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Critical thinking skills: what materials do/did you use to teach your high school student these much needed skills in the real world?


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After reading an article today, (portion below) I wanted to get feedback from you all here on the fourm, as to exactly "how" you provided your high school students with critical thinking skills.

Did you use books, videos, etc.?

 

"More on the Skills Gap

So we have two problems, 1) a gap in the labor market for workers with a unique and specific skill set, and 2) higher education institutions that need to show relevance and value. Before we discuss solutions, there is more to the story of the skills gap. This is not a new topic of discussion, and one that both sectors have addressed at some level. A good article by Jeff Selingo in Chronicle of Higher Education covers this in-depth. In a nutshell, employers complain about lack of ‘skilled workers’ yet feedback is at times contradictory, as they want workers with strong interpersonal skills, effective written and oral communication skills, teamwork, and the ability to think critically – claim that college graduates don’t have these skills, and don’t have the technical skills either. And at the same time, employers list experience as a requirement. Yet college students question— how can we have applicable experience fresh out of college? Good question.

 

On the other hand, we have higher education with it’s long held value that its purpose is to provide knowledge, expose students to new concepts and ideas, and to teach critical thinking. Preparing students for a ‘job’ or a vocation is not what universities are geared for [with some exceptions like law and medicine]. As an educator, I agree that students need to be exposed to a core curriculum that includes a liberal arts focus, and development of critical thinking skills. But, as a parent of three, with one child that has just earned a four-year degree, at a price of over $100,000, and two more close behind, I would hope that my kids receive not only an education that includes exposure to the liberal arts, [rigorous] higher level courses in their chose major, but also schooling that will prepare them for a career or at least a full-time job upon graduation."

 

http://onlinelearninginsights.wordpress.com/2012/12/04/the-middle-crises-middle-tier-universities-and-the-middle-skills-gap/

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I don't view "critical thinking" as a skill that should be separated out from other subjects - if that makes any sense. I used to make myself crazy trying to fit in "logic" classes until I read a few wonderful posts by Nan in Mass, who talked about using one or two existing subjects to teach "thinking."  For our family, history and literature were natural choices, but with practice we are much better at extending it to all subjects. For example, my son was recently listening a Teaching Company lecture where the German reasons for invading a particular area during World War II were almost identical to the current Russian reasoning for the Ukraine/Crimea situation. He identified this and then began extrapolating as to whether or not similar outcomes could be expected. The recent national Peace Essay contest that he entered for AP English Language had students look at security sector reform in two countries. For my son this meant analyzing whether or not the reforms established in Georgia could be adopted in Iraq.

 

Teach your kids to question everything. Teach your kids how to look for "answers" and then evaluate critically the information that they find. Encourage creativity and imagination. Why? Because it takes those qualities to solve problems like shower curtains that stick to hotel patrons. I'd love to be the person that thought of a curved shower curtain rod.

 

When I was in graduate school, a usually courteous professor who had taught upper level finance courses all over the world, let loose on a student who admittedly was a very stubborn "number cruncher."  The gist of the tirade was basically that you could make the best mathematical model in the world, but if you could not "see" the "human outcome" of the model, you had no business being in management. and should expect at the least, your job to go up in flames, if not your company.

 

 

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First, it would be nice if somebody could actually define what "critical thinking skills" are supposed to mean. It is a catchy phrase, but a very fuzzy one. The article did not shed much light on it. What on earth are "middle skills"???

 

Second, whatever it is, I do not think "critical thinking" can be taught as a skill by itself in isolation. We think about something, and thus we think critically within our content subjects - math, science, humanities - and in everyday life.

We have been modeling and encouraging debate, questioning, arguing since our kids were little. We do not consider "because I say so" a valid reason for anything. Our kids have been included in adult conversations and have witnessed countless spirited debates about controversial issues.

We use curriculum that does not focus on regurgitation of facts or rote drill, but on thinking and problem solving. (Which, btw, means that most designated "curricula" are not suitable for our purpose.)

And when our kids were younger, we made creative free play a top priority in our family, because that builds creativity and imagination like no designated material or workbook can.

 

ETA: Since I am complaining about definitions: what is the "real world"? I don't live in an imaginary one - my kids and I are already part of the "real" world, and the problems and issues we encounter and solve are "real world" problems.

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When I was in graduate school, a usually courteous professor who had taught upper level finance courses all over the world, let loose on a student who admittedly was a very stubborn "number cruncher."  The gist of the tirade was basically that you could make the best mathematical model in the world, but if you could not "see" the "human outcome" of the model, you had no business being in management. and should expect at the least, your job to go up in flames, if not your company.

 

This reminds me of a big overhall of the physical fitness standards in the Navy many years back. The old system had a point value on three different items (situps, pushups and a run or swim time). The points were all added up and that gave you the characterization of the overall test, from failing through good, excellent and outstanding.  The revised system still had the points system. But each of the three requirements also had its own fail through outstanding characterization. The overall characterization could not be higher than the lowest category in any of the three areas.

 

So if you had max points in sit ups and push ups (for an outstanding in each), but only ran fast enough for an excellent; you would only get excellent.  Under the old system, it was possible to drag the overall category up with really good results in 1-2 areas.

 

The powers that be were convinced that this revision would motivate people to work harder in their weakest areas, in order to bring up the overall categorization.

 

What really ended up happening is that people had a good sense of how fast they were going to run or swim. They knew if they were only going to get a good or excellent time. The sit ups and push ups were done first. Instead of continuing for the full two minutes allowed, many people would stop as soon as they got into the zone of their expected worst category. (IE, if their run was a "good" run, they stopped as soon as they hit the "good" zone in sit ups and push ups.)

 

Overall scores went down. Overall categorizations also went down.

 

I used to joke that the revised standard had obviously been written by a group of people who hadn't been to sea for a long time, but who had held too many jobs where they were surrounded by people who were hot running, hand picked, top sailors. They didn't account for the fatalism that the revised system engendered.

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One thing we've done (in addition to a lot of socratic dialogue and general question time at the dinner  table) is to have the kids read some books about people selling them stuff (or marketing them as a product) and the failure of ideas that weren't well considered.

 

Why We Buy - Paco Underhill

The Image - Daniel Boorstin

Freakanomics

Michael Lewis' books on the financial markets - the one about the money crisis in Europe is a favorite.

 

Cauliflower likes to listen to Freakanomics radio.

 

Oddly enough, Rooster Teeth podcast has also been an asset. In addition to bad jokes and lots of gaming/computer/tech news, they do discuss business failures and court cases and attempts to restrain trade.

 

 

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We are going to use some of the John Stossel in the Classroom DVD segments, but in reality, we have developed critical thinking skills very simply...

 

by being critical.

 

We question everything we read or view.  We fact check, we argue pro and con.

 

I'll be darned, over time, I can really see the results.

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I agree with above comments that it mostly makes sense to integrate critical thinking studies. However, my kids and I recently finished an awesome TC lecture series: Your Deceptive Mind: A Scientific Guide to Critical Thinking Skills, by Steven Novella. We were entranced, and it has informed many of our subsequent discussions and made my kids way more articulate when they analyze weak arguments or reasoning. Highly recommended!

 

A caveat, though...he speaks calmly but forcefully in support of mainstream scientific ideas like evolution, so those who don't like that approach may not appreciate that. Just fyi.

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I agree with above comments that it mostly makes sense to integrate critical thinking studies. However, my kids and I recently finished an awesome TC lecture series: Your Deceptive Mind: A Scientific Guide to Critical Thinking Skills, by Steven Novella. We were entranced, and it has informed many of our subsequent discussions and made my kids way more articulate when they analyze weak arguments or reasoning. Highly recommended!

 

A caveat, though...he speaks calmly but forcefully in support of mainstream scientific ideas like evolution, so those who don't like that approach may not appreciate that. Just fyi.

 

I completely agree that critical thinking skills don't exist outside of a content context, and with everybody's suggestions about how to foster them . . . However, I also think that there is a big value in teaching kids about thinking, itself, and how it works - our biases, how our minds process (and ignore) information, stuff like that.  Things that fall under the category of Metacognition - thinking about thinking.  That TC lecture sounds great.  Things that get kids to analyze arguments, advertisements, and look beneath the surface of everyday communication are great.  Understanding statistics and how we are often fooled by them - how our brains actually aren't very good at dealing with large numbers or with intuitive statistics - is important.  There are lots of great books about metacognition, cognitive science, psychology, social psych that fit this goal, too, and I think it is totally worth spending some studying/reading/learning about this, explicitly.

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The best way to promote critical thinking skills is through modeling, dialoguing, and questioning/musing about a variety of topics from the time children are conversant.  I rarely employed a didactic method of instruction with my children (avoided all early childhood programs for same reason) and don't believe any topic (within our immediate family context) my children want to discuss is off base. As others have stated, we have spirited discussions about just about everything, considering multiple angles etc... I have never used curricula that teach "one" way of solving problems, and I rarely assessed them much in terms of black-white/right-wrong type answers beyond what was necessary.  Socratic discussion with subsequent writing is a great way for them to develop as well as demonstrate their critical thought process. Needless to say, I don't think it would ever occur to any of my kids to accept anything on face value or come up with only one way of thinking about or solving a problem..... which of course could partly stem from growing up with an attorney for a mom. :)

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