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May the Force Be With You

Star Wars fans know Yoda, the legendary Jedi Master – small in size but wise and powerful.  He trained his Jedi students to think – “Mind what you have learned – save you it can.”  The ability to think critically is a powerful skill.  It is the force that allows us to actively analyze, synthesize, and evaluate the world around us.  It enables us to create, make informed decisions, and truly learn and grow.  So how do we prepare our students to be critical thinkers, equipped to independently problem solve, successfully take on academic challenges, and make responsible life choices?  The answer is not found in the memorizing of facts that come from the ever-changing curriculum, but through the practice and cultivation of critical thinking skills.

Teaching our students to problem solve is not an option, but the ideal.  The act of critically thinking requires instruction and practice, so it will become a mental habit – a skill that will automatically engage when a problem or task arises.  Critical thinking researcher, Dr. Peter Facione, suggests the “IDEALS” – the six steps to effective thinking and problem solving as a guide to build the good habits of critical thinking.

I – Identify the Problem – What is the real question we are asking and trying to answer?

D – Define the Context – What are the facts that frame the problem?  Are there specific parameters in which we need to work?

E – Enumerate the Choices – What are the plausible options?  Make a list of the ways you might go about solving the problem.

A – Analyze the Options – What is the best course of action?  What is the best way to solve the problem?

L – List Reasons Explicitly – Specifically list why this course of action should work.

S – Self-Correct – Reflect and refine.  What have I learned?  What did I miss?  What should I change?

To help our students become deeper thinkers, we need to challenge them to think rather than memorize – to reflect rather than simply recite. By integrating, practicing, and modeling meaningful problem solving strategies throughout the day, we provide opportunities to develop these skills – with the optimum goal of inspiring students to become independent thinkers and competent real world problem solvers.  Critical thinking is a powerful force – May the force be with you!

“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is the probable reason why so few engage in it.”  – Henry Ford

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