In August 2021, Mentoring Minds celebrated educators through a special, first-ever virtual summit—Critical Thinking Live! Attendees explored possibilities to ignite the power of critical thinking through a series of dynamic, engaging sessions hosted by industry experts, thought leaders and educators who are making a difference.



Read on for highlights from Critical Thinking Live! sessions. If you’re interested in getting the full session videos, engage with ThinkBot over here to get the links. 👉

Bridge Theory and Practice with #HipHopEd

Terms like “multiculturalism” and “cultural relevance” have been littered across the educational landscape–but teachers and administrators still have a challenging time implementing instructional approaches that meet the needs of diverse student populations.

In a powerful keynote presentation, Dr. Christopher Emdin covered how educators can bridge culturally responsive teaching theory and practice through an exploration of hip-hop culture.

“No matter what you learn about how to transform a place, it means nothing when you don’t pay attention to the space—the emotions, the traditions, the stories and other things that folks are bringing with them.”—Dr. Chris Emdin

The first step in being a #HipHopEd educator, is recognizing the truths, challenges and visions of youth. Dr. Emdin explained that hip hop carries the histories and traditions of times past into today–teachers can use this to make relevant, personal connections that stick with students.

“To do teaching and learning well, you don’t just follow curriculum and scripts–you tap into intuition–the intangible. We cannot engage in phenomenal, Mentoring Minds curriculum until we first meet young folks where they are.” –Dr. Chris Emdin

In his book Ratchetdemic: Reimagining Academic Success, Dr. Emdin introduces an alternative educational model–one that involves rejecting the deficit view of students’ capabilities–instead understanding that true knowledge is not given, it is discovered.

If educators want students to be able to take what they are learning and turn it into something powerful, they must give both themselves and their students the right to act in the classroom.

Teachers, are you giving your students the right….

  • To be here? Not as guests in “your” school, but as the focus and reason you are there?
  • To feel? To show emotion, fervor, heart and soul?
  • To act? With movement, and expression?
  • To love, and be loved? Are you sharing your passions outside of teaching and learning?
  • To speak? To share their opinions and experiences?
  • To see? To view things from a different perspective?
  • To know? To knowledge? To high standards?

Dr. Emdin left attendees with an important mission. In today’s connected world, all of us can access information—students included. An educator’s job is not to repeat information– it is to make relevant, emotional connections to content, where students are so engaged that they take what they are learning outside of the classroom—and do something powerful with it.

Follow the Four Laws of Learning

With so many ideas, techniques, strategies and tools available to educators, it helps to simplify: What really makes a difference in teaching? There are many factors, like relationship building, that have an impact, but when it comes to planning lessons—that 45- to 90-minute block of time teachers set aside for instruction—what activities really move the needle on learning?

In a session hosted by Jennifer Gonzalez, editor-in-chief at Cult of Pedagogy, attendees were introduced to four “laws of learning”—research-backed truths from classroom teachers who have figured out what works. They apply to every subject area and every grade level, and if followed when planning lessons, teachers will be a lot more likely to make some real learning happen for your students.

Law #1: Keep the GPS on. Students learn best when they are clear about where a lesson is going, what it will look like when they get there, and how they’re progressing toward that goal.

Law #2: Classify, connect and compare. If we help students make connections in the content and find similarities and differences in the material they learn, they will learn it better.

Law #3: To learn, we need to churn. To store information in long-term memory, it helps if learners process that information in some active way.

Law #4: Better to retrieve than receive. Incorporating retrieval practice into our teaching can significantly improve how well students recall and retain what we teach them.

Build a Culture of Critical Thinking

How do schools and districts build a culture of critical thinking in today’s modern learning environment? In a session moderated by Charlene Blohm, panelists shared their viewpoints and experiences in laying a foundation for the 9 Traits of Critical Thinking to flourish inside and outside of the classroom.

Creating safe, engaging learning environments

In safe learning environments, mistakes are welcomed as opportunities—not mistakes. Creating these spaces can motivate students, helping them feel encouraged to take risks and contribute freely during class discussions.

    • @Love: An effective learning environment offers a platform for learners to engage with one another, and focus on academic achievement. It also offers a place to resolve conflict, and foster positive connections between instructors, students and their peers. Before we can expect students to achieve academically, we must ensure they feel safe mentally and physically.
    • @Stobaugh: When I think of a safe and engaging learning environment, I want to see teachers and students who value growth. Educators can use formative assessments to achieve this—checking students’ understanding along the way, and making adjustments where needed. In a face-to-face classroom, teachers can walk around and listen to group conversations—chiming in where needed. They can also use a technique like Muddiest Point, which prompts students to write down the most difficult or confusing part of a lesson, lecture or reading.

 Prioritizing social-emotional learning

When taught, modeled and practiced, social-emotional learning (SEL) competencies can lead to positive student outcomes that are important for success in school, and in life.

Research links SEL to improved attitudes, relationships, academic performance and perceptions of classroom and school climate, among other benefits.

    • @Haber: Social-emotional learning is an important topic, as it sheds more light on critical thinking being more than thinking logically. It’s about human connection. There are many psychological principles that impact a person’s ability to think critically—like cognitive biases. Emotions play a role in what we choose to think about, and what we choose to believe. Social plays a role when we are interacting with others. Values and perspectives are important components of who we are, and how we interact with others—and I’d argue that you can’t be a skilled critical thinker if you aren’t thinking about your holistic self, along with how you interact with others.
    • @Stobaugh: Collaboration is important for weaving SEL into the classroom. For example, when students are working in groups, instructors can prompt students to share something they learned from a peer in their group. This helps instill a culture of collaboration, while also creating opportunities for students to hear positive feedback about themselves.

Leading by Example

Educators often rely on modeling to teach and reinforce skills, especially those that are more complex. Critical thinking is no exception. When teachers explain their thinking out loud, students become aware of the thinking processes that are involved in performing certain tasks.

    • @Love: Paying attention to culture is the most important action a leader can do. Modeling is a proven practice, and we should be taking advantage of it. When introducing something new, leaders can adopt it as an initiative—using modeling to guide teachers along the way. This helps faculty and staff value what you are trying to accomplish.
    • @Stobaugh: Critical thinking is something we do every day with our students—it is also necessary for students to succeed in college, career, relationships and life. The jobs that are going to be available to our students, when they exit the education system, are going to require creative and critical thinking. An easy way to engage students in the process of critical thinking is through mind maps. At the beginning of class, a teacher introduces a topic and invites students to add any background knowledge they have on it. After working through that day’s lesson, students are invited to use what they learned to update the list.
    • @Haber: Teachers can proactively model critical thinking by calling attention to it in the context of other subject matter. For example, a math teacher can connect a formula they are teaching to the critical thinking skill of deductive reasoning. Critical thinking is much more like learning how to play a sport or musical instrument than it is academic discipline—the more you practice, the better you’ll be at that skill. Educators must first teach students how to do a critical thinking skill, and then provide ample opportunities for practice.

Achieve standards mastery with ThinkUp!

In the spring of 2021, Project Tomorrow surveyed more than 240 K–12 educators using Mentoring Minds’ ThinkUp! to better understand how the instructional materials have made a difference in their classrooms. Dr. Julie Evans, CEO at Project Tomorrow, gave attendees a preview of the results.

83 percent of K-8 teachers say that the use of ThinkUp! increases their effectiveness as an educator.

The majority of survey respondents said that using ThinkUp! products has improved their effectiveness as a teacher by…

  • Using more rigorous content and approaches to learning
  • Developing a culture of critical thinking in my classroom
  • Being better organized and focused
  • Leveraging instructional strategies that address individual student needs

“Because ThinkUp! is so well organized, it can be used in a flexible way. I like that I can follow the curriculum maps to ensure standards are being met. The rigor of ThinkUp! helps my students see that the work they are doing is worthwhile and important–and helps them understand why they are in school.”—Teresa Dempsey, Gifted Intervention Specialist

85 percent of K-8 teachers say that the use of ThinkUp! positively impacts student achievement.

A majority of respondents said using ThinkUp! products in the classroom positively impacts student outcomes, and that with ThinkUp!, students are…

  • Developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills
  • Applying knowledge to solve practice problems
  • Collaborating more with each other
  • Taking learning to a deeper level

“I appreciate that ThinkUp! requires students to think before they answer a question. The curriculum requires students to consider different perspectives before responding and determine the best method to solve that problem. Even if a student understands a concept right away, ThinkUp! prompts them to think more critically about what they learned—they are going deeper than the standard.”—Teresa Dempsey, Gifted Intervention Specialist

94 percent of K-8 teachers say they would recommend ThinkUp! to another teacher to use in the classroom.

Critical thinking skills help students thrive both inside and outside of the classroom. 97 percent of respondents said it was very important for today’s students to develop strong critical thinking skills.



“Information is being put in front of our children all of the time. We need to help them learn how to ask questions about what they are seeing and hearing, the consequences of decisions and how to see things from different perspectives. Critical thinking is important for every aspect of their lives.”—Teresa Dempsey, Gifted Intervention Specialist

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