Critical Thinking

“Economists who have studied the relationship between education and economic growth confirm what common sense suggests: The number of college degrees is not nearly as important as how well students develop cognitive skills, such as critical thinking and problem-solving ability.” Derek Bok.

Critical thinking could be defined as the process of gathering information and analysing it to solve a problem. It may require us to use a range of other executive skills rather than simple memorisation and recall of facts. Critical thinking allows us to objectively examine information to help make a judgement.

I remember working with my friend, Jeff, many years ago (before Google) to help him cut the rafters (the sloping beams that help to support the roof) of a cubby house he was building for his kids. Getting the cuts in the correct place turned out to be trickier than we first thought, being the non-builders that we were. We measured them and made the cuts, but they didn’t fit correctly. So, we tried again and the second cuts didn’t fit either; however, we didn’t give up. We looked carefully at the problem and went back to the drawing board. Eventually, we managed to work out where the cuts went so the rafters fitted neatly onto the walls. The cubby house is still standing; however, it is now a magnificent chook pen.

Critical thinking could help us to promote creativity when problem solving and may help us to self-reflect. Some people believe that it also helps us to enhance our academic performance.

Choose one of the following to try this week to help enhance your critical thinking skills.

  • Give the answer first and then everyone needs to make questions that will give the chosen answer; e.g., the answer is butter. What are the questions?
  • Make some ‘brain teasers’ to challenge each other with, e.g., PROM   ISE = broken promise, or EVER EVER EVER EVER = forever.
  • Play ‘Two Truths and a Lie’. Someone says three things about themselves and everyone must guess which is the lie.
  • Find a conundrum book or Google ‘conundrums’ and share them with your family.
  • Think of a challenge you faced recently. List five different ways to overcome that challenge if you were to face it again.
  • Play ‘Celebrity Heads’ or ‘Guess Who’ with the family.
  • What if the sky was red? What if humans did not have a mouth? What if we lived on Mars? What if dogs could talk? Discuss these and then make some more of your own.
  • Talk about some facts that you know. How do you know that they are facts? Could these facts be wrong? Could they be opinions? Discuss.
  • Get some pictures from a newspaper, or Google some random images. Discuss what could be happening in each picture?
  • Find a range of items from around the house. Talk about what each item is used for. Now discuss what else it could be used for. How many different ideas can you come up with for each item?

To this day, many years after finishing Grade Six at primary school, I still have fond memories of my teacher, Mr. Ransom, who made learning fun. Grade Six was filled with games, creativity, brain teasers and conundrums. A few favourites come to mind. The first one went something like this… An electric train was travelling in a southerly direction at a speed of 50 km/h. It was going into a headwind that was blowing directly towards the train from the south at a speed of 50 km/h. Which way did the smoke from the train go?

The other conundrum that I can still remember was about the rooster sitting on the top of a house. It was sitting exactly in the middle of a pitched roof that came to a sharp point. It lay an egg which softly landed right on the point of the roof. Did the egg balance on the top of the roof or did it roll off, and if it did, which way did it roll; towards the front garden or towards the back garden? I still love the challenge of solving these types of conundrums and I really enjoy working with others to solve them.

“Coming up with a way to fix mistakes challenges your creativity and your critical thinking skills and your resourcefulness. Often, you end up with something better than what you planned on in the first place.” Mark Frauenfelder.

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