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.