According to an article published in the last issue of Scientific American, in order for our society to function properly, meaning function as a proper democracy, it must consist of critical thinkers. Unfortunately though, critical thinking is not being properly taught in the classroom, where tests and marks have become the sole way to exhibit progress and which don’t require the necessary skills that will be later important in life.
Let’s face it, when was the last time any of us was asked a truly difficult question on a test, where solely the extension of recall and application was not enough? I’m guessing that not many of us get these types of questions a lot. A few days ago, my AP Chemistry teacher asked a difficult question, which required thinking outside the box. I was stumped and did not know what to answer. Eventually after examining all possibilities, I came to right conclusion. This however took a lot of thinking and stress. So what can we do to improve the 21st century average student’s critical thinking ability so that they can make better informed decision?
The article talked about a study done more than 10 years ago by scientists at Vanderbilt University, who asked 5th graders and college students what they would to protect bald eagles from extinction. Both groups came up with similar ideas, showing that more education was not a factor in thinking outside the box and complex problem solving. Nonetheless when asked to come up with questions about important issues regarding eagles, the college students came up with more critical ones, such as how are they dependent on their environment, versus 5thgraders who asked simple questions about individual eagles. This proved that older students have learned how to learn, but have not learned how to think critically.
The Exploratorium in San Francisco Dennis M. Bartels (the writer of article) studied how asking good questions can affect the quality of scientific inquiry. They began by teaching participants to ask “What if? And How Can? “Questions that could not be answered right away. This led to further research and to the development of even better and more extensive questions that included cause and effect. Thus by beginning to ask simple questions, they were able to teach the students to be set on solving more complex issues. Notice how this practice happened outside of the classroom, a theme which is very popular amongst scientists right now.
Future Science Leaders is one such program as well. Here we are taught to ask questions, explore them, reword them and do experiments to prove and disprove our theories. We are taught to look beyond the simple and beyond the available, and to formulate our own research and ideas. As the article mentions “informal learning environments tolerate failure better than schools”. I feel that that is exactly the case at FSL. Unlike school, we are not graded here. We are not stressed about getting good marks and pleasing the teacher, but we learn for the sake of learning and for our own personal development….and that is how learning should be. Thus these types of programs, that sponsor learning without grading and pressure, are best for developing the younger generation into critical thinking adults.
This idea is starting to become an important one in our society. It is essential that the younger generation be taught to ask their own questions and do their own research. We don’t want to have a world full of robots, unable to think for themselves…we want wise individuals who are able to make critical decisions and solve problems.
Original Article : March 2013 issue of Scientific American “ What Is Your Question? “ by Dennis M.Bartels
About this contributor: Valzaby is currently a grade 12 high school student who is both ambitious and motivated, but loves to have fun. Interested in human biology, psychology, dramatic soap opera TV shows and fitness through dance, she is in general a very social and open person.