One of my professional goals for the year has been to find ways to incorporate more Common Core thinking skills into my sixth grade science classroom.  As a result, I picked up How To Teach Thinking Skills in the Common Core — a Solution Tree title written by James Bellanca, Robin Fogarty and Brian Pete.  Since then, I’ve been whipping up lessons that are designed to systematically introduce students to the kinds of steps that thinkers take when they are doing things like determining, analyzing and comparing similarities and differences.

This week, we are discussing whether or not space exploration is worth the money that we spend on it as a nation.

Our conversation is a follow-up from a field trip to see the Hubble Telescope IMAX movie at a local theater.  I figured a debatable topic would be a great way to get my kids to practice the kind of careful and systematic thinking that Bellanca, Fogarty and Pete are advocating for.

Here are the lessons that I’m working my students through:

Activity 1: Comparing Different Points of View on Space Exploration

One of the skills that students are expected to master in the Common Core is the ability to compare the similarities and differences in different points of view about the same topic.  In this lesson, students are exposed to four different articles about the value of space exploration and then asked to work through a step-by-step handout detailing the perspectives of each individual author.

It’s the first lesson that I used in my sequence on the value of space exploration because it simultaneously teaches students a process for examining different points of view and introduces students to a range of perspectives on space exploration.  Notice the space in the margin next to each article?  That’s where I’m asking students to make active reading comments detailing their thinking while reading.  Here’s the handout that I use to teach students about the kinds of things that good readers do while reading.

Activity 2: Analyzing How America Spends its Tax Dollars

Before students can make a reasoned judgment about whether or not spending on space exploration is worthwhile, they need to have a better sense for the ways that America currently spends its tax dollars.  This activity — which is designed to introduce students to a structured process for analyzing a situation by looking at concrete evidence — asks kids to take a closer look at the role that NASA spending plays in the US budget by examining this New York Times Interactive Grapic.

Activity 3: The Spinoff Benefits of Space Exploration

It is also important for students to understand that space exploration provides us with spinoff benefits – technologies that were originally developed for use in space but that are now improving our lives here on earth.  While this handout doesn’t ask students to practice any new thinking skills, it DOES introduce them to NASA’s Spinoff Benefit website — which shares the different ways that space exploration is improving our lives both at home and at work.

Activity 4Take a Stand – IS Space Exploration Worth It?

Once my students have worked through the lessons above, I’m going to ask them to (1). engage in a structured discussion with a partner about the evidence that we have explored and (2). craft a short position statement that details their personal perspectives on the value of space exploration.

This handout includes the discussion protocol that my students will follow and the graphic organizer that they will complete before writing their final papers.  Both ideas were drawn from Teaching Students to Think Like Scientists — another Solution Tree title by Douglas Fisher, Maria Grant and Diane Lapp.

Looking forward to hearing what you think of these lessons!  I believe in them — but I also believe that a thousand minds can improve anything that I create.  Drop suggestions for changing this work in the comment section, would ya?


Semi-snarky Author’s Note: In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that How To Teach Thinking Skills in the Common Core  and Teaching Students to Think Like Scientists are BOTH Solution Tree titles and I am a Solution Tree author.  Could be a conflict of interest, right?  Maybe I’m just recommending the books because I want to push profits into the gaping maw of my benevolent corporate master?

They didn’t make me write this post, though.   Nobody makes me do anything — except for my 4 year old daughter and sometimes my wife.  Heck: They didn’t even give me a free copy of EITHER book!  I bought ’em at full price with my own durn money. 

If you STILL reckon that I’m biased even after all of that, then don’t use the free lessons I’ve just given you!


Related Radical Reads:

Teaching Nonfiction Reading Skills in the Science Classroom [ACTIVITY]

Introducing Common Core Reading Skills to Teachers [ACTIVITY]

Teaching Common Core Thinking Skills in Science Class [ACTIVITY]

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