ALARM and the importance of analyse and critically analyse

I have been to a number of subject specific ALARM training days over the past 2 months and several teachers from different schools have admitted that at their school they have combined the analyse and critically analyse components of the ALARM matrix.  This had me quite concerned, and I have tried to come up with a nice way to say this but I can’t.  So here goes.

If you can’t separate analyse and critically analyse then you don’t get it and therefore can’t teach it properly.

These 2 components of the matrix, in my humble opinion, are the key to ALARM, they are the key to teaching critical thinking.  Yes they are difficult to understand, but that is the whole point.  If it was easy, we wouldn’t have to teach it.

I struggled with this when I first started with ALARM and looking at my early matrices, I did combine them.  But then it dawned on me that this was the key point of content to concept.  This was the stumbling block between what you know and what you think. They need to be separated and if you can’t do that for the content you teach then maybe you don’t understand it well enough.  Sorry. This was very confronting for me when I realised it about myself.  I thought I was a good teacher and I thought I understood most of the concepts I taught (my physics knowledge is still pretty weak but I only teach it in years 7 to 10). It was confronting to realise I had gaps, and if I had gaps, how could I explicitly teach the concept to my students.

[*edit* spoke with Max today and he made me consider that there may be another possibility for this misunderstanding – experts have chunked information and in doing so, find it difficult to then break it down. So let’s all consider ourselves chunking experts]

It wasn’t until Max Woods commented on a matrix I posted on Edmodo that it clicked.  I was actually merging explain and analyse, not analyse and critically analyse but to make it work I dropped analyse.  I could do the positives and negatives or the advantages and disadvantages and I saw this as analysing. But in ALARM, explain is function or purpose, analyse is the relationship and critical analyse is a comparison.

So let’s look at some Science (sorry, playing to my strengths)

Consider this Stage 4 outcome:  describe some examples of technological developments that have contributed to finding solutions to reduce the impact of forces in everyday life eg car safety equipment and footwear design

As mentioned in a previous post, this outcome has a glitch.  The verb is ‘describe’ but the phrase ‘the impact of forces in everyday life’ takes it all the way to the appreciate area of the ALARM matrix.  The link to life is about how advances in science have impacted on all our lives, in this case advances in force minimisation.

Name and Define:  What is a force?

Describe: What technological developments have contributed to decreasing forces in cars?

Explain:  How does each technological developments reduce force?

Analyse: Why is each technological development important to car safety?

Critically Analyse: What are the advantages and disadvantages of each development?

Evaluate:  How successful has each method been?

Critically Evaluate: What is the impact of all force reduction methods on car safety

Appreciate:  What impact has this had on society?

In this case, analyse is about the relationship between each technological development and car safety.  It is this question that sets the groundwork for critical thinking and provides the link to the impact on society.  The matrix would still make sense without it. However the vital step of explicitly making the link between content and concept would not be made as well as it could.  Before ALARM, I would have assumed this step to be an intuitive one. It should be an explicit step.

Confront your own understanding of your subject and persevere. It is worth it. This process makes more sense, the more you apply it. If you are struggling, please feel free to send me your matrix. I may be able to help, and if I can’t I will send it to Max.


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