What is Critical Thinking?

What it teaches:

Critical thinking is a skill that can be learned and applied to almost any situation. This video tells the story of a team who uses critical thinking in a robot building competition. It teaches:

• The difference between an active and passive thinker
• Why critical thinking matters and how to apply it
• Why success depends on high quality information
• How to use critical thinking to identify the best information
• How a team can anticipate future issues

Video Transcript:

Hello again from the CC Robotics Competition. As the teams are diving into the challenge, Team Indigo is looking strong. As we’ve seen, skills are important, but what matters is teamwork and constructive feedback.

This team also benefits from how they approach solving problems and completing tasks. As we’ll see, critical thinking is their secret sauce. Consider this… When we read the news, watch a movie, or mow the lawn, we have a choice in how we approach these activities. We can be passive and just participate without thinking about them. Or, we can be active and think about them critically.

This means considering whether or not the news story is accurate, why a movie is good or bad and how to mow the lawn most efficiently. Thinking critically requires effort, but it’s a necessary ingredient for solving problems and identifying opportunities.

Here’s how team Indigo is using critical thinking. To win, they need high quality information for solving problems. But its’s not that easy. The most useful and accurate information can be difficult to see because of inaccurate data, incorrect assumptions, unanswered questions, personal feelings and more. The unreliable information obscures the accurate information.

Critical thinking is the process of analyzing all the information and discarding low quality information until reliable and useful information is what remains. By thinking critically and asking questions, the team can make the path forward more obvious.

Their process starts with identifying the biggest problems and asking questions that highlight potential solutions. These are questions like, “Why was this decision made?” “Are we sure the data is accurate?” and “What assumptions are we making?” Answering these questions leads to more useful information for the team.

With fewer distractions blocking the path, the team can now consider how to optimize and save time by tweaking the design or finding features that can work together. For example, if the wheels were larger, the body could be shaped differently?

Each time an idea is proposed, more questions can be asked, distractions can be discarded and solutions can come into greater focus.

Next, they try to think ahead. Each solution can create a ripple effect. They work together to anticipate how a solution now might create a problem later in the project. Team indigo might spend valuable time debating their ideas, and that’s okay. They are being active and using logic and reason to remove all the issues and focus on what they need to succeed. The ideas and solutions that matter are the ones that can survive their critical thinking.

In this example, we’ve seen critical thinking be used to find useful information, solve problems and plan ahead, but that’s just the beginning. The next time you’re on a team or solving a problem, be an active thinker and ask questions. By thinking critically, you can help yourself or your team be successful.


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