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What is Critical Thinking in general

The Critical Thinking Community defines critical thinking as the process of “conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing and/or evaluating information gathered from. . .observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication.”

How to teach critical thinking

Underlying Strategies

(The three underlying strategies are “Reflection, Reasons, Alternatives” (RRA):

  1. Urge students to be Reflective, to stop and think, instead of making snap judgments, or accepting the first idea that comes into their heads, or automatically accepting whatever is presented in the media.

  2. Gently ask such questions as “How do you know”, “What are the reasons?” and “Is that a good source of information?” thus prodding them to have good Reasons for their views and to seek reasons for others’ views.

  3. Emphasize alertness for Alternative hypotheses, conclusions, explanations, sources of evidence, points of view, plans, etc.


Get them to think hard about what they are learning.
Ask them to clarify what they mean. Get them to be specific.
Also get them to think outside the box and try to come up with new and different ways to solve problems

  1. To supplement the underlying strategies, “RRA”, urge mid-level students to use the following acronyms and their associated guidelines: “FRISCO” and “SEBKUS”.

    FRISCO: When appraising a position, whether yours or another’s, attend at least to these elements:

    F for Focus: Identify or be clear about the main point, that is, the conclusion
    R for Reasons: Identify and evaluate the reasons
    I for Inference: Consider whether the reasons establish the conclusion, given the alternatives
    S for Situation: Pay attention to the situation
    C for Clarity: Make sure that the meanings are clear
    O for Overview: Review your entire appraisal as a unit

    SEBKUS: When doing appraisals and planning investigations and other actions, make full use of and try to expand your Sensitivity, Experience, Background Knowledge, and Understanding of the Situation.


Show that you know what you’re talking about
Show why and how these conclusions were made
Get rid of anything that doesn’t progress logically to the conclusion
Don’t stray from the task at hand
Be clear in your communication
Review and edit until it comes out to your liking

The good news is that because the scientific method is a formalization of critical thinking, it can be used as a simple model that removes critical thinking from the realm of the intuitive and puts it at the center of a straightforward, easily implemented, teaching strategy. I describe here the techniques I use to help students practice their thinking skills. These techniques are simply an expansion of the Evidence and Antibodies Sidelight in Gilbert’s Developmental Biology (2000, Sinauer Associates); that is, I harp on correlation, necessity, and sufficiency, and the kinds of experiments required to gather each type of evidence. In my own class, an upper division Developmental Biology lecture class, I use these techniques, which include both verbal and written reinforcement, to encourage students to evaluate claims about cause and effect, that is, to distinguish between correlation and causation; however, I believe that with very slight modifications, these tricks can be applied in a much greater array of situations.

Inquiry Labs

In science critical thinking is called “inquiry.” No longer are students using “cookbook labs” to learn. Students are now using interactive and stimulating inquiry labs.

Example of an Inquiry Lab:
Students are presented with a proposal to solve a problem for a fictitious company. The students will discuss solve this problem. It is likely that they will ultimately end up with the same procedure as the cookbook lab, but they may not. It shows how there are different ways to solve procedures.

Challenges of Inquiry Labs:

  1. The teacher has to let go of any preconceived solution to a problem.
  2. Teachers have to learn when to ask the right questions to students.
  3. Students have to accept that success might involve moving in the “wrong” direction at first.
  4. Teachers have to be willing to allow students to fail to eventually learn to succeed.

Advantages of Inquiry Labs:

  1. Students are engaged in the activity. They are able to talk and discuss more about what is going on with other students.
  2. Students understand the reasons for specific steps in their procedure, not just reading a sheet and do what it is told.
  3. Students are able to continually evaluate progress toward the goal.
  4. Students are doing science. You can’t beat that.

Critical Thinking in Chemistry

Research at the University of KwaZulu Natal (South Africa) has revealed that many first year students are often under-prepared for tertiary study because they have not yet developed the abstract reasoning skills that allow them to learn new ideas simply by reading a text or listening to a lecture.

Skills are important for students preparing to be professional engineers, will be required to work in self- directed ways through problem solving and collaborative team work.

In this study a sample of first year engineering students from the University of KwaZulu Natal were observed over a period of ten weeks (one semester) in two different first year engineering chemistry modules. Fifteen SI sessions were observed where stoichiometry in chemistry was being discussed. The qualitative research method employed in the study was observations through video recording. The use of video-recordings assisted in observing situations more than once.An Observation schedule was used to assist in answering how SI leaders created social learning spaces in chemistry SI.

Thinking scientifically Of course, as with any kind of thinking, there are rules by which to guide oneself. In scientific thinking, the most important rule might be to adopt a stance of “critical curiosity.” Not quite skepticism, which might lead towards a bias against new discoveries, and a far cry from either denial or naivety. Such a critical yet open attitude is necessary for cultivating a scientific mind. And, also an attitude that can best be found in beginners, who are less likely to have their egos at stake than career-hardened scientists with reputations to uphold. - See more at:

Must have curiosity to think scientifically in chemistry. This can be used to discover new elements, theories, and to make other discoveries.

Interview with Mrs. Holland

“Is it possible to use critical thinking in Science?”

Yes. When you’re trying to figure out if labs are working, why didn’t work, possible reasons why.

“How you do you use critical thinking in chemistry?’

Anytime you’re given data that you want to analyze, you use critical thinking. Labs, as we start learning new processes like moles or big kahunas you use critical thinking. You cannot just plug numbers into equations, you must think about each step.

“How can students benefit from critical thinking?”

Pushes brain power. Makes them use the brain and forges new areas that they might of not thought of before.

Why do you think students are intimidated from the term “critical thinking?”

The word critical is not nice. Think of it in a negative connotation. Hard to think, only care about getting the right answer.

“What is your definition of critical thinking?”

Where you are not just memorizing something. Taking what you know and applying it to a new situation and ever furthering what you know.

How can implementing critical thinking help you later in life?

In chemistry, having data will make you think. Don’t take things face value. Think everything through.

Is it easy to teach critical thinking?

No, it’s easier to memorize something. Critical thinking takes time to plan question and help people think through it.