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Monday, November 17, 2003
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Wyatt's students ask 'why?'
Building critical thinking skills in the classroom

By Breana Krotz

Critical thinking. What is it? And, how does one actually go about thinking critically? Are students being critical thinkers in classrooms or has fact memorization and repetition gotten the better of higher education?

Sarah Wyatt cultivates critical thinking in her classes.Ohio University's Sarah Wyatt, assistant professor of plant biology, teaches critical thinking concepts in her classroom everyday. Critical thinking is not only important in understanding the concepts taught in courses, but it is also a necessary skill in life.

"Employers are looking for problem solvers," Wyatt said. "And, critical thinking falls into job performance, everyday life and decision making. Without critical thinking, people make decisions based on what someone has told them without weighing the facts and without really thinking." Wyatt is constantly incorporating critical thinking into her courses, to not only better prepare her students for the outside world, but to also allow them to apply their knowledge and ask, "why?"

"We are creating scientists and are trying to educate students into thinking critically. I want my students to have questions, to be thinking about why and to start applying information to find an answer," Wyatt said.

Students can expect to think critically in Wyatt's classroom through both lab experiments and open discussions about the cultural impact of controversial topics in the science community.

During lab, students will be given a topic, such as "plant responses to environment," and will then be instructed to think of a question related to the topic. The purpose of developing the question is to make students think about what they would like to know. Students then design an experiment to discover the answer. Finally, they analyze their results and write a lab report based on the their findings.

"I grade on critical thinking and am there when students need a soundboard," Wyatt said. "Even if their experiment in the end did not answer their question, if they are able to tell me what they should have done instead, then they are thinking critically. I leave the experiments completely open-ended and let them discover what they would like to know."

According to Wyatt, critical thinking can be learned. Once a student understands how to evaluate information and becomes a critical thinker, the skill can be transferred to other courses. Not only does this skill lead them to ask better questions, but their knowledge base also grows.

"The focus is on student learning," Wyatt said. "Thinking is hard, but it's important to have these skills and be able to integrate them into life. Everyone needs the time to think."

Breana Krotz is a student writer with University Communications and Marketing.
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