Skip to 0 minutes and 6 secondsLearning to think critically, may be one of the most important skills that our children will need for the future. According to a US Department for Labour report, 65% of today’s pupils, will be employed in jobs that don’t even exist yet. This has massive implications for what we teach in schools. It is not enough to focus on the traditional curriculum basics of ‘reading, writing and arithmetic’. If our children are going to grow up to be happy, healthy and successful members of society, then they need the mental ingenuity to adapt to change. So how do we adapt our teaching to help children face the challenges ahead of them? In science we have the opportunity to show children that facts are not fixed.

Skip to 0 minutes and 50 secondsWith every experiment carried out we have the opportunity to discover something new. If we can create learning environments that emulate the work of scientists, we will enable our pupils to recognise that knowledge is not fixed, and all opportunities to learn should be celebrated. For example, Dr Bruce Railsback from the University of Georgia

Skip to 1 minute and 9 secondssaid: ‘Most scientists will concede that, although they seek truth, they don’t know or generate truth. They propose and test theories, knowing that future evidence may cause refinement, revision, or even rejection of today’s theories... However, we can reach the best possible conclusion based on the most complete and modern evidence available.’ Scientists ask questions. Why does that happen? How does that work? If I change this what will happened to that? Asking questions is the starting point to for all investigation. Improving questioning is the key to improving science in our classrooms. We can improve children’s questioning and creative thinking through a few simple strategies. For example you may like to create a mystery box that contains a secret object.

Skip to 2 minutes and 1 secondChildren are encouraged to pick up the box, and to shake it, and listen to how it moves. They can also ask questions that might help them identify the object inside. Every question asked could lead to theories being adapted and new questions being generated. How long you keep your children guessing is entirely up to you! Another approach is ‘What if questions?’ They are a great way to help children think differently about the world. For example, 'What if there was less gravity?' or 'What if plants could walk?' These questions have no right or wrong answers. They do however, develop higher order thinking skills. These higher order thinking skills require children to recall information, form basic concepts, think critically and form creative ideas.

Skip to 2 minutes and 53 secondsThese are just two examples of how we can use higher order thinking skills in science. The following activities will describe other ways in which children develop their scientific thinking and reasoning skills. You will be able to try them with your children and observe for yourself the wealth of creativity developing in your class.

The importance of thinking and reasoning skills

In an ever changing world, it is critical that we teach our children how to develop scientific thinking and reasoning skills.

‘Most scientists will concede that, although they seek truth, they don’t know or generate truth. They propose and test theories, knowing that future evidence may cause refinement, revision, or even rejection of today’s theories… However, we can reach the best possible conclusion based on the most complete and modern evidence available.’ Dr Bruce Railsback, University of Georgia

Scientists ask questions. As Albert Einstein said: ‘The important thing is to not stop questioning.’

All investigations begin with a question. As teachers, we should be helping children develop their ability to ask questions. Every question can lead to ideas being challenged and new ones being generated. This in turn generates new questions. This is an essential tool for education, STEM related careers and everyday life.

As Tanya explains in this video, asking children the right questions, such as What If…? questions, can help them to develop higher order thinking skills. This happens as they are encountering an unknown problem or dilemma. To answer these type of questions they must:

  • Recall known information
  • Form basic concepts
  • Think critically
  • Form creative ideas.

Importantly, there are no right or wrong answers. The children simply need to be able to justify their reasoning.

As teachers we should create challenges which allow children to:

  • Remember information,
  • Demonstrate understanding of concepts,
  • Apply information in a different way,
  • Analyse information so they begin to see patterns and connections,
  • Evaluate concepts and ideas, justifying their reasoning and
  • Create new concepts and ideas through their evaluations and questions generated.

These form Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy (Anderson and Krathwohl, 2001), which we can use to help us plan to develop children’s higher order thinking skills. The stages are hierarchical, a child must be able to remember before they can understand, and so on. This means, we can identify the stage our children are at, and then create opportunities for them to practise the next.

Blooms taxonomy revised 2001: Pyramid diagram with six levels. Remember (bottom level), understand, apply, analyse, evaluate, create (top).
Revised Bloom’s taxonomy (Vanderbilt University, used under creative commons license).

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This video is from the free online course:

Teaching Primary Science: Getting Started

National STEM Learning Centre