Teaching students to use what’s around them bolsters critical thinking

Dive Brief:

  • Middle school math teacher Kelly Baum-Sehon incorporates calculators into lessons to help students develop more confidence in their abilities, particularly with fractions and percentages, while ​boosting their interest in the subject and helping them think about other ways to approach problems, he writes for Edutopia.
  • With percentages, he gives students problems as well as answers, challenging them to use a calculator to figure out how to arrive at the solution from a different angle. This process also forces students to consider the similarities and differences between decimals and percentages.
  • With fractions, he shows students how to convert those numbers to decimals and vice-versa, building them up to improper fractions and mixed numbers, finding student confidence grows as they continue to work independently.

Dive Insight:

Critical thinking skills are essential to helping students make key decisions throughout their lives, and in any future career. They’re the ability to assess what’s happening, take in the details and data available, and then create a course of action to follow. These decisions can be as mundane as a parent selecting a breakfast cereal with less sugar or as complex as a doctor choosing a medical procedure for a patient with a chronic illness.

Students learn critical thinking skills in schools almost innately, from knowing they need to move more quickly during a timed test to understanding they need to divide work on a group project they hope will be successful.

The key factor to developing and strengthening critical thinking is the ability to identify resources that are useful and knowing how to put them into play. As Baum-Sehon wrote for Edutopia, calculators are resources that can assist students and scaffold them in their math work, but they also instill confidence that then supports learners as they tackle new mathematical concepts.

What students embed is more than the math lesson at hand, but also a critical thinking skill — how the right tools can help them find an answer.

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