Engaging Students in Higher Order Thinking (Nova: Rise of the Drones)


“Think before you speak. Read before you think.” – Fran Lebowitz

Perhaps you’ve been lurking in the shadows reading my blog posts on Higher Order Thinking? If so, you’ve done nothing wrong even though the verb sounds creepy. Lurking is a perfectly good thing to do while you way the merits of an online dialog. So we all do it! But there comes a time when you have to fish or cut bait. Here is an idea you might wish to try when are ready to go fishing.

The PBS series Nova provides an ocean of timely science programming but their latest release Rise of the Drones is one of the best. It is packed with over fifty minutes of facts pertaining to military drones. It is sure to be of interest to students because it involves flying and the military but it also raises some ethical dilemmas. Have a look!

It think you’ll find it useful in engaging your students in a higher order thinking project especially if you require further reading on the topic. I suggest setting a minimum limit on the number of sources even for video presentations.



Watch Rise of the Drones on PBS. See more from NOVA.



As you know there are three levels of higher order thinking. Assignments can be given for each one.



In analysis we break information into parts by identifying motives or causes, make inferences and find evidence to support generalizations.” At this level your students can report of the various components of a drone and how they interact with one another. They can describe a drone’s;

  • input devices,
  • output devices,
  • processing unit(s),
  • propulsion,
  • navigation,
  • memory unit(s), and
  • control mechanism(s).



Synthesis involves compiling information in a different way by combining elements in a new pattern or proposing alternative solutions.” At this level you could ask the student to identify one or more technical flaws with the system and recommend an alternate solution. How might drones be improved? How might they be repurposed?



Evaluation occurs when we present and defend opinions by making judgments about information, validity of ideas or quality of work based on a set of criteria.” Students at this level might discuss the ethical dilemmas associated with drones along with their recommendation for continuance or discontinuance of the project.


Anyway, you decide if this is a viable project to engage your students in higher order thinking. I suggest watching it through before deciding. You might also want to share the idea with your Principal or Dean first. People can be unreasonable at times and you wouldn’t want him or her caught off guard.

Nova is a PBS program. You can watch it on television, buy the DVD from PBS, or watch it online with your computer, tablet, or smartphone. The PBS app is free and available the Apple App Store.

Flipping Tips: Select technology wisely (Part 2)

The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of the chosen field of endeavor. ” – Vince Lombardi

Packers vs. Bears

Let’s assume you identified your objective and decided how you will measure your progress in meeting it. Now it’s time to gather and assess candidate technologies to help you meet that objective.

What criteria should you use? Here’s a short list to get you started.

Function first!

Does the candidate product perform the function(s) you need to achieve your objective(s)? Expert opinions are useful in identifying candidates but take a test drive and decide for yourself. If the product fails to function as needed discard it otherwise continue onto the next question. 

Is it user-friendly? 

Technology today ought to be intuitively obvious. When necessary, software should guide you through complex procedures. Is there internal documentation? Is it easy to understand? Is the documentation context sensitive? Does it will take you directly to the information you need when you need it? You can assess user-friendliness during your test drive. 

How accessible is it? 

How do you want your students and/or employees to access this technology? For instance, Google Drive provides word processing on the cloud which is usually good but not if your policies prohibit Internet access or you have no Internet access. On the otherhand, your team may be “road warriors” armed with a vast array of mobile devices and starved for cloud computing. Decide where you are, or want to be, between these two points. Does your candidate meet your accessibility needs?


Computing environments are more diverse than ever. Today’s applications need to be able to run at each point on a two-dimensional matrix of diverse operating systems and hardware platforms. This is what we call “portability” and a good way to get there is to use applications designed to be run on the web (AKA the cloud). Many developers like Blackboard write special user interfaces or “front-ends” for tablets and smartphones too. Portability is a critical factor if you are teaching in a BYOT (Bring Your Own Technology) environment.

Function, user-friendliness, accessibility, and portability are good measures of quality but sometimes unexpected issues arise and it’s good to have an idea of how vendors deal with them. Do they provide free tech support? When is it available? You might skip these questions for free personal use apps but not when you plan to ask employees or students to use them.

If you are lucky you’ll still have multiple candidates to choose from. You still need to select the best alternative but at least you have a choice! We’ll discuss making a final selection in our next installment.