PISA 2012 Creative Problem Solving: International Comparison of High Achievers’ Performance

A thoughtful close analysis of the creative problem-solving component of the most recent PISA scores, with breakdowns by gender, socioeconomic status, and achievement level.

This post compares the performance of high achievers from selected jurisdictions on the PISA 2012 creative problem solving test.

It draws principally on the material in the OECD Report ‘PISA 2012 Results: Creative Problem Solving’ published on 1 April 2014.

The sample of jurisdictions includes England, other English-speaking countries (Australia, Canada, Ireland and the USA) and those that typically top the PISA rankings (Finland, Hong Kong, South Korea, Shanghai, Singapore and Taiwan).

With the exception of New Zealand, which did not take part in the problem solving assessment, this is deliberately identical to the sample I selected for a parallel post reviewing comparable results in the PISA 2012 assessments of reading, mathematics and science: ‘PISA 2012: International Comparisons of High Achievers’ Performance’ (December 2013)

These eleven jurisdictions account for nine of the top twelve performers ranked by mean overall performance in the problem solving assessment…

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Originally posted on Gifted Phoenix

It’s Not All Bad News! Evidence of Young People’s Commitment to a More Inclusive Global Community

It’s only when we give kids opportunities to think about and act upon their highest goals for society that they get a chance to display their initiative and wisdom. In spite of increasing concerns about bullying and youth disengagement there’s reason for optimism about today’s young people.

There are many students who take on leadership roles promoting meaningful social action. Parents and teachers can help teenagers to become proactive, encouraging them to engage in initiatives to help others, or to combat forms of injustice.

For example, high school seniors from across Canada have applied for the 2014 Wiesenthal Scholarships, established four years ago by the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre (FSWC), a non-profit human rights organization that promotes tolerance, social justice, and human rights for all.[i]  Applicants must demonstrate leadership skills and involvement in activities that support these ideals, and show evidence that they’ll continue to be purposeful in doing so as they pursue a post-secondary education. Students are eligible to receive one of several scholarships ranging from $1800 to $7200 to apply to their college or university studies and help them attain their goals.

I’ve spent considerable time reviewing applications. As a parent, educator, and co-author of a book about supporting children’s capacities,[ii] I’m no stranger to being moved and inspired by young people who strive to be all they can be. However, I was blown away by the quality of the scholarship applications that I reviewed, and by the ways in which applicants demonstratedthat they‘re making a constructive impact in communities far and wide. It was particularly heartening that so many students expressed an appreciation of the power of education, recognizing it as a means for positive change. It was wonderful to see the strength of their convictions as they endeavor to create a better world and a more inclusive global community. Many of these young people exhibit sophisticated understandings ofresponsibility, diversity, and freedom. They also put forth concerted effort—that is, a willingness to engage, empower, and envision.

These students have gone far beyond mandated community service requirements. And, they ‘re not alone. Indeed, many teenagers invest hundreds of hours leading or being actively involved in meaningful programs and movements within their schools and communities Youth-based efforts include involvement in anti-bullying campaigns, programs to help reduce poverty and hunger, initiatives that speak up for marginalized people and work to oppose hatred, and more.

Albert Einstein said, “Our morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to life.” I commend all students who give of their time and effort to help others, and I hope that, increasingly, many more will follow their lead. May the voices and aspirations of these scholars resonate across the country and beyond, encouraging everyone to think, feel, and take positive action.

[i] www.fswc.ca

[ii] Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids by Dona Matthews and Joanne Foster (published by House of Anansi Press) is being released summer 2014.

Thoughts about Intelligence-Building

I recently reread an article written by fellow Canadian Lannie Kanevsky, published in Gifted Child Quarterly (Vol. 55, #4, Fall 2011, pp. 280-299). She writes,

“Students come to school to learn more than just subject matter; they come to learn to be learners. …self-knowledge is essential to effective, autonomous, life-long learning” (p. 296).

The focus of Kanevsky’s article is differentiation, and she discusses what educators should aspire toward in their classrooms. She talks about the importance of honouring children’s interests and preferences, and emphasizes the merits of collaborating with students in relation to program design and instruction (while still adhering to curriculum and professional standards, of course). Creativity, respect, and professionalism are integral to good teaching.

But what responsibility do students have for their intellectual growth?  The best learning happens when kids are ready and willing to put forth the concerted effort that’s required so they can think, act, and grow in positive ways. What’s involved? They have to be persistent, learn from mistakes, ask relevant questions, and invest time and energy in practice. Kanevsky states that children have to “learn to be learners.” Yes, subject matter is important, but hard work, resilience, and passion are what fuels intellectual growth and well-being. This holds true at school, home, within the community, and elsewhere.

Kanevsky also talks about self-knowledge, and the importance of helping kids become more aware of their own habits of mind, aspirations, and capabilities. This kind of self-awareness takes place over time. It demands patience, reflection, encouragement, and support. Self-knowledge also accrues from lessons about these capacities, and teachers and parents are well positioned to model them.

Teachers, parents, and kids can work together to make intelligence-building meaningful, and in the end children will find that not only are they better learners, but down the road, they’re come to be more competent adults as well.

Challenge and Effort: A Mindset Perspective

By Joanne Foster, Ed.D.

In this blog I review my thoughts about an informative presentation, and share some insights about learning.

Last year I had the good fortune to meet renowned psychologist and researcher Dr. Carol Dweck, and to attend a presentation she gave to parents and adolescents at Branksome Hall, an independent girls’ school in Toronto. I was pleased to hear what Dweck had to say about mindsets and intellectual growth—and delighted to observe the rapt attention of the audience. Hundreds of people filled the auditorium and it seemed to me that everyone left with a more positive attitude about learning, a better understanding of brain-related functions, and a deeper appreciation of the power of persistence. Dona Matthews and I often refer to Dweck’s work in our writing, and as I think back upon that presentation, I appreciate how informative and affirming it was to hear first-hand about her ongoing research.

Dweck discussed the difference between a fixed mindset (intelligence seen as a fixed trait), and a growth mindset (intelligence seen as a malleable quality that can be developed). She said that intelligence is “a platform from which you grow”—and went on to explain how neural plasticity affords us the ability to learn more and more over time. The key is to acquire and sustain a growth mindset. It’s also important that adults model growth-mindedness for their children. To that end, Dweck laid down three basic rules.

 Rule #1: Learn at all times. Try to think deeply about things, and pay attention to what you’re experiencing. Figure out what you don’t know, and need to know. Participate in study groups, find a mentor, attend meetings and conferences, and find other avenues for learning. Don’t worry if you don’t look smart. It’s OK to make mistakes. See them as opportunities to learn.

Rule #2: Work hard. Effort is what takes you to the next level, allowing you to use your capabilities, and strengthen them over time. Practice and commitment matter. Struggling can be beneficial. It’s good to stretch systematically, by building upon what is known and pushing past traditional comfort zones. This leads to personal growth.

Rule #3: Confront deficiencies and setbacks. Don’t perceive them as humiliating, but rather as challenges. Find ways to capitalize on circumstances (strategize!) and turn them into avenues for learning. That’s how people become resilient, able to recover from failure and improve themselves.

Dweck closed the presentation by reiterating that when it comes to developing a growth mindset, everyone should take a close look at his or her own personal value systems. By learning to see that what’s easy is boring and a waste of time, and that what’s more difficult is interesting and worthwhile, individuals become energized, put forth the necessary effort, and become much stronger as a result. Brainpower intensifies; confidence, motivation, and effectiveness increase, and there’s no limit to what people can achieve. In other words—in fact, in Dweck’s words—“Always challenge yourself!”

September: Changes in the Air

By Joanne Foster, Ed.D.

This is a blog that I actually wrote a couple of years ago but that I think bears repeating. Every September, countless parents revisit the challenges of kids returning to school, while other parents experience this “rite of passage” for the first time. Perhaps the information that follows here will be helpful during Sept. 2013, and beyond.

September is traditionally the time when children start a new school year. Many kids navigate the change from leisure to learning without a hitch, whereas others find it more difficult to settle into “back to school” mode. Parents often ask us, “How can we help children during this transitional period—and through the months ahead?”

Here are four tips for success:

#1 – Be attuned to what’s happening in your children’s lives. Listen. Observe. Don’t be pushy or annoying. (Kids HATE that!) Do make an unobtrusive effort to be more “in-the-know” about the highs, lows, and rollercoaster moments in their lives. Parents who stay on top of things are better positioned to advise, guide, and trouble-shoot more effectively.

#2 – Respect children’s views, honour their interests, and try to accommodate their learning preferences. Children learn in different ways. However, they learn best when they are happy, appropriately challenged, and motivated.

#3 – Give children access to relevant, stimulating learning opportunities—along with whatever else they might need to enable learning to happen as seamlessly as possible (including materials, work space, ample sleep, and nutritional food).

#4 – Be available to offer reinforcement and encouragement. Acknowledge children’s efforts, and help them see the value of a strong work ethic.

As September morphs into October, and the school year revs into full gear, be both watchful and wise, and be ready to advocate for your children, if necessary. (More on that elsewhere. See the resources page at www.beyondintelligence.net and blog postings at www.beyondintelligenceblog.wordpress.com)

Parenting and Multi-Tasking in the Digital Age

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Tracy Dennis is both a mother and an eminent developmental psychologist who is interested in the impact of digital media on human development across the life span. She’s written several posts on this topic on her Psyche’s Circuitry blog. One of my personal favourites is the one where she writes about two ideas for parents to keep in mind when they are using digital media to multi-task while taking care of their kids.

Dr Dennis does not think that digital multi-tasking around children damages them, but does think it’s important to keep it in perspective, and keep it to a minimum.  Read more

Critical Thinking Skills: Essential for Coping Successfully with Challenge and Change

Continuing with our theme of guiding parents to help their children become good at coping with challenge and change, we discuss the important role that critical thinking skills play in children learning to be good decision-makers. How can parents help their kids acquire the critical habits of mind that will stand them in good stead throughout their lifetime?

A good straightforward way to think about ‘critical thinking skills’ is Wikipedia’s current definition: tools for questioning assumptions, for deciding whether ideas are true, false, or sometimes true and sometimes false, or partly true and partly false. There are more complicated definitions, but this gives us a good start.

Critical thinking skills provide a foundation for wise decision-making, and are especially important in a world that is changing as rapidly and unpredictably as ours. In an increasingly media-dominated society, it is important to help children pay critical attention to the impact of media images, including the ways that advertising can seduce people into wanting to buy certain things—a particular brand of cell-phone, clothing, or snack food, for example— in order to achieve a certain media-created image.  Children who learn to think critically about their information sources make more intelligent voters when they reach adulthood, and are able to make more intelligent decisions about most aspects of their lives along the way, including whether or not to take drugs, get involved in relationships, or pay attention at school. Read more

Attunement and Advocacy: Strengthening Home and School Connections

mother-teacher-boyThink for a moment—or longer: Are your children learning what they should be learning at school? Are they happy and productive? Sometimes parents perceive a mismatch between a child’s needs and the education they’re receiving. Finding a suitable “fit” between a student and the school system can be problematic. An effective plan requires thoughtful decision-making and collaborative effort on the part of many people—parents, teachers, administrators, consultants and, of course, the child.

To ensure children’s best possible development both at home and at school, parents have to be attuned to what occurs in their children’s day-to-day lives, and this includes listening attentively to what they have to say about their schooling. Don’t just ask, “How was school today?” Instead, inquire about their experiences—what they learned, what they enjoyed, what they found challenging, what they’re going to investigate further, and why. Read more

The ABCs of Being Smart

magnetic lettersUsing the alphabet as an organizer, I’ve put together some ideas for parents to help children thrive.  The series ABCs of Being Smart is featured in the journal Parenting for High Potential, published by NAGC. (Please see links below). For now, a preview of the letter A:

Encourage your child to keep a record of his positive learning experiences and personal accomplishments. This kind of “rainy day” portfolio encourages him to develop a habit of self-reflection, and can also be good on down days, serving as a motivator and self-confidence boost.

If you collect an activities bag of tricks, you’ll always have a fresh surprise or two, to pull out when your child feels low, bored, anxious, discouraged, or needs some time alone. Your bag of tricks can include books, games, discussion ideas, questions to investigate, puzzles, puzzle books, art supplies, a writing journal, costumes and props, crafts supplies, ideas for outings and experiments, and anything else that captures your imagination. You can add to it as ideas and supplies cross your path. Read more

Does Media Violence Lead to the Real Thing?

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Media violence has been a controversial topic for decades. There are contradictory findings from a variety of studies, some showing no effect on people’s real-world aggression, and some showing a significant connection.

On balance, it makes sense to me that what we consume and are exposed to–whether it’s unhealthy food, environmental contaminants, poisoned relationships, or violent images–make a difference to our health, well-being, and behaviour. If this is true for adults, how much truer must it be for children? And the younger the child, the more true it will be.

In this article, the authors–three renowned forensic psychiatrists–summarize the findings to date. They conclude that yes, media violence does have a connection to the real thing: ‘Exposure to violent imagery does not preordain violence, but it is a risk factor.’ Short-term effects of exposure to media violence are moderate to large; longer-term effects are small-to-moderate. Watching more than 2 hours of violent TV each weekday leads to antisocial behaviour in early adulthood.