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The Sierra College Applied Critical Thinking for Advanced Technological Education (ACTivATE) project is an interactive, collaborative professional development  model for teachers. It supports educators as they enhance lessons with Applied Critical Thinking (21st Century Skills) to better prepare students for STEM education & careers.

The goal was to connect the practical application of academic learning with career and technical skills to increase students’ college and career success. This project is unique in that it focused on developing applied  critical thinking and assessments. Also participants represented a broad range of disciplines and taught at the high school and college level.


Sierra College STEM Collaborative presented a two-day start-up ACTivATE workshop, followed by two half-day work sessions during the 2013-14 academic year in collaboration with Northwestern University’s Searle Center for Teaching Excellence. Instructors used the Tennessee Tech University Critical thinking Assessment Test (CAT) as a tool to understand critical thinking and assessment.

Through a facilitated process, educators grew professionally while they enhanced existing curricula and pedagogy with applied critical thinking. Coaches met with instructors in between the two follow-up meetings. Denise Drane of Northwestern University participated in both the December 2013 and April 2014 sessions through video conference. Participants shared their lessons and experiences piloting the lessons with their students. They benefited from feedback from their peers as well as Denise. Several instructors in the same subject area, such as math or welding, and working at the high school and college level, collaborated in developing their Applied Critical Thinking lessons.


The outcomes of the ACTivATE workshop and work sessions were modified lessons and teaching strategies that employ applied critical thinking methodologies that were field tested in the classroom, as well as  critical thinking assessments customized for each course or discipline. JD Franz Research conducted the evaluation through participant interviews. Below is the conclusion:

“It engendered a high level of energy and enthusiasm, it prompted participating teachers to look at critical thinking in a new light relative to focus and intentionality, it led to the development and implementation of a variety of actual critical thinking lessons, and it motivated participants to continue along the critical thinking path well beyond the conclusion of the project itself.

 Certainly the most valued aspect of this project was the opportunity for teachers to network with one another and share ideas across disciplines and between levels of education. However, they were also excited about the opportunity to improve their “craft” and to emerge from the project with an actual lesson in hand. Finally, they clearly and almost universally appreciated all of the various program components – the presentations, the small group work, the review of the critical assessment test, the lesson plan template, and the coaching.”

Denise Drane said:

“I was truly impressed with the quality of the critical thinking activities that the faculty developed. I was also so pleased to see how much they seemed to have enjoyed implementing the activities.  In addition, they had gathered their own evidence to support using these types of activities over traditional lecturing approaches.”

Taking Applied Critical Thinking for STEM Careers to Scale

The Sierra College STEM Collaborative is seeking partners to take this work in Applied Critical Thinking to the next level. To learn more about ACTivATE, contact Carol Pepper-Kittredge, Sierra College at (916) 660-7801 or cpepper-kittredge(at)


S Gillette Mechatronics Sierra College STEM ACTiVATE

S Dicus Oakmont HS Candy Bar Lesson Sierra College STEM ACTivATE

J Schwartz Core-Cards Reason Sheets Sierra College STEM ACTivATE lesson

Check back – more are coming


Sierra College ACTivATE Project Evaluation Final Report on Teacher Interviews


4/17/2014 California STEM Weekly – Higher Education

4/16/2014 Rocklin & Roseville Today STEM Collaborative Teaches Critical Thinking

4/16/2014 San Jose Mercury News Sierra College STEM Collaborative Teaches Critical Thinking

4/16/2014 Sacramento Bee STEM Collaborative Teaches Critical Thinking

9/2013 – 10/2013 Practical Welding September/October 2013 Pg 16 Sierra College Takes Applied Approach to Critical Thinking

9/2013 – 10/2013 Society of Women Engineers – Sacramento Valley Section  Sierra College Breaks New Ground by Taking an Applied Approach to Teaching Critical Thinking Pg 6

9/2013 The Fabricator September 2014 pg 47 Industry News – Sierra College Takes Applied Approach to Critical Thinking

7/30/2013 MFRTECH  Sierra College Taking an Applied Approach to Teaching Critical Thinking

7/24/2013 Sacramento Business Journal Program at Sierra College helps instructors teach critical thinking

7/24/2013 Sacramento Bee Sierra College Breaks New Ground by Taking an Applied Approach to Teaching Critical Thinking

7/24/2013 The Union Sierra College offers teachers unique course

7/24/2013 The Mercury News Silicon Valley Sierra College Breaks New Ground by Taking an Applied Approach to Teaching Critical Thinking

02/27/2013 NSDL Network Sierra College STEM Collaborative launches new professional development program

02/25/2013 Auburn Journal Critical thinking to become a focus at local schools

02/22/2013 The Union Sierra College addresses Critical Thinking for STEM jobs

02/21/2013 Sierra College addresses Critical Thinking for STEM jobs



Sierra ACTivATE April 4 2014 agenda

Sierra College Critical Thinking for STEM jobs 2.20.13

Sierra College STEM – ACTivATE Presentation 12-10-12

Sierra STEM ACTivATE June workshop participant confirmation May 8 2013



Bayer USA A Compendium of Best Practice K-12 STEM Education Programs

UNC Charlotte Articles on Critical Thinking 

University of Indiana, Bloomington Resources on Critical Thinking

FSU  Center for Advancement of Learning and Assessment  Higher Order Thinking Skills

Intel STEM Education 

Perceptions of Students’ Learning Critical Thinking through Debate in a Technology Classroom