As we strive to better prepare students for real world careers and challenges, we need to focus on developing students’ creativ and critical thinking skills. Educators can encourage students to become 21st-century problem solvers by introducing them to a wide variety of thinking tools.
Affording students the opportunity to flex their creative and critical problem solving skills offers them the chance to practice skills that are highly prized in real-world situations. Entering college or the workforce with well developed creative and critical thinking skills proves a great advantage for today’s new grads.
- They can view live images from every corner of the world and talk with or exchange video images with other young people who live many time zones away.
- They have more technology in their classrooms (and in many cases, in their backpacks) than existed in the workplaces of their parents 20 years ago.
- They will study subjects that were unknown when their teachers and parents were students, and they may well enter careers that do not exist today.
- In contrast with most of their parents, more of today’s young people will routinely come into contact with other people of diverse backgrounds and experiences. They will grow up to interact, collaborate, and compete with others around the globe.
Once upon a time, educators might have said to their students, “If you’ll pay close attention to what I’m going to teach you, you’ll learn everything you need to know for a successful life.” It’s doubtful that this message was ever entirely true, but it’s certainly not true today. We don’t know all the information that today’s students will need or all the answers to the questions they will face. Indeed, increasingly, we don’t even know the questions.
These realities mean that we must empower students to become creative thinkers, critical thinkers, and problem solvers—people who are continually learning and who can apply their new knowledge to complex, novel, open-ended challenges; people who will proceed confidently and competently into the new horizons of life and work.
In education, we routinely teach students how to use various sets of cognitive tools to make academic work easier, more efficient, or more productive: for example, research methods, note-taking strategies, or ways to remember and organize information. In teaching thinking, we need to give students cognitive tools and teach them to use these tools systematically to solve real-life problems and to manage change. These tools apply to two essential categories: creative thinking and critical thinking.