Tuesday, June 13, 2017

How might we teach students to actually think?

Four important goals to me are to teach students:
1. To think.
2. To think like a physicist.
3. To think like a condensed matter physicist.
4. The specific technical content of the course.

The last one is arguably easier than the others.
I also think it is the least important. Others will disagree.
We don't reflect enough on how we might achieve the other goals.
The biggest challenge of improving education in the Majority World is not lack of material resources but changing the culture of rote learning and teaching critical thinking.
[This is highlighted in a NYTimes piece about China and a very funny video about India ITs].

Last week the UQ School of Maths and Physics Teaching Seminar was given by Peter Ellerton who works for the UQ Critical Thinking project.

The slides from a similar talk are here.
In the talk he mostly walked us through the three graphics shown here.
[If you click on the image you can see a high resolution .pdf]

The main value of all this is it puts names, categories, and questions on what I want to do. I found the third graphic the most helpful because it has some very specific questions we can ask students to get them to reflect more on what they are learning and in the process learn to think more critically.


  1. https://arxiv.org/pdf/1508.04870.pdf

    Teaching critical thinking
    N.G. Holmes
    Department of Physics, Stanford University, Stanford, CA
    Carl E. Wieman
    Department of Physics, Stanford University, Stanford, CA and
    Graduate School of Education, Stanford University, Stanford, CA
    D.A. Bonn
    Department of Physics and Astronomy,
    University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC

    Then a general one may or may not be relevant


  2. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-intuitive-parent/201703/the-emerging-crisis-in-critical-thinking

    The Emerging Crisis in Critical Thinking
    Today's college students all too often struggle with real world problem solving.

    "Similarly, in their book, “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses,” Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa studied twenty-four hundred college students at twenty-four different universities over a four-year period. They reported that critical thinking and other skills such as writing were no longer progressing during college as compared to previous generations of students." an extract from the article.

    Stephen Camarata Ph.D.Prof of Medicine at Vanderbilt University.

  3. I believe critical thinking and specific technical contents go hand in hand. If we teach students on the how specific technical contents came about, as well as the why/impact and the specific technical contents themselves, then students will automatically learn critical thinking because, they will learn the critical thoughts that lead to the particular invention. On the other hand, I don't think we can really teach critical thinking without going into specific technical contents because, critical thinking requires the ability to deeply analyse and evaluate certain issues. I don't think one can do such a deep analysis and/or evaluation without going into specific technical details.

    The problem is, many teach specific technical contents more as a "bag of tools", which then lead more to memorization rather than anything else.