March 2019: Thinking processes and STEM

Kathy's Katch

The hundreds of quality STEM-related videos and materials in the Discovery Education online collection make it easy to find content to use for your lessons and units. However, take time for students to develop a solid thinking process before starting your STEM unit.

STEM, with its combined focus on science, technology, engineering and math, should also include the important skill of learning how to think. There are many models of thinking processes available to teach to students, each with a different focus or goal. I am going to showcase some of the most popular and let you, as the creative educator, pick the one that best meets the needs of your students. You might even decide to take the most relevant parts of each and develop your own model!

After you read about each model, ask yourself the following questions.

  • How would I introduce this model into the classroom?
  • What content in the STEM curriculum would benefit most from this model?
  • What can I easily adapt to infuse this model?
  • What would implementation of this model look like in the classroom?
  • What would be my goal(s) for students when using this model?
  • Where can I find additional resources on this model?

Model 1: Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy

Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy, a revision of a cognitive thinking classification, was published in 2001 by Anderson and Krathwohl. Their goal was to move the elements of the classification from static to action verbs and combine the classification with four types of knowledge acquisition for students. From these two components, the cognitive process dimension and the knowledge dimension, teachers could create learning objectives and help students move through the levels of the basic taxonomy – Remembering, Understanding, Applying, Analyzing, Evaluating, and Creating – and move them from the use of lower order thinking skills to the higher order thinking skills.

Anderson and Krathwohl defined the Knowledge Dimension as a place for student to move from concrete through abstract knowledge, and through the four categories of factual knowledge, conceptual knowledge, procedural knowledge, and metacognitive knowledge.

We are all familiar with the Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy classification of the cognitive processes shown below.

Image CC-licensed by Andrea Hernandez CC BY_SA 2.0

However, the most useful part of helping students move through these levels, as they learn something new, are the more specific verbs that fall under the six broader categories in the pyramid image.

The image below, from the IslandWood Education wiki, provides further explanation of the components of this thinking process.

In 2008, Andrew Churches mapped the Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy to the use of technology to help students move from the lower to higher order thinking skills and published Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy.

Additional resources for Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy

Model 2: Computational thinking

Computational thinking (CT), as defined in Google’s “Computational Thinking for Educators” course as a…

…problem solving process that includes a number of characteristics and dispositions. CT is essential to the development of computer applications, but it can also be used to support problem solving across all disciplines, including the humanities, math, and science. Students who learn CT across the curriculum can begin to see a relationship between academic subjects, as well as between life inside and outside of the classroom. ?

Traditionally, the broad overview of Computational Thinking was “an approach to solving problems in a way that can be solved by a computer”. The model has students thinking like a computer scientist in areas across the curriculum. Computational thinking is not programming or coding. It is the formal planning process that occurs before the programming or coding occur. As Higson outlines in this video , computational thinking is the process by which students use their knowledge of what computers can do to help them solve problems.

There are four traditional components in the process of computational thinking, as outlined on the BBC Bitesize site –

  • decomposition – breaking down a complex problem or system into smaller, more manageable parts
  • pattern recognition – looking for similarities among and within problems 
  • abstraction – focusing on the important information only, ignoring irrelevant detail
  • algorithms – developing a step-by-step solution to the problem, or the rules to follow to solve the problem

The computational thinking process is different than the Bloom’s Revised taxonomy thinking process because it is not hierarchical. Each of the four components are equally as important in the thinking process of solving the problem.

Additional resources for Computational Thinking

Model 3: Design Thinking

My favorite definition of design thinking is from Kricia Cabral on the Scholastic site, who states “design thinking is a creative problem-solving process that calls for thoughtful solutions to real-world situations”. Design thinking is a thinking process that can work nicely for the STEM curriculum topics as well as across other content areas.

There are many, many design thinking models, all of which promote a similar thinking process. Following are images and links to some popular models. Libby Hoffman included some of the ones below in a blog post and I have added additional models that I think are well-stated and useful.

The Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (Stanford)

The IDEO Model

Google Design Sprints

The Tallyfy Model of Design Thinking

The Launch Cycle for K-12

My favorite model for K-12!

Do you have a specific thinking model you use with your students? Have your developed your own? Please share your thoughts, links, and resources in the comments!


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