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Tools to Develop a Growth Mindset in Cooperative Learning Discussions

Oct 26, 2021 by Judy Higgins

Whether you are currently using KnowAtom or not, all teachers know the importance of a great discussion. I'd like to share with you some of the teaching strategies I've learned over the past 20 years to help prepare your students for meaningful scientific discussion. If you're not a science teacher, many of the cooperative learning and growth mindset strategies I am going to discuss will work with your students as well.

What is a growth mindset? The education concept was developed by psychologist Carol Dweck and shared in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. She writes, "In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits…. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort." In contrast, "In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning…." says Dweck.

Teachers who use the KnowAtom curriculum understand first-hand how implementing cooperative learning strategies, including Socratic dialogue, in the classroom improves student engagement and strengthens learning outcomes. I've also seen how as I give the reins more to my students, letting them take the lead in classroom discussions and small group projects, they can accomplish amazing things together. Seeing this first-hand has definitely strengthened my belief in a growth mindset!


Preparing for student-led discussions

Giving students the tools they need to prepare for a great discussion is something that we really need to remember to do because students don't always know how to do it on their own. With this support, we can create students who are confident in their ability to discuss their ideas. With Dweck's growth mindset in mind, we can prepare students to engage in cooperative learning strategies that strengthen their critical thinking skills and set them up to become lifelong learners.

When using the KnowAtom curriculum, there are simple steps to every lesson that we do together as a class. We always start with nonfiction reading. Then we move into a Socratic dialogue where the students discuss their thoughts and get ready for what they will be planning next. The goal of a great classroom discussion is to create a bridge between what the students have read and the lab they will soon be preparing for. They are better prepared when we get to the cooperative learning groups' hands-on science investigation because of this step-by-step process.

The most important part of a good Socratic discussion is that the teacher is not the only one asking the questions. The students ask each other questions. They challenge each other to defend their thinking, and in the process, learn to use evidence to support their arguments. It's important to remember that cooperative learning doesn't happen overnight. When I started teaching with KnowAtom, my students were really excited about what they read. When it came time for the formal discussion, I assumed they would be very eager to discuss the information. I was wrong – we just sat there. The students either looked at me with panic or looked at their lab books. I was the only one asking questions. So, I had to go back and think about, how am I going to help my students feel prepared and comfortable to discuss these lessons?

Developing cooperative learning routines

The first thing we do together is develop routines. First, students gather the resources they need. Next, we review pre-lesson questions to get the students thinking about what they are going to read about. For the reading portion, we develop different cooperative learning strategies, including reading individually, as a class, or with a partner. We also use read-aloud videos and reading strategies to help all students access the nonfiction text. Finally, we use picture thinking graphic organizers to help students focus on the pictures from the text.

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Topics: Next Generation Science Standards, STEAM, Growth Mindset, STEAM Curriculum, Next Generation Science, NGSS-Designed Curriculum, Remote Learning, KWL Chart

The Best KWL Chart is Actually a Picture Thinking Routine

Sep 15, 2021 by Judy Higgins

What is a KWL chart, and how is it used in teaching science? Let's take a look first at what the 'KWL' stands for – it's an acronym for what students KNOW, WANT to know, and will LEARN during a lesson. KWL charts are graphic organizers that help students collect information before, during, and after a unit. Using a KWL graphic organizer supports the constructivist teaching model – the idea that deeper learning happens when students are actively involved in the learning process instead of passive recipients of new information.

When teachers use KWL charts to introduce new ideas and topics, they help students identify what they already know about the topic and better understand the objectives of the lesson. KWL charts can also be used by teachers to monitor student success. KWL charts help guide students through nonfiction texts, as they track their progress in three columns titled KNOW, WANT, and LEARNED. There are many different KWL chart format examples, and they can be used to teach a variety of topics and subject areas. I am going to share how I used a Picture-Thinking graphic organizer (one type of KWL chart) with the KnowAtom science curriculum to implement the Picture-Thinking reading strategy. This graphic organizer is even better than a KWL chart because students are working within a context to identify what they know, want to know, and what they've learned. I have been a teacher for about 20 years, and for the last five years of my teaching I have used the KnowAtom curriculum.


KWL Charts and Picture-Thinking Reading Comprehension

The picture-thinking routine is one of my favorite routines. I started using this in my classroom about two years ago, and it really made a huge difference in my students' engagement with nonfiction texts. When I made it part of my regular classroom routine, students started thinking in such different ways. I'm going to take you step-by-step through exactly how to implement this routine in your own classroom, using the Picture-Thinking graphic organizer to help.

What is a "picture thinker?" A picture thinker is someone who thinks more in pictures than in words or sounds. Incorporating the picture-thinking routine in your classroom will help not only those students who think "in pictures," it's a great way for all students to make strong connections between the context and new vocabulary words, concepts, and what they already know. Here's an example of a Picture-Thinking KWL graphic organizer I use in my classroom:

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Topics: Next Generation Science Standards, interactive science, Inquiry Based Learning, Next Generation Science Classroom Instruction, science education, KWL Chart, Picture Thinking

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