Friday, 26 September 2014

Do you have the HOTS for science? Part 2

So what are higher order thinking skills?
Defining higher order thinking skills in the context of science education was a relatively tricky. Whilst much of the literature refers to higher order skills, it is not always clearly defined. We know from Bloom's taxonomy that more complex thinking skills include: evaluation, synthesis and creation or in the revised taxonomy: creating, evaluating, analysing. Yet what do these mean necessarily, in the science classroom? What do they look like? If we are to assess them, what is the standard against which we are assessing?


Key Higher Order Thinking Skills
With these questions in mind, I went through the relevant curricula for my state, for the VCE (Victoria Certificate of Education) and pulled out the key skills they focused on, for the areas of physics, chemistry, biology and psychology.

These are the terms I collected (I have highlighted key terms):

Psychology
analyse and interpret data, and draw conclusions consistent with the research question
evaluate the validity and reliability of research investigations including potential confounding variables and sources of error and bias
apply understandings to both familiar and new contexts
evaluate the validity and reliability of psychology-related information and opinions presented in the public domain

Biology
evaluate experimental procedures and reliability of data
collect, process and record information systematically; analyse and synthesise data; draw conclusions consistent with the question under investigation and the evidence obtained
apply understandings to familiar and new contexts; make connections between concepts; solve problems
analyse and evaluate the reliability of information and opinions presented in the public domain

Physics
collecting, processing, recording, analysing, synthesising and evaluating qualitative and quantitative data
draw conclusions consistent with the question under investigation and the information collected, identifying errors and evaluating investigative procedures and reliability and accuracy of data
select first-hand and second-hand data and evidence to demonstrate how physics concepts, theories and models have developed and been modified over time

Chemistry
draw conclusions consistent with the question under investigation and the information collected; evaluate procedures and reliability of data
identify and address possible sources of uncertainty
make connections between concepts; process information; apply understandings to familiar and new contexts

use first and second-hand data and evidence to demonstrate how chemical concepts and theories have developed and been modified over time


An emerging picture
The common theme that emerges from these curricula is that students need to be taught the higher order thinking skills of analysing and interpreting scientific information to draw logical, valid conclusions; synthesising and processing data in a sensical way; and applying understanding to both familiar and new contexts.

What has become apparent to me over the course of this change project, is that it is not necessarily clear to teachers how they are to set about teaching and assessing such skills in their students. We do not have a coherent, regular process to incorporate the formal teaching of these skills to students. Part of this, in my opinion, stems from teachers not having these skills clearly defined. That is now a major focus of this project, to enable teaching and learning. The conversations with my peers about these skills have been useful professional development. Just by reflecting on how we teach and assess higher order thinking, we are starting to make our actions align with our intentions.

That we do not have a formal plan for teaching these skills reminds me of this blog post by Grant Wiggins, author of Understanding by Design (UbD). He refers to inferencing, a higher order skill, of drawing reasoned conclusions from evidence, with a quote that suggests that it cannot be taught, when of course it can. This is a particular skill that needs to be taught in the science classroom. The other skills mentioned above also need to be taught.

I have attached a table below - that begins to define what these higher order skills are, and how they can be taught and assessed. Let me know what you think!



HOTS
Explanation
Teaching activities
Assessment
Analysing  and interpreting information
Students being exposed to quantitative data and being asked to draw conclusions

Students being exposed to qualitative data and being asked to draw conclusions

Students drawing valid, logical, reasoned conclusions
Students regular handling data; from practice questions and from experiments

Students being asked to observe patterns or trends in quantitative data

Students practicing drawing rational conclusions

Students being provided with explicit examples of illogical and irrational conclusions and having these explained
Test questions that provide scenarios for students to interpret

Students being given experimental results where errors have been made during the experiment and they have to interpret the effect on the outcome

Students being asked about a range of possible conclusions drawn about an experiment and needing to describe them as valid/invalid and provide a rational explanation