Oct 302015

Critical thinking is a core competency students will need for the future. The American Management Association states, “employees need the critical thinking skills to discern new challenges and opportunities from the flux and glut of instant-access information.” So how can you help prepare the students in your life? Try doing these free critical thinking activities your students from www.facinghistory.org.

For Destination Imagination teams, these activities can be used as warm-up activities to help get your students prepared to think critically about the tasks and problems they face during the rest of the meeting.

Attribute Linking—Building Community by Taking Perspectives

Students pair up according to similar physical attributes determined by the facilitator: hair color, eye color, hand size, and height. For each attribute, students discuss times when they were discriminated against because of it. They then take on the roles as victim, perpetrator, or bystander and discuss.

Barometer—Taking a Stand on Controversial Issues

When posed with a thought-provoking prompt, students line themselves up along a U-shaped continuum representing where they stand on that issue. The sides of the U are opposite extremes, with the middle being neutral. With the rule that students use “I” statements when stating their opinion, the facilitator sparks discussion by giving equal opportunity for individuals in each area of the continuum to speak about “their stand.”

Big Paper—Building a Silent Conversation

Writing (or drawing) and silence are used as tools to slow down thinking and allow for silent reflection, unfiltered. By using silence and writing, students can focus on other viewpoints. Armed with a driving question, markers and Big Paper (poster-sized is best), students work in pairs or threes to have a conversation on the Big Paper. Students can write at will, but it must be done in silence after a time of reflection upon the driving question.

This strategy is great for introverts, and provides a ready made visual record of thought for later.

Body sculpting—Using Theater to Explore Important Ideas

Given time to consider their feelings on a thought-provoking abstract or concrete image, students come up with words that describe their reactions—trapped, free, angry, joyful, etc. They are then paired up and one person is the sculptor, while the other is the “clay.” The sculptor poses the clay into a form that artfully displays the word they wish to portray. Some guidelines:

  1. Sculptors can either physically mold the “clay” or act as a mirror for them to show the “clay” the position/image they want.
  2. Images can be concrete or abstract.
  3. Sculptors must treat their clay with gentleness and respect (very important!).
  4. There are no wrong answers; whatever image you get is fine.
  5. All body sculpting must be done in silence.

Café Conversations

Understanding different viewpoints is a great way to delve deeply into a topic. 5 to 10 students are given “character sheets” which they are to take on. These might include gender, age, family status (married, single, how many children, etc.), occupation, education level and significant life events. The group is also given a historical event or similar topic.

Students can create identity charts in collaboration with each other to determine their character’s viewpoint. When they can adequately represent their character, what follows is a “cafe conversation.” Don’t forget to go over guidelines on how to respectfully disagree! Allow at least 20 minutes for a conversation.

Nov 072011

Very few other programs champion creative thinking like Destination ImagiNation®. However, to only focus on this one thinking skill set is a mistake. Critical thinking, which includes logic, is a very important skill set to have and essential for creative problem-solving. But what is critical thinking?

Historically, critical thinking was considered to include the following: reasoning, analyzing, evaluating, decision making, and problem solving. While critical thinking is in part made up of those skills, there are other ways to examine critical thinking. Richard Paul, the Director of Research and Professional Development at the Center for Critical Thinking, said that one way to think of critical thinking is as thinking that analyzes, assesses, and transforms a thought for the better. For example, one is critically thinking when one examines an object, then takes that object and changes it for the better. Mr. Paul also said that “critical thinking is not one isolated skill. It is not even a random list of skills. It’s an orchestrated way of thinking . . . [it’s] a way of being in the world in which the thinker self-monitors and self-assesses.” In other words, critical thinking is also part meta-cognition (thinking about thinking). A person needs to be aware of what and why they are having that thought to be good at critically thinking. The author of the book “Brain Building,” Dr. Karl Albrecht, says that such thinking is not a magical process or a matter of being smart, but it is a learned mental process. In order to be good at thinking critically, one must practice being aware of their own thoughts and the reasons behind them. Dr. Ibrahim Syed, President of the Islamic Research Foundation, also supports the position that critical thinking is a different way to approach ideas, solutions, problems, and decision making. Dr. Syed defines critical thinking as reflective skepticism. When we are thinking critically, we need to be skeptical of the proposed idea, so that we do not fall by the wayside and just accept the idea as the best it could be.

In order to be reflectively skeptical, we need to apply what the Foundation for Critical Thinking calls the Intellectual Standards. Using the standards brings about questions that can be asked of an idea or solution in order to make that idea or solution better. Below is each of the standards and the questions one can ask.

  • Clarity: is it clear? Can you elaborate further on the solution? Can you express the idea in a different way? Can you give an example? Can you provide a picture?
  • Accuracy: is it accurate? Is the solution doable in a given situation? Can you check if the idea is true? How would you check if your idea is correct? Can you explain how the idea/solution addresses the problem or goal?
  • Precision: is it precise? Can you clarify the idea further? Can you add more detail or description to your solution? Can you cut something out and the idea is still accurate and clear?
  • Relevance: is it relevant? Is any idea connected to the topic at hand? Does your criticism affect the solution or the goal? Do any “improvements” to the solution deal with the goal or problem?
  • Depth: is it deep enough to address all parts? Have you thought all the way through the idea? Are you dealing with all important components of the solution? Are you dealing with all the components of the problem or goal you are trying to address?
  • Breadth: is it wide enough to account for other points of view? Have you thought of how others will look at the idea? Are you considering the problem/goal/idea from all angles?
  • Logic: is it logical? Does the idea make sense? Is the idea a reasonable solution to the problem? How does the solution follow from the goal? Can all your ideas about the situation work together? Are all your ideas about the situation true or correct?
  • Fairness: is it fair? Does your idea provide equal footing for all involved? Does your idea wrongly discount other points of views? Are you unbiased about the idea, so you can take suggestions to improve the idea?

By applying the Intellectual Standards, with all of their questions, to our thoughts and thought process, we can develop critical thinking skills. If you are thinking to yourself that those sound easy, try it. Try examining a single thought for clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, logic, and fairness. Some of the categories are easier than others, right? Now critically examine why some categories are easier or harder to consider about the idea. Now apply the Standards to the reasons you came up with as why some standards are easier or harder. Get the picture? At each step, one needs to use the standards all over again. That is because the basis of all logical thinking is sequential thought. Dr. Albrecht explains sequential thinking as a process of “taking the important ideas, facts, and conclusions involved in a problem and arranging them in a chain-like progression that takes on a [new] meaning in and of itself.” This sequential thinking allows one to build a chain from the beginning idea all the way to the final solution that is easy to follow. At each point in the chain, the solution should be getting better as more questions are answered and dealt with. Does this process remind you of any other process, say like one where a team works on a solution to a challenge over several months?

While developing critical thinking as a mental process may be hard work, it is a vital. Logic is the foundation for all mathematics; everything from counting change to calculus relies upon the ability to think sequentially. Not only does it provide a method to arrive at a solution, but critical thinking can also empower an individual to try harder to understand and explain the methods used to arrive at an answer. Instead of just giving up and answering “it’s too difficult”, a person is more likely to use those critical thinking skills to figure out how someone came to that answer. Dr. Syed summarized the importance of critical thinking as “what is lacking [in our information driven society] is the ability to evaluate ideas in a constructive manner.” We seem to be experiencing information overload, because people do not have the critical thinking skills to sort and evaluate all the new concepts taken in through all the different types of media. But, being able to examine information and come to an accurate, clear, reasonable, precise, relevant, fair, and expansive conclusion based on that information allows an individual to make good choices for not only the present situation, but also the future.

Now what does all of this have to do with DI? Try asking yourself the following questions.  Are there any ways that critical thinking and creative thinking are connected?  How can your team use the Intellectual Standards to focus all of your unique ideas?  Think I am wrong and DI is only about creative thinking? Try checking out the DI program materials. I’ll tell you more about DI and critical thinking, next week at the same creative time, same creative channel.

Post written by Alisha Heisterkamp, Co-Affiliate Director


Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Paul, Richard. “Critical Thinking in Every Domain of Knowledge and Belief.” Center for Critical Thinking. 27th Annual International Conference on Critical Thinking Keynote Address. 23 July 2007. http://www.criticalthinking.org/

 Albrecht, Karl. Brain Building: Easy Games to Develop Your Problem Solving Skills. Prentice Hall Trade: 1992.

 Syed, Ibrahim B. “Critical Thinking.” Islamic Research Foundation International. http://www.irfi.org/articles/articles_101_150/critical_thinking.htm