By Dr. Jacqueline Grennon Brooks
How can we help children succeed? Mine, yours, the neighborhood kids, the kids on the other side of the planet…and the adults in our lives, too. If we define success as nurturing meaningful and healthy relationships and doing good work that contributes to a just and sustainable planet, then helping ourselves and others think reasonably and creatively with open hearts and minds is a good place to begin. Young or old, reason and creativity help us succeed in life, in and out of school. Supporting each other as thinkers and creators is essential but figuring out how to do that in a generative way is challenging.
The national standards could potentially offer a doorway – although probably not as whole documents. They are pretty cumbersome. There are eight sets of them for schools and they are filled with pages of charts and outlines and headings and subheadings. Although they are useful references, they are not documents that spur dynamic classroom interactions. In fact, many educational scholars find that some of the elementary content objectives are misaligned with cognitive developmental research, and the scope of some of the secondary content objectives is far wider than adolescent minds can process during the time period.
It is the often-overlooked frameworks on which the standards are based that can provide insight and direction for adults seeking to guide learning and development in real time. The frameworks were written by different discipline-specific committees and commissions, but all offer a small number of important and similar foundational ways of thinking – more than a few, but less than a lot. And they do so with amazing synchrony. Each framework recognizes learners as self-regulating beings seeking to make meaning in their worlds. They “frame” thinking about big ideas and offer core approaches to problem solving, inquiry, and critical and creative thinking.
The frameworks were written by different discipline-specific committees and commissions, but all offer a small number of important and similar foundational ways of thinking – more than a few, but less than a lot.
Let’s look at one of the thinking tools that cuts across the disciplines, “Structure and Function,” which, like all of the tools, can be used in both academic and non-academic settings. Many people during this global pandemic are considering ways to bring new structures into their lives that may prompt new behaviors. Structure/Function relationships exist everywhere. The term refers to the relationship between the structure or form or shape of something, anything, and its function, or what it does, how it behaves or what it affects. We can intentionally look for and highlight structure and function relationships across family outings, tv watching, museum visits, sports, home play -- ventures and interactions everywhere. Doing so develops capacities to more fluidly use this thinking tool moving forward, for ourselves and in our scaffolding of learning opportunities for others. Here are some examples:
Viewing the film, Black Panther, and discussing how power and authority have an impact on what happens to a place and its people allows us to think like social scientists, sensitizing future responses to the structure and function component of complex governance issues.
The shape of an object affects how it rolls on a surface, and the shape of the surface affects how the object rolls. Analyzing those relationships while playing with a shell, ball, piece of aluminum foil, or plastic egg on a sand slope, high pile carpet or plastic kitchen cutting board helps prompt thinking like mathematicians and scientists, enhancing what we see when we witness future events.
Looking at the artwork of Frida Kahlo and reading her personal history can lead to an examination of the societal, cultural, and historical contexts of her life and thoughts on the possible symbols in her work. This examination helps us think like an artist, conjuring relationships among artistic ideas and the social times and perhaps inspiring our own original forms that function to express the meaning we are creating.
When looking for the reasons for specific plant use in regional cooking, we see relationships among the culinary products, the raw ingredients, and the names of each and their roles in the culture. We delve into the thinking of linguists and develop appreciation for language.
When researching how energy is used in other countries, wind energy, for example, we intentionally build cross-cultural connections that help us better understand how our own wind energy challenges. We broaden the literacy we bring to the issue and enlarge the perspective from which we can both find and solve future problems.
Engaging in virtual discussions of environmental justice or nutritional health, as two examples out of many, and comparing and contrasting information from different sources build the intellectual networks through which we establish connections with others and construct new knowledge. This is the work of researchers in all fields and this engagement creates a learning platform that reaches across the life span.
Looking at the crosscutting concept of structure and function in everyday interactions with learners is one way to prompt perspective taking and the development of reasoning. Other thinking tools include observing patterns; looking for cause and effect; understanding systems; determining how phenomena are stable or changing; and investigating flows, cycles, time, size and energy. These are the tools of the science framework, called crosscutting concepts. Other disciplines use different wording but are conceptually linked. Each discipline calls its framework categories by a unique name: the practices of mathematics, the themes of social studies, the literacies of language arts, the processes of the arts, the goalsof world languages, the shared foundations of libraries and the holistic model of the school, community, and child. Each framework is listed in the references.
The tools of the national frameworks can create potential through-lines for the construction of knowledge and skills. They help us connect the dots. Teachers and parents can use these thinking tools to “chart the course” of interactions with others. Using them intentionally in the classroom can engage students in thinking about consequential ideas using their background knowledge to create new knowledge.
Look them up. Play with them. Find out how you might use them.
Links to Frameworks
Crosscutting Concepts and Science and Engineering Practices of the Next Generation Science Standards
Goals for Language Learning
Literacies of the Language Arts Framework
Practices of the Math Frameworks
Processes of the National Core Arts
Themes of the Social Studies Framework
Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) Model
Jackie is Professor Emerita at Hofstra University. She is a co-founder of the Long Island Explorium, a children’s museum of science and engineering in Port Jefferson, NY, and has served as director of teacher preparation programs and teaching laboratories at Stony Brook University and Hofstra University. She is an international consultant and author of books, articles and chapters on constructivist pedagogy and the role of design challenges in curriculum and instruction.