Moving beyond technology to create thinkers

Given the complex problems facing the world, teaching students to seek entrenched positions and enter into conflict is something that we need to move beyond. Integrative Thinking is about finding creative solutions when opposing points of view arise.
— Heidi Siwak

When Heidi came to I-Think's Essentials for Educators program in 2013 she had an insight. Influenced by Chris Argyris' ladder of inference and the idea of double-loop learning, Heidi saw that her students weren't changing their thinking while problem solving, despite using inquiry approaches to learning. The focus of inquiry, she saw, was to add; add information, research and understanding. But students were unable to let go of information and ideas to make room for new ways of seeing. As a result, Heidi saw that her students were fixed in their perspective, unskilled and unaware of their ability to shift their own stance. As a nationally recognized educator, focused on integrating technology into her classroom and problem-based learning, Heidi saw Integrative Thinking as way to push her students deeper into problem-based learning. 

Heidi chose to shift the focus of her class from technology to thinking. Integrative Thinking helped her bring a renewed focus on thinking about thinking to her classroom:

Heidi's advice for other teachers

"Find your way to reflect. By writing and building a community of educators who were exploring, I was pushed to a deeper understanding of how Integrative Thinking was transforming my practice and my classroom. It is through this awareness that you can make Integrative Thinking truly your own."

Now, Heidi describes her classroom this way: 

"The focus of the entire year in my class is how to be a better thinker, collaborator and problem-solver. Students learn to use thinking tools and then constantly reflect on how their thinking abilities have improved. This exposes them to contrary points of view that often challenge their own conclusions. Being able to shift stance when faced with new information is an important part of becoming an Integrative Thinker. "

Knowing she had the tools to facilitate her students through challenging thinking, Heidi explored their perceptions when a shooting happened on Canada's Parliament Hill in October, 2014. At the outset, an inquiry question emerged and focused on the gunman's mental health. To help students make their conclusions explicit, Heidi set up a value line asking students to situate themselves between 'Strongly Agree' to 'Strongly Disagree' to help make sense of whether the shooting was an act of terror or an act stemming from issues relating to mental health. As students engaged in their inquiry, the tools of Integrative Thinking provided a framework for thinking.

In this inquiry, students used causal models to showcase the complexity of their research. The ladder of inference helped students reflect on the ways in which new data influenced their conclusions and changed their ideas. Some students moved on the value line. Others did not. What mattered was that the students were aware of the logic of their models and “they took the responsibility of thinking carefully seriously."

By focusing on creating the conditions in which students could shift their conclusions, Heidi made her classroom a safe space for students to question their own mental models and to learn from each other to evolve their models. 

For Heidi's students, the tools and mindset of Integrative Thinking is transferable beyond the classroom.

Heidi has presented about her work on numerous panels, presentations and workshops. She was also a member of the inaugural I-Think Practicum program.