Critical thinking

Two items titled “Critical Thinking” are on my desktop right now: the September issue of Science Scope and an op-ed piece in the Boston Globe Critical thinking? You need knowledge. In this article, the author Diane Ravitch discusses “21st century skills” such as critical thinking and cooperative learning and suggests these are being emphasized to the exclusion of “knowledge.” It’s an interesting article, and the comments that have been submitted are diverse and thought-provoking, too.
One thing I looked for in the article was a definition of “critical thinking.” It seems like a phrase we all use but may have different interpretations. Does the term refer to questioning, synthesizing, problem-solving, creating, reflecting, judging, evaluating? Something else? We also should consider what we mean by “knowledge” Is knowledge information from the outside that gets absorbed (memorized?) or does it also involve a deeper level of understanding that comes from making internal connections? How do we determine what information and experiences should be internalized as knowledge? Just some rambling thoughts.
I’m sure we’ve all had experiences in classrooms where the teacher emphasized the acquisition of facts and definitions, with few opportunities to use the information in any context. On the other hand, there are classrooms that focus on projects and activities but the students don’t really understand why they are doing them. We often hear “They are having so much fun, they don’t know they’re learning.” Maybe we should help students know that they are learning, how the activity is helping them learn, what content is important, and that learning can be enjoyable (and challenging).
But as I read the articles in Science Scope, I have the impression that these teachers use critical thinking and cooperative learning, not as isolated skills, but as ways of helping students learn science through investigations, discussion, readings, and writing. The activities they describe integrate essential content with experiences that help the students internalize and apply what they are learning in creative ways
The Internet is changing the way we locate and share information, so I’ll put in a plug for SciLinks as a tool for finding relevant science content!

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