Thinking objects

Some resources have been developed to explore the different ways of thinking about ideas. These “thinking objects” are designed to be used to support reflection on the shift in thinking to help people understand and apply the ‘big ideas’ in practice.

What we teach in schools

Moving towards C21st learning requires a shift in our thinking, but this does not mean rejecting everything that schools already do. Rather it means changing the focus on what we do in school. Forming positive learning identities, building learning power and developing the competencies needed to participate successfully in C21st society become as important as developing subject knowledge. The emphasis moves from having knowledge to using knowledge.

“This is School”, an original play from the 2009 Shifting Thinking Conference

You can find the script  for this play written by Rachel Bolstad  here

Video recording of the Play performed at Shifting Thinking 2009

The inspiration for the play came from ongoing discussions as we struggled with the complexities of imagining and choreographing a 21st century learning experience …. later I took this idea in a new direction and was inspired to write a play-within-a-play featuring an imagined cast of players. The play shows the difficulties of trying to “direct and stage manage” something when everyone is taking an active role in trying to build ideas collectively and collaboratively – but it also shows that wonderful things are possible once we begin questioning our assumptions and start thinking together about how these could be different.


Key competencies

The New Zealand Curriculum (2007) identifies five key competencies – thinking, managing self, using language, symbols, and text, relating to others, and participating and contributing – which are  intended to integrate the skills, knowledge, attitudes, and values all students need across subject areas, and in life. Some argue that the most important thing the key competencies can do is to help us  to rethink what and how we teach, and what is important to learn. This thinking object is drawn from an NZCER resource designed to kickstart conversations about the key competency of participating and contributing. Please read the blogposting about this resource first!

Thinking object: On the subject of participating and contributing- a scenario card

Subject knowledge
The context and purpose of subject knowledge are changing in fundamental ways. This section aims to help practitioners see subject knowledge through a 21st century lens.

Moving traditional science to a 21st century learning framework
In science, students develop an understanding of the world based on current scientific theories, and learn about science itself. The way science is traditionally taught is not very useful for solving “real life” problems. Changing the focus of science teaching could be an initial step towards 21st century learning.

Thinking objects: Rocky Shore food web activity and Changing the lens on a primary Science unit

The shift

Between the present and the future, the 20th and the 21st century, there is The Shift from here to there. How do we lay planks across the chasm from where we are to where we want to be next? Perhaps to make a change, we have to understand change itself.

Thinking objects: Change and Growth

Shifting literacies

What kinds of shifts in thinking in education are required to support learning that is relevant and meaningful today?  Shifting literacies is about the teaching and learning of literacy in the 21st century: our relationship to literature and literary theory in a rapidly changing world.  By addressing shifts in thinking in a more informal and personal manner (through blogs and thinking objects) we hope to create a forum for ideas and dialogues between learners, educators and researchers which will translate into new practices in learning.

Read The Good, the Bad, and the Ambiguous for background information before using the thinking object: How much is Cinderella’s father to blame for her situation?

Read Malice is in the Eye of the Beholder for background information before using the thinking objects: How malicious is Cinderella’s Stepfamily? and How much is Cinderella to blame for the bad situation she finds herself in?

  1. | #1

    Hi Miles. Thanks for your comment. I agree that the Thinking object stops well clear of being a 21st Century teaching resource. Interestingly when we talked about this Thinking object at the Primary Science conferences in April several teachers commented that they thought the “Transitioning to a 21st Century” unit of work was still a long way from their current practice. It seems to me, we know that things need to be different but making the first steps in getting there can be difficult. I think some ideas for “interim steps” might be helpful. We’d love your input.

  2. | #2

    This is a comment about the thinking object: Changing the lens on a primary Science unit”

    We are still early in the twenty-first century and I think it was a realistic ploy to head the columns ‘Through a C20th lens; and ‘TRANSITIONING to a C21st lens.’ But in my view, the latter column falls significantly short of being ‘Through a FULLY-FLEDGED C21st lens.’ Instead of concluding with the words, “this could then move into a social studies unit”, I would say that the central thrust of this particular unit on ‘interconnectedness’ is lost if it doesn’t involve direct ACTION-TAKING by the students. Six years ago Derek Hodson wrote
    a superb paper* on action-taking as an integral and central part of science education. As Derek is fully aware, there is inevitably a political aspect to action-taking, and his Abstract did not shy away from this: “It is time for a science curriculum orientated towards sociopolitical action. The author argues that if current social and environmental problems are to be solved, we need a generation of scientifically and politically literate citizens who are not content with the role of ‘armchair critic.’ ” Numerous authors (Lee, Roth,
    Fensham, Aikenhead, etc.) have subsequently argued that action-taking
    can no longer be thought of as an optional extension which begins to
    emerge as science education ramifies beyond its borders into into
    education for sustainability and community service; action-taking
    should now be viewed as being routinely in the heartland of science
    education. This is no radical kite-flying: the science learning area of
    ‘The New Zealand Curriculum’ (2007) has already legitimized this:
    “Develop an understanding of socio-scientific issues by gathering
    relevant scientific information in order to draw evidence-based
    conclusions AND TO TAKE ACTION where appropriate.” In fact, although
    this requirement lies under the science curriculum heading of
    ‘participating and contributing’, this notion of ‘participating and
    contributing’ devolves on to ALL learning in New Zealand because the
    same formula (‘participating and contributing’ ) is one of our five
    cross-curricula Key Competencies. And, according to Hodson, the fact
    that we are “changing the lens on a PRIMARY science unit” is no
    let-out from the responsibilities of this form of participating and
    contributing: Hodson says, “My intention is not to suggest that all
    action is delayed until the final years of schooling” (p.658) and he
    quotes examples involving level 3 and 4 students. And again, unless the
    ‘Values’ section of ‘The New Zealand Curriculum’ DOESN”T mean what it
    says, the concluding sections of the C21st ‘Inter-connectedness’ unit
    has a huge mandate to observe action-taking on “ecological
    sustainability, which includes care for the environment” (p.11).
    Indeed, one would hope that the entire earlier sections of the C21st
    ‘Inter-connectedness’ science unit would have been drenched with the
    question “What do we value, and why?”.

    In conclusion, I would actually say that the two columns of the
    ‘Endangered Species/Inter-connectedness’ unit, as presently described,
    would have been better headed ‘Through a traditional C20th lens’ and
    ‘Through an exemplary C20th lens’. When the unit comes to take serious
    account of participating and contributing as action-taking, and of the
    properly political and values-drenched nature of science education,
    THEN could it be heralded as being “Through a fully-fledged C21st

    Hodson, D. (2003). Time for action: science education for an
    alternative future. International Journal of Science Education, 25(6).

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