Problem Solving and Critical Thinking - A 21st Century Learning and Innovation Skill

rainbow_web_0710.jpgA Closer Look at the Problem Solving/Critical Thinking Skill

Reason Effectively
  • Use various types of reasoning (inductive, deductive, etc.) as appropriate to the situation
Use Systems Thinking
  • Analyze how parts of a whole interact with each other to produce overall outcomes in complex systems
Make Judgments and Decisions
  • Effectively analyze and evaluate evidence, arguments, claims and beliefs
  • Analyze and evaluate major alternative points of view
  • Synthesize and make connections between information and arguments
  • Interpret information and draw conclusions based on the best analysis
  • Reflect critically on learning experiences and processes
Solve Problems
  • Solve different kinds of non-familiar problems in both conventional and innovative ways
  • Identify and ask significant questions that clarify various points of view and lead to better solutions

From East Tenneessee State University
What Is Critical Thinking?
A Set of Values
  • Thinking for yourself, as compared to accepting unquestioningly what others want you to believe.
  • Welcoming the opportunity to explore new ideas, points of view and possibilities.
  • Using reason to investigate questions, evaluate ideas, advocate positions, and resolve conflicts.
  • Including the voices and perspectives of diverse parties in the discussion of issues.
  • Weighing ideas based on their merits, not who advocates them.
  • Achieving the best possible resolution of questions, as compared to winning arguments for the sake of winning them.

Choose a Focus for Problem Solving and Critical Thinking Skill

  1. Inquiry Skills
    —the ability to frame questions and gather information
    Use these resources: 5 Whys question-asking method listed below, Teach the Boolean Search method
    What you might showcase: Project/assignment using the 5 Why Method for a cause and effect study,
    Technology Tools to practice Inquiry Skills: Survey Monkey, PollDaddy, Google Docs
  2. Understanding and Evaluation Skills
    —the ability to understand others’ ideas and evaluate arguments offered in support of them.
    Use these resources: Common Problems in Critical Thinking
    What you might showcase:
    Technology Tools to practice Understanding and Evaluation Skills: Yack Pack, Mindmeister, Webspiration,
    “Solvr is an interesting group problem solving tool which lets you collaboratively discuss problems and ideas over the net. The application provides platform where you can enter thoughts or problems and then invite others to add ideas on how to solve them. Each suggested idea will be presented as a separate branch. Everyone can easily vote on suggested ideas and even add a new problems to some ideas.”
  3. Advocacy Skills
    —the ability to formulate positions and support them in a manner that promotes reasoned discussion.
    .Use these resources:
    What you might showcase: A blog that demonstrates how students came to a position after engaging in a deep discussion of a topic, issue, or idea; A mindmap of reasons/explanations for a particular action;
    Technology Tools to practice Advocacy Skills: VoiceThread, Cam Studio, Edublogs, Blogger

Critical thinking is thinking that proceeds on the basis of careful evaluation of premises and evidence and comes to conclusions as objectively as possible through the consideration of all pertinent factors and the use of valid procedures from logic (Carter, 1973).

5 Whys

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The 5 Whys is a question-asking method used to explore the cause/effect relationships underlying a particular problem. Ultimately, the goal of applying the 5 Whys method is to determine a root cause of a defect or problem.


The following example demonstrates the basic process:
  • My car will not start. (the problem)
  1. Why? - The battery is dead. (first why)
  2. Why? - The alternator is not functioning. (second why)
  3. Why? - The alternator belt has broken. (third why)
  4. Why? - The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and has never been replaced. (fourth why)
  5. Why? - I have not been maintaining my car according to the recommended service schedule. (fifth why, a root cause)
The questioning for this example could be taken further to a sixth, seventh, or even greater level. This would be legitimate, as the "five" in 5 Whys is not gospel; rather, it is postulated that five iterations of asking why is generally sufficient to get to a root cause. The real key is to encourage the troubleshooter to avoid assumptions and logic traps and instead to trace the chain of causality in direct increments from the effect through any layers of abstraction to a root cause that still has some connection to the original problem.
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Critical Thinking

The topics below are some common problems in critical thinking. They get in the way when we try to tell ourselves the truth about the things we are doing and the decisions we are making.

This information comes from