Ideas for Teaching Problem-Solving, Critical Thinking and Reasoning

Note: Last semester, I took a graduate school course on advanced theories of learning.  One of our tasks was to apply the information we learned to describe how we might develop a curriculum for teaching problem-solving, critical thinking, and reasoning.  What follows are my musings on the topic.

If I were to teach problem solving, critical thinking, and reasoning, I’d embed it into the content already being taught (e.g., math or science class). The selection of instructional strategies would depend upon the nature of the subject matter, as different content requires different ways of thinking. Bruning, Schraw, and Norby (2011) refer to this as thinking frames such as how one would think about scientific inquiry and the use of research methods.

PROBLEM SOLVING. I’d determine the thinking frame that corresponds with the content. Possibilities include scientific inquiry methods for science, engineering method of systems approach for information technology and machinery, or the use of cause and effect when writing analytical essays.  As for instructional strategies, I’d use Dewey’s 5-step problem-solving model, which solves different types of problems.  I’d consider various instructional models: team-based learning, problem-based learning, and tools for discovering the root cause of a problem (e.g., Ishikawa’s Fishbone Diagram and Toyoda’s Why-Tree).  Bruning et al., encourage educators to teach how to evaluate solutions, products, and processes.  They found that most of the time when an improvement has been made from problem solving it is because there was some type of evaluation or reflection of it.  The means-ends analysis could help learners evaluate each step in the process of problem solving.   Here are some options for problem-solving formats: Web quests, gaming, report writing, brainstorming, natural frequency formatted problems (Gigerenzer, 2002), worked problems for case studies, and real world problems.

CRITICAL THINKING. I’d include information on functional fixedness and divergent and creative thinking.  Functional fixedness is the inability to view common objects in a new way, which inhibits critical thinking about things.  Divergent and creative thinking are skills that can be taught to students, so that they think outside the box.  Second, it’d be important to include information about groupthink (conforming to group consensus instead of individual concerns), overgeneralizations, and prejudice when dealing with people and ideas.  I suggest the following instructional strategies to teach critical thinking: advance organizers, imagery, concept maps, Frames Type 2(there’s a rule involved with the matrix), jigsaw group work, reciprocal teaching, and metacognitive strategies (e.g. self-regulation of understanding).  Appropriate formats include debates, HyperInquiry, mock trails, writing, simulations, gaming, cooperative group discussions, journals, think-alouds, case studies, and apps that teach critical thinking.

REASONING. I’d create measurable objectives that address verbal and written reasoning skills on the topic, or mathematical reasoning if warranted.  I’d include logic models and frames to analyze and evaluate.  In my opinion, educators should explicitly teach how to make inferences (inductive and deductive reasoning). Inductive reasoning is a bottom-up approach to exploratory research, while deductive reasoning is a top-down approach to comparative research.  I’d include the Bayesian model (a logic model), so that students could understand probability errors and other probability theories.  I suggest the following instructional strategies to teach reasoning: metaphors, analogies, Venn Diagrams, case studies, cognitive apprenticeships, and metacognitive strategies.  Appropriate formats include persuasive essays, debates, HyperInquiry, mock trails (persuasive arguments), simulations, and gaming.


Your blogger,

Sandra Rogers

Author: teacherrogers

Content developer, instructional designer, trainer, and researcher

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