Monday, June 30, 2014

Common Core Practice: Synthesis Lesson Plan

Rationale for this Lesson Plan:
In a Research Simulation Task that may appear on the Common Core Assessment, "students will analyze an informational topic presented through several articles or multimedia stimuli, the first text being an anchor text that introduces the topic.  Students will engage with the texts by answering a series of questions and synthesizing information from multiple sources in order to write two analytic essays" (PARCC, developer of a Common Core Assessment being used in fourteen states and the District of Columbia). Although the lesson below does not directly address the Research Simulation Task, the lesson does facilitate the development and application of synthesis as a skill. Students enjoy the creative aspect of the lesson and are often excited to share their final products with the class.

“Link Think” Activity--New Common Core Standards for Literacy Across Disciplines.  Students must learn to read, write, speak, listen, and use language effectively in a variety of content areas.


* Increasingly, college professors, as well as business and corporate leaders, complain that our students are just not prepared for higher education and the new and emerging careers of the global economy.

* Over the past twenty years modern society has moved from an alphabetic culture where text is the predominant medium (left side of the brain) to an iconic culture, where images (right side of the brain) have begun to supercede the print media.  Traditional learning, Robert Ornstein posits in his book The Right Brain has been too "left-brain" oriented (linear and sequential), with a lack of attention to the innate synthesis ability of the right brain.  Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind, concurs:  "As we move into the future, it’s the Right-directed thinkers who will be most successful."  The renowned Pulitzer-Prize winning biologist Edward O. Wilson writes in his book Consilience: "The answer is clear: synthesis.  We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.  The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely" (294).  In other words, students need to be literate within and among all content areas: literacy across disciplines.

What does this mean for the high school teacher?

* Quite simply, a reductionistic approach to teaching, with its compartmentalization of knowledge, is no longer effective.  Students must be guided to relate everything that they are learning about in one class to what they are learning in their other classes, as well as to what they are learning about in the "real world."  As Wilson writes, "A balanced perspective cannot be acquired by studying disciplines in pieces but through pursuit of consilience among them.  Such unification will come hard.  But I think it is inevitable" (14).

* As teachers we need to assist our students in their understanding of how everything relates to everything else.  We need to develop in them an ecology of mind (Bateson, Ecology of Mind) and an understanding of "the pattern that connects" (Mind and Nature 7).  Bateson writes, "Why do schools teach almost nothing of the pattern which connects?  Is it that teachers know that they carry the kiss of death which will turn to tastelessness whatever they touch and therefore they are wisely unwilling to touch or read anything of real-life importance?" (7).

What are some concrete strategies teachers can use now to facilitate synthesis as a critical thinking skill, and move beyond what I call a "closed" pedagogical approach, when educators fail to make connections beyond their own disciplines?

*Utilize an "open" pedagogy encouraging links among all domains that students encounter in their daily lives.   Teachers need to get beyond the mindset that the textbook is the definitive tool for helping students master the skills needed for the Conceptual Age (Pink 49).  Teachers must be willing to open their curriculums to texts from other influential domains.  Some of these domains include Newspaper/Magazines, Internet, Entertainment: movie plots, song lyrics, television scripts, Art/Advertising, Science, Philosophy, Politics, and most importantly, the curriculum students are learning in their other classes on a daily basis.

Sample Activity to Encourage Synthesis, as well as Foster Literacy Across Disciplines

Title of Activity--"A Link Think"

"The more you link, the better you think, the smarter you become."

1. Teacher explains to the whole class that students will be making connections, "links," among all their classes in order to make creative connections and understand what they are learning in new and interesting ways.

2. Teacher leads a brainstorm activity by listing titles of different classes on the board.

3. Teacher asks students to suggest words/terminology/issues that they are learning in the respective classes.

4. Teacher lists the words/terminology/issues next to the different subjects.

5. Teacher asks questions, demonstrating that he/she is an active learner as well, and not afraid to seek clarification.

6. When board is filled with a variety of subject-specific vocabulary and terminology, the teacher facilitates an understanding of links among disciplines, encouraging students to share what they have learned in all classes.  The teacher prompts students with questions such as, "And how can what you are learning in history help you in English class?"; "What types of links can you make among all the words on the board?"; "What are the similarities and differences among all these ideas?"; "Have you gained any new insights?"

7. After a discussion synthesizing knowledge among the different disciplines, the teacher encourages students to weave together a coherent paragraph using a variety of  words/terminology/issues from the different subjects areas.  The teacher encourages students to understand the variety of words/terminology/issues in novel and creative ways.  The teacher encourages students to "think outside the box."  The teacher also explains that writing is a creative cognitive process and that students will be amazed at the insights that come to them as they link ideas in novel ways through their own writing.

Actual Example of "A Link Think" in English Class

Calculus: different ways to find derivative equation, tangent line, curve

Genetics: Mendel's laws of genetics, homozygous, dominant, recessive, phenotype, chin dimple, genotype, Punnett square

American History: Civil War, North/South Divide, confederation, slavery, proclamation, emancipation, Lincoln, Sojourner Truth, Mr. Brown

Anatomy and Physiology: histology--study of tissues, connective tissue, nerves, epithelial, stratified columnar

Health Science: gangrene--dry vs. wet, airborne, skin system

Spanish III: how to conjugate in future tense, vocabulary about food--pollo frito

Algebra II: completing squares, functions, complex numbers, imaginary set of numbers, square roots, quadratic equations

Engineering: building Rube Goldberg, putting change into a piggy bank, squeezing oranges

UTAP: competencies of teaching, parent involvement, recognize emotions in students, lesson plans

News: guy who does crime show--John Walsh, man threw shoe at Bush, girl wrote letter asking to stop abuse, woman loses arms and legs because of kidney infection, a bus flips and kills Russians

Music: "Womanizer," "Just Dance," "Recession," "My President is Black," "Chopped and Screwed"

Actual Student Response:

"When history, American history that is, curves itself like the tangent of life, my president is black!  Yes, he did it, with the help of those like Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, and maybe a little from Mr. Brown.  He has completed one of the most complex equations of life.  He took the square root of slavery, added it to equality and conjugated it in different ways to fine the derivatives of life.  And the sum is that my president is black! Boy!  Did you see the emotions on those student faces!  It doesn't matter what your phenotype anymore, whether you inherited the dominant or recessive trait.  The proclamation of independence has finally made sense to me.  The competencies of teaching is no longer airborne.  Parents, you can do it. . . . get involved now that history has curved that tangent line."