How to Help Your Children Develop Critical Thinking Skills

The secret to acquiring deep critical thinking skills in mathematics is... hard work. There is no way around it. There is one other component that matters...it really helps to be interested.

Not every child is born to love math. That's just a simple truth. Although you can't force somebody to love math, it might be possible to help that child like math. Think about everything you like to do for fun. Chances are, you are more skillful at the activities that you like than the ones that you don't like. The better you become at a skill, the more you tolerate doing it, and the more likely you are to actually enjoy it. For example, golfing is painful if you rarely manage to loft the ball into the air, but once you are able to do that consistently, golf becomes a lot more interesting!

If your child is struggling with math, the mistake most people make is to try to help their child with the current homework assignment and hope the child "gets it". Your child will continue to struggle, which just reinforces the idea that he isn't good at math.

The solution is to identify the most basic math skill that your child has not yet mastered. Even if your child is a struggling 10th grader, If your child has not memorized his addition math facts (does he count on his fingers?), then that would be the first step, and you should ignore all of the more advanced skills. In this example, you would drill your child until he definitively has mastered the addition math facts. If you need a standard of excellence, you can use our instant math facts assessment for free. Based on our experience, when a student masters an important skill such as this one, the student will feel a genuine sense of accomplishment, and will be motivated to learn more. That's your key.

If you don't know which building block your child needs next, you should take a math assessment. MathScore provides free assessments if you don't already have one in mind (we recommend our Early Skils Assessment and Core Skills Assessment). Once you achieve a pattern of success with foundational building blocks, your child will be on the right path to proficiency. And with enough practice, acquiring deep critical thinking skills will become possible, but not guaranteed.

As any educator knows, there is a difference between computational fluency and critical thinking skills. For example, you might know how to compute 6 × 8, but you might not know how much sod to purchase to lay out a new lawn. The classic way to teach critical thinking skills is to provide lots of real world situations, largely through word problems, but also through charts and graphs. Our advice is to first master the computational aspect, then develop the problem solving part later. If you try to teach problem solving simultaneously with the related computation skills, we think a lot of students are going to struggle. Difficult homework assignments often involve problem solving, so if your student can't do the underlying computation well, then any attempt to deeply understand what's going on will be wasted effort.

Nowadays, not everybody advocates that computation be taught explicitly first before relating things to real world situations, but nevertheless, that is our recommendation.

In conclusion, if you want deep critical thinking skills, you have to work hard for a long time. Quite literally, to acquire deep critical thinking skills is to raise your IQ. It is not easy, but it is possible.


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