Encouraging students to use critical thinking is more than an extension activity in science and math lessons, it is the basis of true learning.
Teaching students how to think critically helps them move beyond basic comprehension and rote memorization. They shift to a new level of increased awareness when calculating, analyzing, problem solving, and evaluating.
Another way to view the power of critical thinking – as students learn how to apply and use higher order thinking skills, they learn how to question the accuracy of their solutions and findings.
Students wonder why they got the results they did and not another outcome. This in turn leads to internalization of concepts, along with all important point of making connections with related concepts.
Teaching Critical Thinking
Some students have the natural ability to ask higher cognitive questions. Specifically when evaluating experimental findings in science or solving math problems. However, many students do not have this innate skill and need to learn how to ask higher order questions.
An important point for encouraging students to use critical thinking is by modeling these skills for your students. Students will inherently follow their teacher’s lead; this is why it is important to practice what we preach.
The following are examples of questions to ask your students to encourage them to think critically (Richard Paul).
- What additional information do you need to solve the problem?
- How does the data relate to your findings?
- How does the evidence support your conclusions?
- What would you need to do to determine if the solution is true?
- How can you compare this with other problems?
- Are their alternative solutions to the problem? If so, what are they?
- What else may be true if this is correct?
- What effect would _______ have?
- What do you mean by that statement?
- How could you ask that question differently?
- What did you learn from solving this problem?
- Is this the most important question to ask when solving the problem?
- What questions need to be answered before answering this question?
These questions all have one purpose – keeping the train on the track by guiding students through the critical thinking process. When you ask these and similar questions, you are encouraging your students to move from passive to active learning.
Avoiding Questions Easily Answered on the Internet
Questions and problems easily answered through a quick query on the internet are not an effective strategy for teaching critical thinking. Students need questions which require them to create a product to show what they learned. The following examples are referred to “Google-Proofing” in some circles.
- Construct a data table and graph to display a comparison of cost of three competing cell phone companies.
- Design an investigation to determine the best materials for building a hurricane proof house.
- Compare the organs in the human body with other mammals.
- Create a board game based on geometric shapes.
- Redesign an existing product to reduce its carbon footprint.
The goal is to help students learn how to develop higher level questions and make connections when solving math problems or analyzing experimental data.
Quality Thinking In order to support quality critical thinking, the frequency of questions is not as important as the quality of questions. Also, increasing wait-time between teacher-student-teacher is important to success with teaching quality thinking. According to Kathleen Cotton, the following are factors to consider when asking students questions.
- The average level of questions asked by teachers are 60 percent lower cognitive, 20 percent procedural, and 20 percent higher cognitive.
- Increasing the frequency of higher cognitive questions to the 50 percent level produces superior gains in middle and high school student achievement.
- Asking higher cognitive questions does not reduce student achievement on lower cognitive questions.
- With predominate use of lower cognitive questions; students tend toward lower achievement.
The use of higher cognitive questions tends to elicit longer student answers in complete sentences, quality inference and conjecture by students, and the forming of higher level questions. This in turn results in increased student use of critical thinking and classroom participation. There is never a wrong time to begin encouraging your students to use critical thinking skills, so why not start today.
Cotton, Kathleen, Classroom Questioning, North West Regional Educational Laboratory.
Paul, Richard, Critical Thinking: How to Prepare Students for a Rapidly Changing World, Foundation for Critical Thinking.
The Best Resources in Teaching & Learning Critical Thinking in the Classroom
Online Organization Tool
LiveBinders is a free web 2.0 tool which offers educators the ability to save and organize materials for any class. One advantage of this online service the capability to update a binder anywhere an educator has internet access.
This benefit offers teachers a convenient online location for their students find information during and after school. Examples include: resources placed in a binder help students complete homework assignments, complete research, review project rubrics, listen podcasts, and student homework submission.
Another advantage of LiveBinders for teachers is the update features designed in each binder. The design offers educators the ability to rapidly update information in any lesson, unit, or project as new information or procedures become available. Also, there are no design or layout issues to contend with because everything uploaded to the binder is organized in tabs and sub-tabs.
The tabs and sub-tab, similar to pages in a book, organize information and resources for ease of students access. Labeling these tabs and sub-tabs is straight forward process.
Additional design features allow teachers to upload resources in the form of PDFs, images, presentations, videos, podcasts, documents, and more to a binder. Also, if links are desired to online resources, all that is needed is to create a special tab for these links.
Strategies for Using this Online Tool in Any Class
The following are strategies for how to use LiveBinders to support teaching and learning in science and math education.
This is a collection of assignments and projects for students to complete as the year progresses. All information students need to complete their work is provided such as rubrics, web based resources, and assignment or project requirements.
One example is creating a LiveBinder for a specific assignment or project for students to upload their finished work. This design feature allows students to present their work in class.
Lessons/Units This free online tool provides an excellent method for saving online materials such as websites, images, interactive sources, and documents related to a specific lesson or unit. Examples include:
- Units which involve two or more subject areas, such as a Thematic Unit on data collection and analysis of geometric shapes in nature.
- A collection of mobile learning Apps for the iPod Touch, Smart Phones, or iPad related to the lesson or unit for student use.
- A collection of project- or problem-based learning activities.
Student Resources These are resources students can use throughout the year or for specific periods of time such as a study guide for a test or final. Examples of these resources include:
- Guides for using online tools such as Google Search, Google Docs, Skype, Wordle, Glogster, online calculator, and digital storytelling.
- Guides for using digital devices such as an iPod Touch, iPad, Kindle, probeware, flip camera, and digital camera.
- Science and math interactive manipulatives, games, and other online resources to help reinforce concepts taught in class.
- Study guides for writing math equations, algebra, rainforests, balancing chemical equations, bibliography procedures,and more.
- Links to online interactive games and other web based resources.
General Benefits and Advantages of LiveBinders The following is a summary of the benefits and advantages of using LiveBinders to support teaching, learning, and professional development.
- Material and resources are up loadable from any computer, anytime, and anywhere with internet access.
- Educators can use a class blog or wiki to provide students’ access to a binder.
- Total storage per account is 100 MB, providing the opportunity to create multiple binders.
- A bookmark tool is available a browser’s toolbar to quickly upload new resources to a binder.
- A binder is invaluable for creating a library of resources for students and educators to use.
These strategies, techniques, and tips provide just a sample of the many ways LiveBinders support teaching and student learning. The use of this web 2.0 tool replaces a physical notebook or binder for educators. In support of the value this online tool provides – the American Association of School Librarians has selected LiveBinders as one of their Top 25 Best Websites for teaching and learning in July of 2010.
Opening Minds with a New Set of Keys
The use of web based technology is growing by leaps and bounds every day. These online tools are the new set of keys for opening your students’ minds. The vast resources on the Internet are making the use traditional methods of teaching and learning obsolete in countless ways.
The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Principles and Standards of School Mathematics (2000) states it quite well (also applicable to teaching and learning science):
- “some math becomes more important because technology requires it”
- “some math becomes less important because technology replaces it”
- “ some math becomes possible because technology allows it”
The use of these web based technology set of keys have the capacity to enhance lessons and engage students in new exciting ways of learning.
Web 2.0 Tools which Support Learning Science and Math
Web 2.0 is recognized as the second generation of the Internet. One of the most noticeable transformations with this second generation is the movement away from static web pages, lifeless purveyors of information, into dynamic and shareable content.
This transformation offers students the ability to spend more time using critical thinking skills to explore math and science concepts. The following are representative online tools which comprise the new set of keys to support teaching and learning in science and math.
Interactive Manipulatives – when you use interactive manipulatives with your students, they have the opportunity to learn the underlying ideas of science and math through modeling and computer simulation. The following are two examples of free online interactive manipulatives.
- FOSS Web – this is a collection of interactive manipulatives which students can use to explore science concepts and ideas. The site is a compliment for FOSS Science kits. This web site is designed for grades K – 8.
Surveys and Polls – these Web 2.0 tools offer the ability for students to conduct surveys and polls with other students, teachers, and others outside the confine of your classroom or school. The advantage with these online tools is the elimination of time needed for printing, distributing, and collecting a survey or poll instrument.
With less time and resources spent on preparing surveys or polls, students spend more time analyzing and drawing conclusions from their data. The following are two free online tools:
- Obsurvey – offers the ability to create surveys or polls without limitations on number of users, responses, and questions. You or your students can embed a survey or poll in a class or student blog for ease of viewing by potential responders.
- Google Forms – offer the ability to create surveys or polls. Just like Obsurvey there are no limits and responses can be readily transformed in to graphs.
Presentations – there are several Web 2.0 tools for you to use for lesson presentations and for your students use during present data collection techniques, findings, and conclusions for problem solving assignments and project based learning activities. The following are two examples of free online presentation tools.
- Google Presentations – offers the capability to import PowerPoint presentations or create your own. This tool also offers the ability to publish or embed presentations in any website or blog.
- Glogster – offers students the capability to create interactive posters to share project findings and collaborate on class projects. An interactive poster is ideal for use with interactive white boards during student presentations.
Concept Mapping – processing ideas and thoughts related to science and math topics is crucial for helping students develop a more thorough understanding of concepts. The following are two examples of free online concept mapping tools.
- Mind42 – offers simultaneous collaboration for in-class brainstorming sessions and student collaboration outside of class. No installation is required and it is accessible from anywhere or any computer platform. Students can create colorful interactive mind maps using colors, images, links, and a variety of text styles.
- Wise Mapping – uses diagrams to represent words, ideas, tasks, or other items linked to and arranged around a central key word or idea. You or your students can use it to generate, visualize, structure and classify ideas, organization of thoughts, developing problem solving strategies, and decision making.
These are just a sample of available Web 2.0 resources as a new set of keys for opening students’ minds in science and math. Please feel free to add your favorites online tools in the comment section.