Critical Thinking: Ana Petrovic

Ana G. Petrovic
Life Sciences
College of Arts and Sciences

Critical thinking in the sciences can be regarded as thinking of possible explanations for findings of a study/experiment, and evaluating how compatible the explanations are with the findings. By encouraging students to engage in the critical thinking process, they obtain the skill-set that in many instances allows them to reconstruct the content material they are learning, thus bypassing just blind memorization. Most importantly, from my perspective, by encouraging critical thinking we are helping develop an increased awareness about the material they are studying and its relevance.
 
One strategy that I use with my students involves case studies, in which I present students with an experimental setup, and subsequently with either numerical data or qualitative description of the experimental findings. Instead of just stating the knowledge that came from the experiment, students are presented with questions that engage them to examine the findings of the experiment and provide plausible explanations for the observed trends.
 
The engagement in critical thinking process is taking place prior to any formal learning of content knowledge takes place and this strategy acts as the driver of active learning of new material.
 
Another strategy involves engaging students in critical thinking approach by leading them to recognize the relevance of science in their own life and every-day life. In style of this critical thinking pedagogy, students can be given a problem with a real-life context. The solution to the central problem requires the use of on-line databases, teamwork and communication skills. Students can work in small groups, and members of the groups collaborate to acquire additional information, to complete the formulation of the problem and develop strategies and options for a solution.
 
The authentic and controversial characters of the chosen topic are motivating to engage in critical thinking. This type of teaching can effectively contribute to making students more critical about the way both society and the media deal with socio-scientific questions. It can help prepare student to live and participate in a modern society, which is based on science and technology. Additionally, these types of real-life case studies should allow students to develop a greater awareness for value of skills and knowledge set they are acquiring.  
 
Based on my experience, increasing wait-time between posing questions and waiting for students answer (~2 min) is important to succeed with teaching quality critical thinking. We can achieve this by asking students to take a moment and write what they are thinking. This process should cultivate higher-order cognitive skills and help develop students critical and creative thinking.
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