Information Age Education
   Issue Number 223
December 15, 2017   

This free Information Age Education Newsletter is edited by Dave Moursund and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is one component of the Information Age Education (IAE) publications.

All back issues of the newsletter and subscription information are available online. In addition, seven free books based on the newsletters are available: Joy of Learning; Validity and Credibility of Information; Education for Students’ Futures; Understanding and Mastering Complexity; Consciousness and Morality: Recent Research Developments; Creating an Appropriate 21st Century Education; and Common Core State Standards for Education in America.

My most recent free book, The Fourth R, has more than 9,400 hits/downloads this year (Moursund, 12/23/2016). The 4th R (reasoning, computational thinking) is fundamental to empowering today’s students and their teachers throughout the K-12 curriculum.

Practical Ideas on Teaching
Lower-order and Higher-order Thinking

David Moursund
Professor Emeritus, College of Education
University of Oregon

The previous IAE Newsletter included a discussion of Metacognition and Bloom’s Taxonomy of educational learning objectives. In brief summary, metacognition is thinking about one’s thinking. Bloom’s Taxonomy of educational learning objectives has six levels (Vanderbilt University, n.d.; Wikipedia, 2017).
  1. Remember
  2. Understand
  3. Apply
  4. Analyze
  5. Evaluate
  6. Create
This list is often divided into Lower-order Thinking (1-3) and Higher-order Thinking (4-6) levels. All of you reading this newsletter function at all six levels. However, people vary considerably in how much of their cognitive performance in a typical day is done at the various levels.

I think about Bloom’s taxonomy in terms of solving problems and answering questions. Problems and questions range from very simple and not challenging, to very complex and very challenging. But, the level of difficulty and challenge varies with the person attempting to deal with the problem or question. At every level of one’s knowledge and skills, some problems and questions are very easy and others are much more difficult. One of the major goals in education is to help each student learn to deal with problems and questions that are somewhat above the student’s current capabilities (Moursund 2017a, 2017b, 2016).

The dividing lines between levels are fuzzy. For example, think of something that you might have memorized while in grade school, such as Columbus “discovered” America in 1492. This is an isolated fact.

But, perhaps you also remember that his name was Christopher Columbus, that he had three very small sailing ships, and that some of his crew members feared they would fall off the edge of the earth. Now you have a collection of facts that are related to each other. Next, you may associate these facts with the now-considered-silly flat earth theory. Probably you remember that Columbus met native Americans when he got to America, and that Europeans brought diseases to American that killed a great many native Americans. The point is, you have some level of understanding that accompanies the various facts that you have memorized. As illustrated in the Columbus example, your level of knowledge may well suffice to help you raise some complex, challenging questions.

The extent to how much of your overall performance is at the various levels in your daily life depends on your own innate abilities, the nature of your past education, your level of maturity, your vocation, your avocations, and so on. One of the goals of education is to help students gain the knowledge and skills to spend more of their time functioning at the higher levels on the scale.

We are all creative. I’ll bet that from time to time you communicate via writing. Personally, I do a lot of writing. That is a creative process. But I certainly could not undertake this creative activity until I learned to write, and it has taken many years of study and practice to reach my current creative level of performance as a writer. That is, informal and formal education moved me from my start in memorizing (or learning to recognize) a few printed words to becoming the professional creative writer that I am now.

I believe that our PreK-12 educational system can be improved by helping students to routinely do metacognition about the lower-order versus higher-order aspects of what they are learning and doing in and outside of school. This IAE Newsletter provides some examples of activities that can be carried out by teachers and parents to help students.

Rote Memory with Understanding

Rote memory is a very important aspect of learning. But, rote memory by itself it is only a modest aspect of becoming a learned person. (And remember, computers are far better than people at rote memory!) We know that memorizing accompanied by associated understanding both helps one remember and greatly increases the value of memorizing.

For example, back when I was a precollege-level student, we had weekly spelling quizzes. I “learned” to spell words for the test, but then I would soon forget how to spell them. Part of the reason is that my brain is not good at such memorization, and part is because I had no need or desire to use some of the words in my everyday oral and written communication. You have heard the statement, “use it or lose it.”

So, here is a suggestion to parents. When your child returns home from a day at school, you probably ask, “What did you learn at school today?” Suppose your child responds, “Today is Columbus Day. I learned about Columbus discovering America in 1492.”

Rather that responding, “That is good,” ask for details. Your goal is to help your child use the recently memorized information. What does your child know about some of the outcomes of Columbus “discovering” America? Use this discussion as an opportunity to expand your child’s learning from very low rote memorization to higher up on Bloom’s Taxonomy scale. Perhaps you and your child will be led to using the Web to look up the history of native Americans. This routine type of interaction leading to doing some research on the Web can help your child to develop a lifelong habit of thinking/questioning more deeply and searching for answers on the Web.

What about the teacher? When the teacher is teaching about Christopher Columbus, the teacher might say to the class, “What do you know about native Americans? Turn to a person sitting next to you and each of you say a couple of things that you know about native Americans.”

Aha! This illustrates a powerful teaching strategy. Each day, have your students seated so that they very easily can talk in pairs or trios. Get them used to the idea of a quick “sharing” minute or two in which each person in the small group is expected to say a couple of sentences based on what is being covered in class. Use this both to help your students learn the idea of moving beyond rote memorization and also learn to think about their thinking. Sharing one’s thinking is educational to all members of the group.

Suppose that you are teaching your students to take notes about the material being presented in class. After you have presented some important information, have a minute or two of “sustained silent writing.” Then have a minute or two in the small groups in which each person reads what they wrote. Every class member participates, and every class member gets to learn from one or more other people.

A Web-based Extension of These Ideas

As students reach a level of reading skill that allows them to make use of the Web, you want them to learn about determining the credibility of what they read (Moursund & Sylwester, 10/3/2015). You also want them to be learning at the higher-order level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. So, here is an assignment that you can use with a wide range of students. (Note: this assignment requires that students have learned the higher-order skill of skimming an article.)

Think of a challenging (higher-order thinking) question that is relevant to what your teacher has just presented. Do a Web search designed to find information that will help you to learn more about and possibly answer the question. Select two articles that look like they may be relevant to your question. Spend a couple of minutes reading/skimming each article. Write three short paragraphs discussing:
  1. The credibility (or, comparative credibility) of the two articles.
  2. An answer provided by the first article, or a brief analysis of why your search strategy led to this article that you did not find useful in answering your question.
  3. An answer provided by the second article, or a brief analysis of why your search strategy led to this article that you did not find useful in answering your question.
Notice the requirement that the question being explored be “Challenging” (higher-order). Here are two non-examples:
  1. What was the name of George Washington’s wife?
  2. Was John Hancock one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence that declared 13 colonies in North America to be independent of England?
These are easy to answer “factoid” lower-order questions. Of course, you can use a variation of the assignment. Have students look up some answers to factoid questions. Then have them write on the value of memorizing such facts versus just knowing how to look them up! If you are having your students do journaling, this can be a journaling activity. It can also be a small group sharing activity, or it can be an in-class assignment to be turned in. The latter requirement will provide you with feedback on what your students learned from this lesson.

Higher-order Thinking Across the Curriculum

Every discipline of study has a range of knowledge and skills that can roughly be divided into lower-order and higher-order. Think about a discipline of study in terms of its breadth and depth. Let’s use math as an example. Math education in the United States is sometimes criticized as being “a mile wide and an inch deep.” This describes a curriculum with an over-emphasis on learning facts and an under-emphasis on learning to think and solve problems making use of the facts. Such a criticism can be leveled at the teaching in any discipline in which movement up the scale from the lowest low-order level toward the higher-order levels is slow.

To continue the math example, suppose that you are an elementary school teacher or a parent of an elementary school student. You have certainly taken math courses at a higher grade level than what is usually taught in elementary school. But, do you know and understand math well enough to pose problems and ask questions that can be understood by the students at a particular grade level? Perhaps of even greater importance, are these higher-order questions that can be quite challenging to the students?

Here is a simple example. Some students are learning about the positive integers, and have learned about odd and even integers. Here are some questions that are higher-order for such students.
  1. What is the largest positive integer?
  2. In counting by 1’s starting at 1, are there ever two even integers in a row?
  3. Are there more odd positive integers than even positive integers?
  4. Is the sum of two positive integers always a positive integer?
  5. Is the difference of two positive integers always a positive integer?
In questions of this sort, we want students to figure out answers for themselves and then explain why they think their answers are correct. A student’s “explanation” is, in essence, a proof. Developing and communicating proofs is a higher-order activity.

After students learn about the division of integers, they are often taught that “you cannot divide by zero.” This can become part of a student’s repertoire of memorized math knowledge. But, it can also provide a good place to gain some deeper understanding of numbers. Why can’t one divide by zero? Are there any other numbers that one cannot divide by?

Information and Communication Technology (ICT)

In my previous IAE Newsletter, I raised the issue of the capabilities of computers that are using artificial intelligence software. I suggested that, if a computer can solve a type of problem or answer a type of question, we should think of the problem or question as being at the lower end of Bloom’s Taxonomy scale. The underlying issue here is an absolutely fundamental question for our educational systems. Every discipline of study has breadth and depth. As computers become better and better (more intelligent, faster, and more reliable), their capabilities are moving up from the lowest level in Boom’s Taxonomy towards the higher levels.

My suggestion that we define lower-order in terms of capabilities of computers is, of course, rather silly. With this definition, more and more of what students learn in their precollege and higher education schooling would fall into the lower-order category. However, this idea may help you to realize that a good education is far more than just learning use of non-machine-aided methods to solve the problems and accomplish tasks.

Final Remarks

At every grade level and in every discipline of study, students should be gaining knowledge and skills that will help them to function over the full range of Bloom’s Taxonomy levels. Starting from early on, students should be encountering cognitive challenges that move them upward on the Bloom’s Taxonomy scale. This requires that the teachers themselves must have moved up this scale in the disciplines they teach. It also requires a curriculum that supports such upward movement.

In addition, students should be gaining an education that helps them to lead responsible and productive adult lives in a world in which computers will continue to increase in capability. My recommendation is simple.

Students should be learning to make effective use of computers as an aid to solving the types of problems and accomplishing the types of tasks we want them to be able to deal with after they finish their schooling.

Students should be gaining values, knowledge, skills, and habits of mind that are uniquely human and will serve as a foundation for their future in a world that will continue to change.

Every curriculum area being taught in school, starting at the very lowest grade levels, should include a clear emphasis on metacognition, understanding and performing at varying levels on Bloom’s Taxonomy scale, and learning to pose and answer challenging, higher-order questions.

What You Can Do

Remember, every person is both a lifelong learner and a lifelong teacher. Every person learns from and serves as a teacher in their communications with other people. As an adult, you have both lower-order and higher-order knowledge and skills over a wide range of areas. From time to time, think about this as you communicate with others and make use of your knowledge and skills. Pay serious attention to the growing capabilities of computers. Plan and make use of some of your lifelong learning activities to avoid being undulated or swept away by the changes that this technology is bringing.

References and Resources

Moursund, D. (2017a). Problem solving. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 7/14/2017 from http://iae-pedia.org/Problem_Solving.

Moursund, D. (2017b). Learning problem-solving strategies by using games. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 7/15/2017 from http://iae-pedia.org/Learning_Problem-solving_Strategies_by_Using_Games:_A_Guide_for_Educators_and_Parents.

Moursund, D. (2016). Problem solving: Posing and answering questions. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 7/15/2017 from http://iae-pedia.org/Problem_Solving:_Posing_and_Answering_Questions.

Moursund, D. (12/23/2016). The fourth R. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Download the Microsoft Word file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/free-ebooks-by-dave-moursund/289-the-fourth-r/file.html. Download the PDF file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/free-ebooks-by-dave-moursund/290-the-fourth-r-1/file.html. Access the book online at http://iae-pedia.org/The_Fourth_R.

Moursund, D., & Sylwester, R. (10/3/2015). Validity and credibility of information. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Download the Microsoft Word file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/free-ebooks-by-dave-moursund/275-validity-and-credibility-of-information/file.html. Download the PDF file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/free-ebooks-by-dave-moursund/277-validity-and-credibility-of-information-2/file.html.

Vanderbilt University (n.d.). Bloom’s taxonomy. Center for Teaching. Retrieved 11/10/2017 from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/blooms-taxonomy/.

Wikipedia (2017). Bloom’s taxonomy. Retrieved 11/10 2017 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloom's_taxonomy.


IAE publishes and makes available four free online resources:
Author

David Moursund is an Emeritus Professor of Education at the University of Oregon, and editor of the IAE Newsletter. His professional career includes founding the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) in 1979, serving as ISTE’s executive officer for 19 years, and establishing ISTE’s flagship publication, Learning and Leading with Technology. He was the major professor or co-major professor for 82 doctoral students. He has presented hundreds of professional talks and workshops. He has authored or coauthored more than 60 academic books and hundreds of articles. Many of these books are available free online. See http://iaepedia.org/David_Moursund_Books.

In 2007, Moursund founded Information Age Education (IAE). IAE provides free online educational materials via its IAE-pedia, IAE Newsletter, IAE Blog, and books. See http://iaepedia.org/Main_Page#IAE_in_a_Nutshell. Information Age Education is now fully integrated into the 501(C)(3) non-profit corporation, Advancement of Globally Appropriate Technology and Education (AGATE) that was established in 2016. David Moursund is the Chief Executuve Officer of AGATE.

Email: moursund@uoregon.edu.

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About Information Age Education, Inc.

Information Age Education is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving education for learners of all ages throughout the world. Current IAE activities and free materials include the IAE-pedia at http://iae-pedia.org, a Website containing free books and articles at http://i-a-e.org/, a Blog at http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog.html, and the free newsletter you are now reading. See all back issues of the Blog at http://iae-pedia.org/IAE_Blog and all back issues of the Newsletter at http://i-a-e.org/iae-newsletter.html.