The importance of critical thinking and problem-solving skills is apparent almost everywhere. No matter the industry or occupation, the ability to think critically and solve problems is vital to professional success. And this doesn’t just apply to the professional realm; these skills are often useful in dealing with everyday situations. With critical thinking being important and applicable to so many aspects of life, there has been an emerging emphasis on developing these types of skills through STEM education as a foundation for interdisciplinary, engaged student learning.
By definition, critical thinking is an “intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action” (The Critical Thinking Community). What this means is that a student with critical thinking skills should be able to analyze information, identify/evaluate problems, and ultimately apply new and existing knowledge to solve problems. It’s clear, then, that effective critical thinking is vital to effective problem solving: in other words, solving problems requires one to be able to think critically.
An interesting aspect of critical thinking is that these skills are not necessarily inherent (like a person’s IQ), meaning they can be taught and developed (Stone). Critical thinking is not easy for everyone initially, but almost everyone has the capability to learn the tools necessary to think critically. The approaches that STEM education provides are important in this regard (Jones). Project-based learning and the engineering design process are two examples of STEM approaches that naturally support critical thinking skills such as analyzing, planning, and designing solutions.
The development of critical thinking skills not only helps students in ways of problem solving and reasoning, it also helps to foster interest in STEM-related fields and is a major factor in continued student interest and success as they pursue STEM degrees (Ramsey and Baethe). Studies have shown that possessing the ability to think critically is a big reason why students succeed in STEM majors at the community-college and university level. In these situations, critical thinking is shown to be a fundamental and necessary ability for success in pursuit of a STEM degree and even in a STEM career. This is another reason why establishing and developing critical thinking skills is essential for younger students: student interest, student success, and the related skills go hand-in-hand.
Festo’s STEM curriculum has been designed to develop and hone these critical thinking skills through project-based learning and problem solving. The push for STEM education and the movement toward interdisciplinary study is reflected in our courseware and our commitment to student development. The content included in Festo’s STEM courses extends through the technical, the conceptual, the procedural, and the practical. Students learn theory and apply it through actual training equipment and hardware, using all of this to solve real-life problems and projects that they are tasked with. As a result, each course offers a true “learning-by-doing” environment, and helps develop the next generation of critical thinkers and problem solvers.
Looking for ways to bring STEM into your classroom? Explore Festo’s integrative STEM curriculum.
“Defining Critical Thinking”. The Critical Thinking Community. http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/defining-critical-thinking/766
Ramsey, Kathleen and Baethe, Barbara. “The Keys to Future STEM Careers: Basic Skills, Critical Thinking, and Ethics”. Future of Education, Fall 2013.
Stone, Adam J. “Critical Thinking Skills in USAF Developmental Education”. Air and Space Power Journal, Summer 2017.
Jones, Virginia R. “critical thinking exercises for healthy STEM learning”. children’s technology and engineering, May 2016.