Apps Mission Skills Data About

These are discrete skills that make up the broader concept of critical thinking. Of course all knowledge and analysis contribute to critical thinking, so this focuses on skills that help students detect and avoid bad reasoning, in school, career, and personal life. Most of these are skills that require ongoing practice, not just a one-time unit.

Fact / Opinion — Too many people, including adults, assume their opinion is a “correct” fact, or that facts are opinions subject to debate. Curriculum apps can give students practice distinguishing facts from opinions, like CCSS requires this in grades 6-8 only, but students can learn this much younger, and since adults struggle with this I recommend grades 4?-12.

Logical Fallacies — People are prone to flawed reasoning in personal arguments, business decisions, and political debate, both intentionally and unintentionally. Fallacies can get very abstract and they have archaic names, so they’re usually reserved for college philosophy. But curriculum can simplify fallacies and layer them by grade level, like CCSS requires students to detect “fallacious reasoning” in grades 9-10 only, but students can start learning this much younger, and since adults struggle with this I recommend grades 5-12.

Correlation / Causation — People naturally confuse this all the time, adults too, which undermines personal arguments, business decisions, and political debate. Usually this is taught only in Statistics courses, which is all CCSS requires. But it’s also part of logical fallacies (post hoc, cum hoc) and a tenet of the scientific method. The NGSS does not name this skill specifically. I recommend it be taught and practiced as part of the scientific method, grades 7?-12.

Credibility, Bias, Motive — Too many adults fall for disinformation. The CCSS has good requirements in grades 6-12 to assess the credibility of sources, and in grade 8 to evaluate their motives. There has been growing instruction in Media Literacy, especially to assess claims on the internet. I recommend the CCSS requirements be broadened to include detecting bias, motive, and qualifications for claims in all media, grades 5?-12.

Plausibility — Science deniers and conspiracy theorists have been growing lately. Surprisingly, presenting factual information does little to persuade them. One of the underlying causes is their inability to distinguish plausible explanations (the consensus of experts is correct) from implausible explanations (multitudes of government agencies and institutions are coordinating a massive cover-up of their twisted nefarious plot). This skill is not specifically required in the CCSS. I do not know if it can be instructed.

Statistics & Probability — Probability is not intuitive to the human mind, so many debates are based on false assumptions. Statistics & Probability is probably one of the most practical math classes, both for critical thinking and as a job skill in demand (the internet lead to a massive data explosion in many industries). I hope they all include Bayesian probability and base-rate neglect, since this leads to much misinformation. This course is usually optional, but I recommend more high schools promote it or even require it.

Lying with Statistics — Much misinformation is based on true-but-distorted statistics, with many tricks that make graphs misleading and take percents out of context or use irrelevant denominators. The CCSS/NGSS does not specifically require students to detect these, but I recommend it be taught not only in Statistics courses but also repeated in math and science classes. (I plan to develop a learning app for this.)

Experimental Method — People fall for quack remedies, miracle weight-loss cures, pseudosciences, etc. based solely on anecdotal stories. While Experimental Method is a subset of the Scientific Method, the NGSS does not specifically require students to learn about randomized control groups, placebos, sample sizes, etc. This applies to everyday ads and scams, so I recommend this be required in grades 9-12. Curriculum can drill students to identify what would be required to prove a given claim. (I plan to develop a learning app for this.)

Risk / Reward — Students should learn to make calculated financial decisions, like credit card debt, extended warranties, gambling, savings plans, etc. They should also learn to analyze subjective decisions for pros & cons, and short-term sacrifices vs long-term benefits. Certainly some of this is already sprinkled in many courses. I hope there are units and curriculum focused on this.

Cognitive Biases — People would make wiser decisions if they were aware of their natural misperceptions, such as loss aversion and the sunk-cost fallacy. Some of these are the foundations of logical fallacies (e.g. bandwagon effect). They could be taught in a similar way, like Your Bias Is.

Brain Teasers — These trick questions help students learn to ignore irrelevant clues. This skill can help them analyze misleading claims in the real world.

Moral Dilemmas — Discussing and debating moral dilemmas helps students question assumptions and absolute rules (e.g. is it ever okay to steal, even if it saves a life?), and what is “fair” for whom. This understanding is very relevant to policy debates (e.g. when should social media platforms ban a repeat offender).

Scams — Crime stories are popular, but few students will become police detectives. Much more likely they will get scammed in their life. Students can practice critical thinking by identifying suspicious clues in various scam scenarios — too good to be true, flattery, scare tactics, etc.

Game Theory — This challenges students to think strategically about how people would really react. This skill is relevant to policy debates to avoid unintended consequences (e.g. a fine too small actually encourages bad behavior).

Reality vs Fiction — In fiction the underdog always wins, the hero never gets hurt or pays any consequences, the enemy has no virtue, conspiracies abound, and everyone lives happily ever after. Most kids intuit how reality is different, but for some it might distort their perception and decision-making toward magical thinking. Literature is a wonderful expression of our fantasies and fears, but I wonder if teachers should always ask students to analyze and discuss what parts of each story are unrealistic.

Any other critical thinking skills? Please contact me.