Developing and Emphasizing Critical Thinking and Communication Skills in Agricultural Mechanics Education: A Focus on a Welding Skill Evaluation Activity

By Wells, Trent | The Agricultural Education Magazine, May/June 2017 | Go to article overview

Developing and Emphasizing Critical Thinking and Communication Skills in Agricultural Mechanics Education: A Focus on a Welding Skill Evaluation Activity


Wells, Trent, The Agricultural Education Magazine


Phipps, Osborne, Dyer, & Ball (2008) described that part of the role of school-based agricultural education (SBAE) should be to challenge students' intellectual capacities alongside their psychomotor skill abilities. These scholars further stated that teachers should be proactive in planning learning activities that promote students' individual abilities in a variety of areas, particularly in the development of logical thought. The concept of logical thought could include, in this context, critical thinking skills that revolve around self-evaluation. To take this notion further, the selfevaluation component could be used to develop communication skills that describe a particular item's, or set of items', outstanding qualities as well as poor qualities and needs for improvement. This is starting to sound similar to livestock evaluation, isn't it?

As an agricultural education teacher, I found that effective and useful evaluation could be a touchy and tricky subject in several content areas, such as during the welding portion of my agricultural mechanics course. Students wanted constant positive and constructive feedback as quickly as possible; I wanted to make sure that everyone got as much practice as possible during our course meeting time. During my first year, I quickly recognized that some students were naturally gifted with a certain level of dexterity while others weren't. Some students took more time than others to grasp the concepts of particular welding positions, hand movements, body positioning, and so forth. With limited time available during each class session, checking on each student's progress and critiquing weld beads was problematic at best. I wanted to provide as much critical feedback and corrective techniques to as many people as possible, but because there was one of me and over twenty of them in each class, I was, to say the least, stretched thin.

In response to these demands for my time, I instituted a different approach to self-evaluation that I had observed during my time as a graduate student at Iowa State University. I want to note that I only created the worksheet that I used to guide the activity in my classroom. I did not create the activity itself; the credit for that goes to Dr. Ryan Anderson. Rather, I simply adapted the principles behind this process to my own classroom and created a worksheet template that was easy for my students to use and could be replicated in multiple content area types so as not to limit its utility to welding instruction. The activity that emerged was the Welding Project Oral Reasons Assignment. Within this activity, students A) got the opportunity to practice psychomotor skills during our welding activities, B) were required to make critical thinking-based decisions about their welds, and C) give an oral report about their decisions.

The process that guided this activity was simple and easy to replicate across multiple class sec- tions. I used this activity during the April 2016 in three sections of my introductory-level class, Fundamentals of Agriscience, which were primary filled with ninth- and tenth grade students. We had been practicing welds for several days at this point, so trying a new activity with them would, I thought, break some of the monotony of simple practice. Utilizing the activity principles that I had observed as a graduate student, I developed a worksheet that was broken down into three primary parts: Notes, Placings, and Reasons. Each section contained instructions that described what students were to do at each step. Two days were set aside to complete the activity in full. On the first day, students were given instructions about the welds to be performed that day. Using small coupons, their task for the day was to run four horizontal position weld beads across their welding coupon. The welds had to be complete from end to end, and students were required to clean their welds when finished. Each student rotated into the four welding booths over the 50-minute span of the course meeting, allowing all of them to engage in the day's activity. …

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