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Data, information, knowledge, wisdom

I often get the opportunity to talk with teachers about teaching and best practice. It’s one of my favorite things. Small groups, large groups, one on one. It doesn’t matter. Having conversations about the art and science of teaching is always a good thing.

And I hear myself sharing with teachers one particular catchphrase over and over:

data, information, knowledge, wisdom

It’s basically the steps we need to take when we plan instruction.

  • Train kids to collect data.
  • Train kids to organize the data into patterns.
  • Train kids to make conclusions based on those patterns.
  • Train kids to act on their conclusions.

Yeah. I know. Simple on paper, hard to implement in real life. But as teachers, it seems as if we often stop after the first or second step.

We ask kids to look at an old photograph and tell us what they see. We might even have them use a handy-dandy photo analysis worksheet from the National Archives. But it seems that we have a tougher time asking kids to make sense of the information on that worksheet.

I’ve done my job – kids looked at primary sources – isn’t that what I’m supposed to do?

We need to ask more “So what?” sorts of questions. Kids need to struggle more with solving those sorts of questions. And then they need to apply that knowledge in authentic situations. (The new Kansas State Social Studies Standards are structured around this idea of data / information / knowledge / wisdom, by the way.)

Yesterday I posted some suggestions about using panoramic photos from the 1800s as part of your instruction. I didn’t explicitly outline the data / information / knowledge / wisdom idea. But it’s there. Start with a big question:

Why do people move?

Provide a way for students to collect data by using a photo analysis worksheet. Have them answer a series of “smaller” questions that helps them see specific patterns and that lead them to making sense of the data. Have them apply that new knowledge to a past or current event:

Why are people leaving Western Kansas in droves right now? Is that good or bad? Can anything be done to halt that movement? Should we halt it? How does that movement affect me?

A recent post over at Free Technology for Teachers might be helpful in seeing this idea of data / information / knowledge / wisdom. Richard Byrne shared an infographic about infographics. But the example reminds me of the process we’re talking about over here.

The infographic uses different language but the process seems the same. Collect the data. Organize the data into patterns. Make sense of the patterns. Apply the knowledge.

Data. Information. Knowledge. Wisdom.

Let me know how it works for you.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. I’m curious what you mean when you ask students to “act on their conclusions.” My initial thought is that students would use their observations of patterns to answer the question, “So what [does that mean]?” It might lead students to a greater commitment to citizenship behaviors such as voting.

    But what if it doesn’t? What if they don’t know how to respond?”

    October 12, 2012
    • glennw #

      I agree. The goal is for kids to be more active citizens – in the fullest sense of the word.

      Your question cause a fast flashback to my own HS years. My government teacher was way ahead of his time. He started with a simple but profound question. “How can we increase voter turn out?” This was very early 1980s in Garden City, Kansas. We started by looking at all sorts of data in Garden City. We looked at election precincts, demographics, voter numbers, party numbers, etc. We then had to organize the data into patterns that we could understand. What we discovered was that the lowest voter turnout was in the areas with the lowest registered voters. Duh.

      But for 18 year olds this was a major revelation. Data / Information / Knowledge.

      It still didn’t answer the teacher’s original question. What’s the impact of our knowledge? What we decided to do was to pick one precinct and work to increase the number of voters who were registered. We set up booths in stores in that area, knocked on doors, put flyers on car windshields. This was the “wisdom” part – acting on our newly acquired knowledge.

      A happy ending would be that we increased voter turnout. That didn’t happen. We increased the number of registered voters but not the number of likely voters. Which would have made the next great question for kids to solve!

      But we need to model our students and demo for them what the possible actions at the end of the process might look like. This implies a clear idea of where we want the process to go. Data / Information / Knowledge / Wisdom.

      Thanks for the comment! Would live to talk more as we all figure this out together.


      October 12, 2012

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