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Deep Thinking is hard. Tools from Harvard University that are helpful

Updated: Jun 25, 2021

We want our child to think critically and understand the complexity of a situation. But how many of us are aware of what “complexity” or critical thinking truly mean? Our summer Thinking and Communication Development Module helps students think about complex issues and situations by breaking them down so that they can be identified and understood. This helps students to approach difficult problems - whether it’s a multi-part math problem on their final test, making a decision about how best to organize that school project, or forming opinions about world events. Let’s take a look at how students can approach a complex situation by asking themselves the following questions:

Parts and interactions: “What are all the parts and how do they interact?” This way of thinking is especially useful for understanding things like machines or physical interactions. Breaking that long, intimidating math problem into manageable chunks can help students overcome their hesitation when it matters.

Truth: “What are the undisputed facts, the disputed facts, and the uncertainties of a situation?” This way of thinking is helpful when students want to make or evaluate an argument. That can help them to understand an SAT reading question or write a strong position paper in a social studies class.

Engagement: ”What is your relationship to this issue and what values, beliefs, and emotions do you bring to it?” This way of thinking encourages the student to look at themselves. It can help them understand how to approach a contentious issue with sensitivity when talking with their classmates or know how to present themselves on a college application essay.

Time: “How does it change over time and what causes are involved in that change?” This way of thinking is essential for understanding history and predicting change. It will allow students to understand how their past affects them and use their experiences to make better choices in the future.

Perspective: “What are the different viewpoints, perspectives, and stakeholders for this issue?” This way of thinking helps students understand others’ points of view. It can allow them to tailor a personal essay to a particular audience or why an author chose the word they did in their novel.

Critical thinking is not something that just happens – it has to be cultivated. We use tools like this breakdown of complexity from Harvard’s Project Zero to encourage students to understand every situation holistically. Students who are aware of the multitude of ways a situation can be understood are more likely to use those methods to arrive at a fuller knowledge of their subject of study. This, and many lessons like it, are included in our Thinking and Communication Development Module this summer. Check them out on our website!

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