The Sport of Thinking in Science

As a Science teacher, I have always struggled with the race against time; a loaded curriculum full of scientific jargon plus specialized techniques make the job of a Science teacher very difficult. Let us not forget the countless hours we spend setting up labs and cleaning them up… and looking for entertaining demonstrations to wow our enthusiastic pupils… whew… just thinking about these makes me want to stop writing this post.

Pause… to think…

True Science is augmented by true inquiry, which involves… thinking. Often Science teachers focus on the retrieval of information or on the laboratory techniques which most of our students will never utilize again in their life! Are we, though, effectively fostering an environment that is conducive of thinking? What is “thinking” anyway? How does “thinking” look like in a Science class? A term that comes to my mind is critical thinking!

So, to the web I went… and found that there’s actually a critical thinking community!!!! And on their website, I found out that:

Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.

Hmm… it sounds like when we ask students to evaluate some experimental data, manipulated to result in an easy-to-draw conclusion might not be enough to be categorized as critical thinking. And what about all those techniques and terminology that we do not cave in to give up? It seems like they are not the protagonists in the critical thinking theater.

So, how do we effectively teach critical thinking? Here’s the problem: in my opinion critical thinking cannot be taught. It can, however, be coached. Critical thinking is, in fact, like a sport! And as with any sport, we have to provide the students with the right ingredients, elements, and techniques so they can develop their own way to play the game. But we should always remember how important a scrimmage is to their success. Focusing on teaching students how to titrate or how to do a Punnett square is much like spending a ton of time teaching a kid what a puck is or how to shoot the puck, but failing to help them feel in their own skin the dynamics of the game.

So next time you think about focusing on techniques and terminology, stop and think: are you critically thinking?