Tag Archives: critical thinking

Asking Questions

If you talk to any student about his/her studies, you’ll see that the only thing they are focused on is learning (rather memorizing) the answers. It is all about the answers. What about the ability to ask questions though? Asking questions is an essential element of creative and critical thinking and that seems to be missing from our education system. Children are naturally curious and want to learn more. Their curiosity can be channelized into asking questions and eventually asking ‘good’ questions. This is not the same as asking questions to get their doubts clarified on the lessons taught.

There are various ways to develop the ability to ask questions. Can we have group projects to ask meaningful questions on various topics or can we conduct brain storming sessions in the class? In the language exams we often test comprehension by asking questions on an unseen prose or a poem. Instead, we can ask students to come up with questions on a given text. Of course, the school teachers need to have enough time and skills to evaluate every student’s questions separately.  This kind of evaluation is very different from marking all the papers based on a set of model answers.

As children grow up, they can learn different types of questions and what it means by asking relevant and good questions. They will know that some questions are about seeking more information whereas other questions challenge our assumptions. Some have no concrete answers whereas others can have more than one answer. Asking good questions is really a critical skill in this day and age. We need to incorporate it in our school education and the sooner the better.

Are Math hints helpful?

The following examples are from an Indian Math textbook:

1) The length, breadth and height of a wall are 8m, 0.2m, and 16m respectively. The length, breadth and height of a brick are 20cm, 15cm and 5cm respectively. How many bricks are needed to make the wall?

Hint: Number of bricks=Volume of wall/volume of one brick

2) A bicycle covers 3km distance. The radius of its wheel is 21cm. How many rotations did the wheel make to cover the distance?

Hint: Number of rotations=Distance covered by bicycle/circumference of wheel

I often wonder about the purpose of such hints.  The basic question one needs to ask is what kids are supposed to learn in the math class.  I think the main purpose of solving a math problem is not only to find a solution to the given problem but also to develop good problem solving skills. In this day and age having loads of information is not that important because information can be easily searched for on the web. However, the ability to apply that information to solve a problem is critical.

Our kids are going to grow up in an ever changing world where they are going to face problems that we haven’t even imagined. They should be ready to handle new problems and unpredictable situations. If the Math curriculum and the text books are designed to reduce the scope of the bare minimum thinking and problem solving, we are not letting our kids learn, let alone experience the fun in tackling the tricky math problems. These hints are supposed to “help” the kids, but in the long run, this is not helping.