

Einstein theorized the laser 60 years before it was invented.

We need to remember when introducing new school technology that our students can do amazing things if we just give them the chance and the PUSH they need.

As adults we are just as guilty...

"5th graders can not make movies."

"14 year-olds cannot develop iPod apps."

"2nd graders should not blog"

Shall I go on?

Go ahead, jump in the deep end of school technology and students, you might just be surprised at what you might see.