Critical thinking in the classroom
One of my colleagues today gave her class a fairly simple task: pick 5 people that you would assign to go on a mission to explore a new planet. I’ll tell you my list: geologist, engineer, astrobiologist, medical personnel, chemist. It’s not the only list people could come up with. I’m sure everyone reading this would come up with a slightly different list, but I’m sure there would be similarities: you’d pick people who could study the planet.
Want to know what the kids came up with? (keep in mind that these are sophomores and juniors in high school)
Doctor, lawyer, police man, teacher, construction person
Politician, doctor, farmer, army person, cook.
Builder, leader, doctor, teacher, business man
These are just a few examples of the lists, but I think it shows the point. There is not a single scientist among them. Not only that, some of the choices are pretty stupid. Who the heck needs a business man with exploring a new planet?
Maybe the kids were confused on the assignment. Maybe they thought their teacher was asking about colonization instead of exploration. But still, most of the groups had no explanation for why they made their choices. When asked why I would pick a geologist, I could explain that a geologist would be able to understand the composition of the planet. Understanding the composition allows future colonies to know where to planet things, where to mine things, where the ground is stable enough to build things. But these kids could not tell their teacher why they picked a police man to go explore a new planet.
Their lack of ability to explain their decisions shows an amazing lack of thinking things out logically and making decisions based on background knowledge and evidence. And these are kids are the future.
Are you scared yet?
On the plus side, I had an amazing (although overly long as it was the first day of school and I had stuff to do) conversation about starting a class that would be all about getting kids to think critically.
So one of my (many) goals for the semester is to research content and curriculum ideas for a critical thinking class at the high school level. Any ideas on where to start would be appreciated.