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ES1531/GEK1549/GET1021 Critical Thinking and Writing

Week 2 Tutorial 1: Challenges Faced by Engineers in the 21st Century

AY2015-16 Semester 1

Learning Objectives:
By the end of the tutorial, you should be able to:
explain the importance and principles of critical thinking
explain the importance and relevance of effective communication
Sources:
It is important you review the following sources and the activities in the tutorial notes so you can actively
participate in class.
1) What is critical thinking? (opinion)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oefmPtsV_w4 (This is a good introduction to the definition of
critical thinking)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6OLPL5p0fMg#t=20 (A look at some principles of critical
thinking)
2) A brief history of the idea of critical thinking (The Critical Thinking Community)
http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/a-brief-history-of-the-idea-of-critical-thinking/408
3) What is critical thinking? (This site gives you basic information on critical thinking)
http://www.cdtl.nus.edu.sg/ctp/critical.htm
4) The missing basics (D.E Goldberg)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rp9PfqUQ8a4 (clip on 7 missing basics)
http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/4551/1/deg-grasso-2009-the-missing-basics.pdf (article)

Activity A: Getting to know each other


Your tutor will spend 15 to 20 minutes on an ice-breaking activity for you to get to know each other and
at the same time help you understand what critical thinking is.
One such activity could be:
Form a group (4-5 members) with students you do not know.
You are asked to choose 3 professional fields to be given 1 million dollars per field for research. Which 3
professions would you and your group choose? Why?
OR
NUS has asked you and your group to select 3 items to be put in a time capsule. The next generation of
NUS students will open the capsule. Why did your group choose these items?

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Week 2 Tutorial 1: Challenges Faced by Engineers in the 21st Century

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What is critical thinking?


What does it mean to think critically? What does thinking mean at all?
What do the quotations reveal about critical thinking?
Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is
thinking that makes what we read ours.
John Locke
Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.
Voltaire
Five percent of the people think;
ten percent of the people think they think;
and the other eighty-five percent would rather die than think.
Thomas Edison
Cogito ergo sum. (I think, therefore I am.)
Ren Descartes
Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge.
Carl Sagan
Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason so few
engage in it.
Henry Ford
Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is
perilous.
Confucius
But if thought is to become the possession of many, not the privilege of
the few, we must have done with fear. It is fear that holds men back
fear lest their cherished beliefs should prove delusions, fear lest the
institutions by which they live should prove harmful, fear lest they
themselves should prove less worthy of respect than they have supposed
themselves to be.
Bertrand Russell
You may refer to more quotes at http://www.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=001926
There are many definitions of critical thinking among researchers. This is because critical thinking has its
roots in philosophy and psychology. In recent times, universities have given emphasis to critical thinking
as a generic skill that is central to many, if not all, subjects.

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Historically, the teaching of critical thinking was based on what is sometimes called the philosophical
approach. This approach focuses on the qualities and characteristics of the person, emphasising
application and training in the rules of deductive logic, fallacies, reliable inference-making relying on
statistics and research methods, and so on. On the other hand, the cognitive psychology approach is
framed in terms of cognitive skills, and focuses on the mental processes involved in thinking.
Both the philosophical and cognitive psychological approaches enumerate a list of desirable attributes, the
former a list of perhaps idealised standards such as "reflective scepticism" (McPeck, 1981) and the latter a
list of actions and behaviours expected of critical thinkers, which is more process oriented and procedural
in nature.
Those working in the field of education have also participated in discussions about thinking. The
educational taxonomy approach arose from classroom practice and is associated with Benjamin Bloom
(1956). The taxonomy for information processing skills is one of the most widely cited sources for
educational practitioners when it comes to teaching and assessing higher-order thinking skills. Blooms
taxonomy is hierarchical, the assumption being each level has to be mastered before one can progress to
the next.
Read the following excerpts on what critical thinking is:
1. Discussions of critical thinking owe much to definitions devised by philosophers such as John
McPeck, John Ennis, John Chaffee and Richard Paul, who have moved sideways in to the area of
critical thinking research. According to McPeck (1981), critical thinking is the propensity and skill
to engage in an activity with reflective scepticism (pp. 7, 9, 152). Writers agree that critical
thinking is not a narrow form of criticality or nay-saying to the views of other people. Ideas are
accepted or rejected based on the evidence used to back those claims and this is done with a
view to helping make better decisions and arriving at the truth (Halpern, 1998, p.449; Verlinden,
2005, pp.17, 3, 19). For this reason, the critical thinker finds fault with her own ideas as much as
she does with those of other people.
Robinson, S.R. (2011). Teaching logic and teaching critical thinking: revisiting McPeck. In Higher Education
Research & Development, 30 (3), 275-287. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2010.500656

2. Critical thinking has been described as a form of student learning that evokes what is higher in
higher education (Jones, 2007, p. 210). As a sub-field of logic, critical thinking is described a form
of reasoning that is focused on testing the validity of premises and the relationship between
premises and conclusions (Alfino, Pajer, Pierce & OBrien Jenks, 2008). From a cognitive
psychological perspective critical thinking can also be seen as a human activity that is focused on
achieving specific goals such as anticipating real-world problems. From this perspective, critical
thinking is practical as well as theoretical in nature (Phillips & Bond, 2004).
Hammer, S.G & Green, W. (2011). Critical thinking in a first year management unit: the relationship between
disciplinary learning, academic literacy and learning progression. Higher Education Research &
Development, 30 (3), 303-315. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2010.501075

3. Critical thinking is the use of those cognitive skills or strategies that increase the probability of a
positive outcome. It is used to describe thinking that is purposeful, reasoned, ands goal directed @ES1531/GEK1549/GET1021, CELC, NUS

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the kind of thinking involved in problem solving, formulating inferences, calculating likelihoods,
and making decisions when the thinker is using skills that are thoughtful and effective for the
particular context and type of thinking task. Critical thinking also involves evaluating the thinking
process - the reasoning that went into the conclusion we've arrived at the kinds of factors
considered in making a decision. Critical thinking is sometimes called directed thinking because it
focuses on a desired outcome. This definition of critical thinking -along with others to a lesser
direct degree - emphasizes implicitly that critical thinking takes time, energy, skill, and dedication.
It is frustrating but important for critical thinkers to be and to stay aware of that not all persons
with whom we communicate with are skilled in critical thinking or do not always exercise their
critical thinking skills at every communication event. Communication is a dialogic event which
requires some level of mutual awareness and cooperation between communicants.
Halpern, D.F. (1996). Thought and Knowledge: An Introduction to Critical Thinking. Mahwah, NJ:
Erlbaum Associates
4.
Intellectual Traits
Consistent application of the standards of thinking to the elements of thinking result in the
development of intellectual traits of:
Intellectual Humility
Intellectual Courage
Intellectual Empathy
Intellectual Autonomy
Intellectual Integrity
Intellectual Perseverance
Confidence in Reason
Fair-mindedness

Characteristics of a Well-Cultivated Critical Thinker


Habitual utilization of the intellectual traits produce a well-cultivated critical thinker who is able to:
Raise vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely
Gather and assess relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively
Come to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and
standards;
Think open-mindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as need
be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences; and
Communicate effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems
Paul, R. and Elder, L. (2010). The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools. Dillon
Beach: Foundation for Critical Thinking Press.

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Week 2 Tutorial 1: Challenges Faced by Engineers in the 21st Century

AY2015-16 Semester 1

5. Goldbergs 7 Missing Basics in Engineering Education


Dr David Goldberg, Co-Director of the Illinois Foundry for Innovation in Engineering Education is cofounder of a new movement, the Big Beacon. He was NUS Distinguished Visitor. In 2012-13, he
conducted a series of seminars and workshops for FoE students and staff.
The following is an excerpt from Goldbergs article The Missing Basics and Other Philosophical
Reflections for the Transformation of Engineering Education.
FAILURES OF ENGINEERING EDUCATION & THE MISSING BASICS
The semester has begun. The projects are assigned, and teams of three student engineers and
their advisors are ready to go on the plant trip and find out what the project is really about. Over
19 years of advising such teams, Ive found seven important skills that students have difficulty
with. Although there is significant variation, the following composite set of difficulties is
common enough that most teams require coaching along many, if not all, dimensions discussed.
In particular, senior design students have difficulty
1. asking questions
2. labelling technology and design challenges
3. modelling problems qualitatively
4. decomposing design problems
5. gathering data
6. visualizing solutions and generating ideas
7. communicating solutions in written and oral form
Each of these is briefly considered in turn, associating each of these failings with a prominent
name in intellectual history (Solomon & Higgins, 1996):
Questions. Students go on the plant trip, and the first job is to learn what the project is, what
has been tried, what critical sources of data and theory exist, and what vendors have been 3
helpful in solving related problems. Unfortunately, most student teams have trouble asking
cogent questions. We call this a failure of Socrates 101 in recognition of that philosophers
role in teaching the world to ask.
Labelling. Engineering students learn math and science but are largely ignorant of technology
itself, exhibiting difficulty in labelling the components, assemblies, systems, and processes in
their projects. Moreover, many projects exhibit novel patterns of failure or design challenge,
and the students have difficulty giving such patterns names and sticking to those names. This
we call a failure of Aristotle 101 as the systematic naming and categorization of concepts is
often attributed to that philosopher.
Modelling. With sufficient coaching, students learn the names of extant components and
processes and are able to give names to novel patterns, but then they have difficulty modelling
design challenges qualitatively. Of course, if the problem lends itself to simple calculus or
physics computation, engineering students can plug and chug with the best of them; however,
companies dont pay real money for someone to do routine engineering calculation. Where
students have difficulty is in making lists of system elements or problem categories or in
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describing how things work in words This is a failure of Aristotle 102 or Hume 101
because of the connections of those philosophers to categorization and causality.
Decomposition. With some help in understanding key causal and categorical relations the
student engineers regain their footing, and then they have trouble decomposing the big design
problem into smaller sub problems. We call this a failure of Descartes 101 because of that
philosophers discussions of the fundamental role of decomposition in the solution of
problems.
Gathering data. With the job separated into pieces, usually a number of the pieces depend
on careful data collection from the literature or from the design and execution of careful
experiments. The students first impulses are often to model mathematically, but an efficient
and effective solution often depends on simple experimentation or library work. We call this
failure to resort to empirical work or extant data a failure of Galileo or Bacon 101 because of
these individuals contribution to the creation of systematic empirical science.
Visualization & ideation. Students have trouble sketching or diagramming solutions to
problems, and more generally they have difficulty in brainstorming a sufficiently large
number of solutions. Calling this a failure of da Vinci 101 because of that individuals
renowned imagination and ability to visualize, the problem again is solved with some
coaching.
Communication. Finally, the students have solved the problem, done the experiments, put
together the analyses, and largely solved the problem, and the time has come to make a
presentation or write a report, and to quote the famous line of the Captain from the movie
Cool Hand Luke, What weve got here is a failure to communicate. Calling this a failure
of Newman 101 (Paul Newman), the situation again calls for significant coaching.

Goldberg, D. (2009). The Missing Basics and Other Philosophical Reflections for the Transformation
of Engineering Education. Retrieved from http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/4551/1/deg-grasso-2009the-missing-basics.pdf

Activity B
1) From the above (excerpts 1, 2,3 and 4, and Article 5), what do you understand by critical
thinking?
2) What are the possible barriers to critical thinking? Perhaps you could refer to the ice-breaking
activity.
3) What is the difference between discipline specific critical thinking and general purpose critical
thinking?

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Week 2 Tutorial 1: Challenges Faced by Engineers in the 21st Century

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What does an engineer do?


The Faculty of Engineering website (http://www.eng.nus.edu.sg/ugrad/prospective/engdo.html) states:
Engineers innovate and create all kinds of functional systems, products and services for modern living
by applying a combination of mathematical, scientific and engineering fundamentals. Engineers solve
problems and make things work better, more efficiently, and less expensively. We have to thank
engineers for modern conveniences at our homes, schools, offices, hospitals and even on ourselves
(for handphones, MP3 players and notebook computers &etc).
Engineers are designers and builders, making everything from nano-electronic devices, robots,
biopharmaceuticals, and medical equipment to skyscrapers and highly efficient transportation
systems that move millions of people in relative comfort and safety on the ground, sea, air and even
in space. In addition to pushing the frontiers of science and technology to design and create new
products and services, engineers are also involved in the planning, logistics and management of
people, processes and machinery used in the manufacture of products. Engineers ensure that the
products they manufacture are of the highest quality and meet safety standards. Engineers are also
involved in marketing of technological products and services.
Engineers administer large-scale technical, engineering and research projects by being involved in
designing, planning, organizing, allocating resources/budgets and controlling activities that have
engineering/technological components. In such projects, engineers oversee and manage teams of
technical and non-technical personnel. Engineering managers are distinguished from other managers
by the fact that they possess both an ability to apply engineering principles as well as being able to
organize, plan and manage technical projects. Engineers constantly keep pace with the ever-evolving
technology and must be adept at handling resources and budgets in order to deliver the most costeffective results.
Engineers not only contribute to modern technology but also to other fields including architecture,
the global environment and medicine. Our world has indeed been shaped by some of the greatest
Engineering achievements.

Chan and Fishbein (2009) believe that engineers should understand the notion of the global engineer.
A new engineer for the 21st century
Engineers need to embrace a broader vision of their professional role as a response to two inexorable
developments: globalization and global issues reaching critical levels (e.g. global warming, extreme
poverty, rising health care costs). All cry out for engineering input. These issues are by no means new
to the world, or to engineers, but their current magnitude and scope require more innovative
responses. As the world becomes more complex and interrelated, so do the problems engineers face.
The engineering profession and individual engineers need to adapt or else risk getting lost in these
global changes, thus abandoning our social responsibilities.
Partly in response to these needs, the CEAB recently revised its accreditation requirements. Attributes
that graduates from an accredited program should possess are now specified in the latest
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accreditation documents (CEAB, 2008) and are being phased in over the next five years (see Appendix
1). These new graduate outcomes represent a shift in the CEAB accreditation
philosophy from focusing exclusively on the class hours that comprise engineering programs to
investigating the competencies of undergraduate engineering program graduates to see if they
possess the desired attributes. The new outcome-based requirements put a greater emphasis on
ensuring that graduating engineers understand the role of the engineer in society; professional ethics,
accountability and equity; and the impact of engineering work on society and the environment.
But the CEAB did not stop there. In revising its graduate attributes, the CEAB also responded to a set
of complaints from the profession and employers. In the past decade, there have been increasing
concerns about the lack of professional awareness and low levels of communication and
teamwork skills among engineering graduates (Rugarcia et al., 2000). Indeed, the most common
criticism of recent graduates by industry leaders and alumni is that they lack communication skills and
the ability to work in a team (Mechefske et al., 2005). As a result, the CEAB now requires that
graduates demonstrate competence in teamwork and communication skills.
Why global engineering?
As technology develops, especially in the fields of communication and transportation, it links even
more closely every part of our rapidly shrinking world. We are experiencing increasing global
interdependence, with engineers expected to exercise leadership in confronting the worlds most
dynamic and complex challenges. Engineers are uniquely positioned to offer solutions because of
their creative problem-solving abilities and systems thinking.
However, there needs to be an increase in engineers core capacities that will enable them to work
more effectively on global issues. The world needs global engineers. In addition to the graduate
attributes specified by the CEAB, the global engineer must also demonstrate additional
characteristics and qualifications.
Over the past three years, in collaboration with engineering faculty members from across Canada and
around the world, and with industrial leaders as well as engineering students, Engineers Without
Borders Canada has led an effort to define the global engineer. Some of the key
attributes are:
superior communication skills and understanding across different
cultures and languages;
a facility for multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary teamwork;
a well-developed sense of social responsibility and ethics, with due
consideration in his/her personal and professional activities;
being entrepreneurial; and
an ability to deal with complexity and systems thinking.

Appendix 1
CEAB graduate attributes
In 2008, the Canadian Engineering Accreditation Board (CEAB) mandated that engineering program
graduates must exhibit the attributes under the following headings:
a knowledge base for engineering;
problem analysis; investigation;
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design; use of engineering tools;


individual and team work;
communication skills;
professionalism;
impact of engineering on society and the environment;
ethics and equity;
economics and project management, and
life-long learning.

Chan, A. & Fishbein, J. (2009). A global engineer for the global community. Journal of Policy
Engagement, 1 (2), 4-9. Retrieved from
http://globalengineeringinitiative.com/wp-content/uploads/A-global-engineer-for-the-globalcommunity.pdf

Activity C: In groups, discuss the following:


1) What does an engineer in your field (Chemical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Mechanical
Engineering etc.) do?
2) What skills are needed to perform your job? Are they similar to those mentioned in the article on
A global engineer for the global community?

What is communication?
One of the seven basics mentioned by Goldberg is communication. It has been perceived by many that
engineers are brilliant in solving problems but poor at communicating their ideas. They know their
content but are unable to communicate effectively to the audience. Judging by what engineers do and
their desire to change the world for the better, the ability to communicate effectively is all the more
essential. They need to explain and argue their position for their engineering purpose to a wider audience.
In many cases they have to engage the public.
Effective communication is also important in teamwork. As engineers need to work in teams and
increasingly in a multi-cultural and diverse workplace, expressing their ideas clearly, contributing
differing ideas and arguing which ideas are viable, become easier with better communication strategies.
At NUS, Provost Tan also highlighted the importance of effective communication in his blog
(http://blog.nus.edu.sg/provost/2011/11/)in November 2011.The view that being able to express oneself
clearly, orally or in written form, is reiterated in a report by Channel News Asia on a JobStreet com.
survey. Conducted in Singapore among 480 fresh graduates and 150 employers in 2012, the survey
revealed that employers acknowledged the value of good interpersonal and communication skills as well
as a good command of the English language above qualifications when hiring fresh graduates.

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Activity D: In groups, discuss the following:


1)
2)
3)
4)
5)

What is the relationship between critical thinking and communication?


What possible communication problems could an individual face?
What possible communication problems could a team face?
How does working in a team help to hone critical thinking skills?
What strategies can you adopt to communicate effectively as an individual and as a team
member?

Reflection
Reflect on what you learned today about critical thinking and communication. What is critical thinking
and why is this module relevant to you?
Read the articles below and relate them to the approach taken by the course by reviewing the course
objectives and the assignments.
Your tutor may ask you to discuss the articles on the online platform.

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Article 1
A Society with Poor Critical Thinking Skills: The Case for 'Argument' in Education
By Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz
15 August 2013
Researchers have shown that most students today are weak in critical thinking skills. They do poorly
on simple logical reasoning tests (Evans, 2002). Only a fraction of graduating high school seniors (6
percent of 12th graders) can make informed, critical judgments about written text (Perie, Grigg, and
Donahue, 2005). This problem applies to both reading and writing. Only 15 percent of 12th graders
demonstrate the proficiency to write well-organized essays that consisted of clear arguments (Perie
et al., 2005).
Critical thinking and argument skills -- the abilities to both generate and critique arguments -- are
crucial elements in decision-making (Byrnes, 1998; Klaczynski, 2004; Halpern 1998). When applied to
academic settings, argumentation may promote the long-term understanding and retention of course
content (Adriessen, 2006; Nussbaum, 2008a). According to the ancient Greeks, dialogue is the most
advanced form of thought (Vygotsky, 1978). Critical thinking and dialogue are often made manifest in
the form of argument. Dialectical arguments require an appeal to beliefs and values to make crucial
decisions, what Aristotle referred to as endoxa (Walton, Reed, &Macagno, 2008). In all careers,
academic classes, and relationships, argument skills can be used to enhance learning when we treat
reasoning as a process of argumentation (Kuhn, 1992, 1993), as fundamentally dialogical (Bakhtin,
1981, 1986; Wertsch, 1991), and as metacognitive (Hofer &Pintrich, 1997). Significant differences in
approach have emerged as to how best cultivate the skills necessary to form, present and defend an
argument. Differences have emerged as to whether the best practices include the use of computers,
writing exercises, metacognitive activities, debates, modeling, or frontal instruction. To many,
"argument" sounds combative and negative but the use of argument can be constructive and
generative.
Epistemological understanding becomes most evident when an individual is confronted with
uncertain or controversial knowledge claims (Chandler et al., 1990; King and Kitchener, 1994; Kuhn et
al., 2000; Leadbeater and Kuhn, 1989). It is imperative that high school students, of diverse personal,
moral and intellectual commitments, become prepared to confront multiple perspectives on unclear
and controversial issues when they move on to college and their careers. This is not only important
for assuring students are equipped to compete in the marketplace of ideas but also to maximize their
own cognitive development more broadly. Longitudinal studies focused on high school students
(Schommer et al., 1997) show a positive correlation between educational level and epistemological
level. Cross-sectional studies demonstrate that educational experiences influence epistemological
development and that it is the quality of education and not age or gender that contributes to
different developmental levels of epistemological understanding (Chandler et al., 1990; Leadbeater
and Kuhn, 1989). Education is therefore key.
Argument is a more complex and challenging cognitive skill for students than other genres of reading
and writing, such as exposition or narration. It is also more challenging for most teachers who may
not have the knowledge or experience of working with argumentative reading and writing (Hillocks,
1999, 2010). In addition, most teachers try to avoid conflict when it comes to learning (Powell, Farrar,
and Cohen, 1985).
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Many teachers have observed that students sitting in classrooms today are bored by the frontal
authoritarian model of learning. For years, as a student, I was told to take out my notebook and copy
what was written on the board. A curriculum in which they are active participants and engaged in
democratic, and cognitively challenging for students works better. In the frontal model, teachers
provide the questions and answers. In the argument model, the students provide the questions and
the answers while the teachers provide the structure, the facilitation, and the guidance. Students gain
the necessary skills to be critical thinkers in a complex society with many different agendas, facts, and
perspectives.
Some argue that too much autonomy is given to students in a student-centered environment. But the
risk is much greater with frontal lecture education: that our students master content but do not gain
the cognitive, moral, and epistemic development necessary to become autonomous critical thinkers.
The choice of reading matter for students is also an important factor. Students are unlikely to develop
critical thinking skills naturally when their class reading assignments consist only of narrative and
explanatory texts, as opposed to argumentative texts (Calfee& Chambliss, 1987).
The goal of an argument curriculum is to enhance the development of the responsible citizens and
the pedagogical methodology consists of cultivating argument skills, epistemic development, and
moral development. School-based nurturance of this development will lead to students' autonomous
critical thinking and their formation as responsible citizens. We must invest in the education of our
youth. They are our future!
Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz is the Executive Director of the Valley Beit Midrash, the Founder &
President of Uri L'Tzedek, the Founder and CEO of The Shamayim V'Aretz Institute and the author of
"Jewish Ethics & Social Justice: A Guide for the 21st Century." Newsweek named Rav Shmuly one of the
top 50 rabbis in America."
Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rabbi-shmuly-yanklowitz/a-society-with-poorcriti_b_3754401.html

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Article 2
Why Critical Thinking Will Never Be on the Test
By Peter Greene
22 March, 2015
Critical thinking is one of the Great White Whales of education. Every new education reform promises
to foster it, and every new generation of Big Standardized Tests promises to measure it.
Everybody working in education has some idea of what it is, and yet it can be hard to put into a few
words. There are entire websites devoted to it, and organizations and foundations dedicated to it.
Here, for example, is the website of the Foundation for Critical Thinking. They've got a definition of
critical thinking from the 1987 National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking that goes on for five
paragraphs. One of the shortest definitions I can pull out of their site is this one:
The intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing,
synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience,
reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.
Bottom line -- critical thinking is complicated.
So, can we believe test manufacturers when they say that their test measures critical thinking skills?
Can a series of questions that can be delivered and scored on a national scale be designed that would
actually measure the critical thinking skills of the test takers?
I think the obstacles to creating such a standardized test are huge. Here are the hurdles that test
manufacturers would have to leap.
Critical thinking takes time.
Certainly, there are people who can make rapid leaps to a conclusion, who can see patterns and
structure of ideas quickly and clearly (though we could argue that's more intuitive thinking than
critical thinking, but then, intuition might just be critical thinking that runs below the level of clear
consciousness, so, again, complicated). But mostly the kind of analyses and evaluation that we
associate with critical thinking takes time.
There's a reason that English teachers rarely give the assignment, "The instant you finish reading the
last page of the assigned novel, immediately start writing the assigned paper and complete it within a
half hour." Critical thinking is most often applied to complex constructions, and for most people it
takes a while to examine, reflect, re-examine and pull apart the pieces of the matter.
If you are asking a question that must be answered right now, this second, you are at the very best
asking a question that measures how quickly the student can critically think -- but you're probably not
measuring critical thinking at all.
Critical thinking takes place in a personal context.

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We do not do our critical thinking in a vacuum. We are all standing in a particular spot in space and
time, and that vantage point gives us a particular perspective. What we bring to the problem in terms
of prior understanding, background, and our own mental constructs, profoundly influences how we
critically think about any problem.
We tend to make sense out of unfamiliar things by looking for familiar structures and patterns within
them, and so our thinking is influenced by what we already know. I've been an amateur musician my
whole life, so I can readily spot structures and patterns that mimic the sorts of things I know form the
world of music. However, I am to athletics what Justin Bieber is to quantum physics, and my mental
default is not to look at things in athletic terms. Think about your favorite teachers and explainers -they are people who took something you couldn't understand and put it in terms you could
understand. They connected what you didn't know to what you did know.
None of this is a revolutionary new insight, but we have to remember that it means every individual
human beings brings a different set of tools to each critical thinking problem. That means it is
impossible to design a critical thinking question that is a level playing field for all test takers.
Impossible.
Critical thinking is social.
How many big critical thinking problems of the world were solved single-handedly by a single, isolated
human being?
Our sciences have a finely-tuned carefully-structured method for both carrying on and acknowledging
dialogue with the critical thinkers of the past. If a scientist popped up claiming to have written a
groundbreaking paper for which he needed no citations nor footnotes because he had done it all
himself, he would be lucky to be taken seriously for five minutes. The Einsteins of history worked in
constant dialogue with other scientists; quantum theories were hammered out in part by dialogue by
a disbelieving Einstein ("God does not play dice") and the wave of scientists building on the
implications of his work.
On the less grand scale, we find our own students who want to talk about the test, want to compare
answers, want to (and sometimes love to) argue about the finer points of every thinking assignment.
Look at our own field. We've all been working on a big final test question -- "What is the best way to
take American education forward?"-- and almost everyone on every side of the question is involved in
a huge sprawling debate that sees most of us pushing forward by trying to articulate our own
perspective and thoughts while in dialogue with hundreds of other thinkers in varying degrees of
agreement and disagreement. One of the reasons I trust and believe David Coleman far less than
other "reformsters" is that he almost never acknowledges the value of any other thinker in his
development of Common Core. To watch Coleman talk, you would think he developed the entire
thing single-handedly in his own head. That is not the mark of a serious person.
Do people occasionally single-handedly solve critical thinking problems on their own, in isolation, like
a keep-your-eyes-on-your-own-paper test? It's certainly not unheard of -- but it's not the norm. If
your goal is to make the student answer the question in an isolation chamber, you are not testing
critical thinking.
Critical thinking is divergent.
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Let's go back to that critical thinking problem about how to best move forward with public education.
You may have noticed that people have arrived a wide variety of conclusions about what the answer
might be. There are two possible explanations for the wide variety of answers.
The first explanation is the childish one, and folks from both sides indulge in it -- people who have
reached a conclusion other than mine are some combination of stupid, uninformed and evil.
The more likely explanation is that, given a wide variety of different perspectives, different histories,
and different values, intelligent people will use critical thinking skills and arrive at different
conclusions.
Critical thinking is NOT starting with the conclusion that you want to reach and then constructing a
bridge of arguments specifically designed to get you there, and yet this is perilously close to the kind
of thinking a standardized test requires.
But here's a good rule of thumb for anyone trying to test critical thinking skills -- if you are designing
your assessment and thinking, "Okay, any student who is really using critical thinking skills must come
up with answer B," you are not testing critical thinking skills. No -- I take that back. Oddly enough this
is a sort of critical thinking question, but the actual question is, "Given what you know about the
people giving you the test and the clues they have left for you, what answer do you think the testmakers want you to select?" But that is probably not the question that you thought you were asking.
As soon as you ask a question with one right answer (even if the one right answer is to select both
correct answers), you are not testing critical thinking.
Critical thinking must be assessed by critical thinking.
How do you assess the answer to your critical thinking question? Again, I direct you to the education
debates, where we "grade" each others work all the time, checking and analyzing, probing for logical
fallacies, mis-presentation of data, mis-reading of other peoples' writing, honesty of logic, etc etc etc.
To assess how well someone has answered a critical thinking question, you need to be knowledgeable
about the answerer, the subject matter, and whatever background knowledge they have brought to
the table (if I answer a question using a music analogy and you know nothing about music, will you
know if my analogy holds up). On top of all that, you need some critical thinking skills of your own.
And that means all of the issues listed above come back into play.
What are the odds that you can get all that in a cadre of minimum-wage test-scorers who can wade
through a nation's worth of tests quickly, efficiently, and accurately?
Can it be done?
When I look at all those hurdles and try to imagine a nationally scaled test that gets deals with all of
them, I'm stumped. Heck, it's a challenge to come up with good measure for my own classroom, and
that's because critical thinking is more of a tool than an end in itself. Testing for critical thinking skills
is kind of like testing for hammering skills -- it can be done, but it will be an artificial situation and not
as compelling and useful and telling as having the student actually build something.
So, I try to come up with assessments that require critical thinking as a tool for completion of the
assignment. Then I try to come up with the time to grade them. Could I come up with something for
the entire nation? Practically speaking, no. Even if I get past the first few hurdles, when I reach the
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point that I need a couple million teachers to score it, I'm stumped. Plus, standardized test fans are
not going to like the lack of standardization in my test.
No, I think that standardized testing and critical thinking are permanently at odds and we'd be further
ahead trying to develop a test to compare the flammability of the water from different rivers.
Critical thinking is not on the BS Tests. It will not be on the new generations of the BS Tests. It will
never be on the BS Tests. Test manufacturers should stop promising what they cannot hope to
deliver.

Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-greene/why-critical-thinking-will-never-be-on-thetest_b_6919576.html

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