Every child. Thinking critically. Solving problems.


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Published Saturday August 5, 2017

Back to School with Critical Thinking – AZ Daily Star

Send Them Back to School with Purpose
By Kathleen Bethel Special to the Arizona Daily Star Aug 2, 2017

As the reports of AZMerit and AIMS test scores for science, math and English roll in, it is clear that the results may not be what parents dream of for their children.

As a working mom, I was always at a loss as to what to say that might help when sending my own two daughters off to school. My mother used the classic, “Have a good day!” and then when I got home, “What did you do in school today?” No surprise that my answer was usually, “Nothing.”

I realized if I wanted better answers, and better results, I would have to ask better questions. After all, I wanted my girls to be thinkers, not just consumers of information. So, I came up with a few “mom questions” that stimulated a bit more critical thinking — and perhaps taught some important scientific practices along the way.

Off-to-school questions:

Monday: Are there any bugs or birds on your playground? See if you can find one to watch silently during recess today. Tell me what you saw it do, tonight! (Observation.)

Tuesday: What do you wonder about your day? What do you think is going to happen? Tell me if you were right or if you were pleasantly surprised, when I get home. (Question/hypothesis.)
Wednesday: What happens a lot in your classroom or on the playground? Can you count how many times it happens today? I can’t wait to hear! (Collecting data, tallying.)

Thursday: Is there one thing at school you want to get better at? Can you do one little part of it three extra times and see if it helps today? (Retest, retrials.)

Friday: How many folks does it take to do (fill in blank) in your school? Would more people make it better or worse? Watch today and let me know what you think. (Population/number of subjects.)

Home from school:

Monday: If you could have changed one thing today, what would it have been? How would that one thing have changed your day? (Identifying a variable.)

Tuesday: What were you able to control today? What did you have no control over but wish you had been able to? (Control vs. experimental design.)

Wednesday: If you were going to make your school or classroom better in one way, what would you need? How possible or affordable would that be? (Materials and resources.)

Thursday: What is one thing the teacher or school does exactly the same way, every day? Why do you think that is? What would happen if they didn’t? (Procedure.)

Friday: What did you wonder about today? Let’s go find out more! (Research.)

Just by asking the questions, I was teaching critical thinking. By answering the questions, my daughters were building their communication skills. And by remembering to take time to listen, and getting excited about the answers, we created the most important thing of all — a strong parent-child relationship.

All of which helps a school do what it needs to do, which is create the next generation of thinking citizens who are prepared to lead our community into a bright future.

Kathleen Bethel is CEO of the Southern Arizona Research, Science and Engineering Foundation. She is an administrator in the College of Engineering at the University of Arizona and a former elementary school principal.