The good news is that within a content area like science, students have more context cues to help them figure out which metacognitive strategy to use, and teachers have a clearer idea of what domain knowledge they must teach to enable students to do what the strategy calls for. For example, two researchers 14 taught second-, third-, and fourth-graders the scientific concept behind controlling variables; that is, of keeping everything in two comparison conditions the same, except for the one variable that is the focus of investigation.
The experimenters gave explicit instruction about this strategy for conducting experiments and then had students practice with a set of materials e.
The experimenters found that students not only understood the concept of controlling variables, they were able to apply it seven months later with different materials and a different experimenter, although the older children showed more robust transfer than the younger children. In this case, the students recognized that they were designing an experiment and that cued them to recall the metacognitive strategy, "When I design experiments, I should try to control variables.
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Experts in teaching science recommend that scientific reasoning be taught in the context of rich subject matter knowledge. A committee of prominent science educators brought together by the National Research Council put it plainly: "Teaching content alone is not likely to lead to proficiency in science, nor is engaging in inquiry experiences devoid of meaningful science content.
The committee drew this conclusion based on evidence that background knowledge is necessary to engage in scientific thinking. For example, knowing that one needs a control group in an experiment is important. Like having two comparison conditions, having a control group in addition to an experimental group helps you focus on the variable you want to study.
But knowing that you need a control group is not the same as being able to create one. Since it's not always possible to have two groups that are exactly alike, knowing which factors can vary between groups and which must not vary is one example of necessary background knowledge. In experiments measuring how quickly subjects can respond, for example, control groups must be matched for age, because age affects response speed, but they need not be perfectly matched for gender. More formal experimental work verifies that background knowledge is necessary to reason scientifically.
For example, consider devising a research hypothesis. One could generate multiple hypotheses for any given situation. Suppose you know that car A gets better gas mileage than car B and you'd like to know why. There are many differences between the cars, so which will you investigate first?
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Engine size? Tire pressure? A key determinant of the hypothesis you select is plausibility. You won't choose to investigate a difference between cars A and B that you think is unlikely to contribute to gas mileage e. Other data indicate that familiarity with the domain makes it easier to juggle different factors simultaneously, which in turn allows you to construct experiments that simultaneously control for more factors.
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For example, in one experiment, 17 eighth-graders completed two tasks. In one, they were to manipulate conditions in a computer simulation to keep imaginary creatures alive. In the other, they were told that they had been hired by a swimming pool company to evaluate how the surface area of swimming pools was related to the cooling rate of its water. Students were more adept at designing experiments for the first task than the second, which the researchers interpreted as being due to students' familiarity with the relevant variables. Students are used to thinking about factors that might influence creatures' health e.
Hence, it is not the case that "controlling variables in an experiment" is a pure process that is not affected by subjects' knowledge of those variables. Prior knowledge and beliefs not only influence which hypotheses one chooses to test, they influence how one interprets data from an experiment. In one experiment, 18 undergraduates were evaluated for their knowledge of electrical circuits. Then they participated in three weekly, 1. The results showed a strong relationship between subjects' initial knowledge and how much subjects learned in future sessions, in part due to how the subjects interpreted the data from the experiments they had conducted.
Subjects who started with more and better integrated knowledge planned more informative experiments and made better use of experimental outcomes. Other studies have found similar results, and have found that anomalous, or unexpected, outcomes may be particularly important in creating new knowledge-and particularly dependent upon prior knowledge.
They tell you that your understanding is incomplete, and they guide the development of new hypotheses. But you could only recognize the outcome of an experiment as anomalous if you had some expectation of how it would turn out. And that expectation would be based on domain knowledge, as would your ability to create a new hypothesis that takes the anomalous outcome into account.
The idea that scientific thinking must be taught hand in hand with scientific content is further supported by research on scientific problem solving; that is, when students calculate an answer to a textbook-like problem, rather than design their own experiment. A meta-analysis 20 of 40 experiments investigating methods for teaching scientific problem solving showed that effective approaches were those that focused on building complex, integrated knowledge bases as part of problem solving, for example by including exercises like concept mapping.
Ineffective approaches focused exclusively on the strategies to be used in problem solving while ignoring the knowledge necessary for the solution.
What do all these studies boil down to? First, critical thinking as well as scientific thinking and other domain-based thinking is not a skill. There is not a set of critical thinking skills that can be acquired and deployed regardless of context. Second, there are metacognitive strategies that, once learned, make critical thinking more likely.
Third, the ability to think critically to actually do what the metacognitive strategies call for depends on domain knowledge and practice. For teachers, the situation is not hopeless, but no one should underestimate the difficulty of teaching students to think critically. Excellent insights and take away.
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I only wish the public school system was aware of these significant findings. This article is very helpful do to the fact that differnt studies have shown that a person who thinks critically will examine more out of the choices they make,etc. Alot of students lack critical thinking which needs to be effective in todays ruing of society, we as humans must think beyond the surface to succeed at what we do.
Author Interviews Meet your favorite authors and illustrators in our video interviews. Book Finder Create your own booklists from our library of 5, books! Themed Booklists Dozens of carefully selected booklists, for kids years old. Nonfiction for Kids Tips on finding great books, reading nonfiction and more. Skip to main content. You are here Home. By: Daniel T. Learning critical thinking skills can only take a student so far. Critical thinking depends on knowing relevant content very well and thinking about it, repeatedly.
Here are five strategies, consistent with the research, to help bring critical thinking into the everyday classroom. Why is thinking critically so hard? Thinking tends to focus on a problem's "surface structure" To understand why the surface structure of a problem is so distracting and, as a result, why it's so hard to apply familiar solutions to problems that appear new, let's first consider how you understand what's being asked when you are given a problem.
For example, in one experiment, 4 subjects saw a problem like this one: Members of the West High School Band were hard at work practicing for the annual Homecoming Parade. First they tried marching in rows of 12, but Andrew was left by himself to bring up the rear. Then the director told the band members to march in columns of eight, but Andrew was still left to march alone. Even when the band marched in rows of three, Andrew was left out. Finally, in exasperation, Andrew told the band director that they should march in rows of five in order to have all the rows filled.
He was right. Given that there were at least 45 musicians on the field but fewer than musicians, how many students were there in the West High School Band? With deep knowledge, thinking can penetrate beyond surface structure If knowledge of how to solve a problem never transferred to problems with new surface structures, schooling would be inefficient or even futile — but of course, such transfer does occur. Here's an example: A treasure hunter is going to explore a cave up on a hill near a beach.
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He suspected there might be many paths inside the cave so he was afraid he might get lost. Obviously, he did not have a map of the cave; all he had with him were some common items such as a flashlight and a bag. What could he do to make sure he did not get lost trying to get back out of the cave later?
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