Faculty Luncheon Series: Talking about our Teaching


Tuesday, November 7, 2017, 12:00pm to 1:00pm


The Brooks Room

Teaching Critical Thinking 

Discussion Leader: L. Mahadevan, PhD, Lola England de Valpine Professor of Applied Mathematics, of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, and of Physics; and SEAS LInc Faculty Fellow 2017-2018 
You are invited to join SEAS LInc for a discussion around the teaching of critical thinking.

Discussion will center on the following article:
Holmes, N. G., Carl E. Wieman, and D. A. Bonn. "Teaching critical thinking." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112.36 (2015): 11199-11204.

The ability to make decisions based on data, with its inherent uncertainties and variability, is a complex and vital skill in the modern world. The need for such quantitative critical thinking occurs in many different contexts, and although it is an important goal of education, that goal is seldom being achieved. We argue that the key element for developing this ability is repeated practice in making decisions based on data, with feedback on those decisions. We demonstrate a structure for providing suitable practice that can be applied in any instructional setting that involves the acquisition of data and relating that data to scientific models. This study reports the results of applying that structure in an introductory physics laboratory course. Students in an experimental condition were repeatedly instructed to make and act on quantitative comparisons between datasets, and between data and models, an approach that is common to all science disciplines. These instructions were slowly faded across the course. After the instructions had been removed, students in the experimental condition were 12 times more likely to spontaneously propose or make changes to improve their experimental methods than a control group, who performed traditional experimental activities. The students in the experimental condition were also four times more likely to identify and explain a limitation of a physical model using their data. Students in the experimental condition also showed much more sophisticated reasoning about their data. These differences between the groups were seen to persist into a subsequent course taken the following year.