Critical Thinking and Problem Solving



Mid-semester Evaluation  Please do me a favor to complete this evaluation form.  Please give me your sincere suggestions and critique.  Thanks!  You have  10 minutes to complete this form.

Just a few reminders.

  •  The PBS video “Is School Enough?” is available online now.  I haven’t finished watching it, but it is a great “documentary”.  If you are in education-related programs, I highly recommend it!!
  • The documentary ” First Generation” will be presented at Cine (downtown) at 7 pm this Thursday.  Again, it is free for UGA students.  Please link to the website and register for this event.


All roads lead to Rome.  There are always several ways for us to solve a problem.  It’s important to help your students develop the critical thinking and problem solving abilities.  I read an article talking about the “Pampered Child Syndrome”.  Any of you get the idea what that means?

Due to this syndrome, more and more children lose the abilities to solve the problems they encountered in their daily life.  As educators, we do need to challenge ourselves first.  You all did a good job in trying something new for the stop animation infomercial project.  For the rest of this semester, I am going to push you all more to walk out of your comfort zone.  I think that is a good way to learn, right? So let’s spend a few classes talk about several important topics in the 21st century learning– critical thinking and problem solving.  These two will lead us to another two topics– problem-based learning and project-based learning.   But first of all, let’s challenge ourselves a little bit.


Work with people at your table.  The only rule is to use the 3 bamboo skewers and clay to create a structure that balances by only ONE point of ONE skewer on ONE of your fingertip for at least ONE minute.

When you are done, think about the following questions:

  • How is the balance activity an inquiry activity?
  • Could the balance activity be considered problem-based learning?
  • When have you experienced the problem-based learning approach in your classes? (What is problem-based learning?)
  • How is this connected to critical thinking? For that matter, what IS CRITICAL THINKING?


Critical thinking is a hot topic in the 21st century learning, but it is not a new idea at all.  Researchers have been working on this topic for more than 2500 years!  Let’s see how it is defined according to the experts.

Here is an interesting video to tell you about critical thinking– Critical Thinking Explained.  Have you thought about that?  You are thinking critically and solving problems every day!


Students use critical thinking skills to plan and conduct research, manage projects, solve problems, and make informed decisions using appropriate digital tools and resources. Students:

  1. identify and define authentic problems and significant questions for investigation.
  2. plan and manage activities to develop a solution or complete a project.
  3. collect and analyze data to identify solutions and/or make informed decisions.
  4. use multiple processes and diverse perspectives to explore alternative solutions.

In the textbook we used before, they defined problem solving ability this way.

“Students apply critical and creative thinking skills to prior knowledge during the problem solving process. The end result of problem solving is typically some kind of a decision: choosing a solution and then evaluating it.” (p 155)

“Problem-based learning (PBL) is a teaching approach that combines critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and inquiry as students explore real-world problems. It is based on unstructured, complex, and authentic problems that are often presented as part of a project.” (p 156)

If you type the words into the word cloud software, you will get a wordle like this. 


I believe most of us won’t like to learn something that is not applicable in our daily life, right?  I remember I always asked myself the same question when I was learning advanced mathematics in high school.  For example, calculating the probability.  Do I need to know what the probability of taking a green ball out of the bag while there are 2 green balls mixed with 3 red balls and 2 yellow balls?  Therefore, we try to make everything more real and applicable.  That is the problem-based learning.  We try to solve the real-world/ authentic problems.  You see a lot of problem-based learning in architecture education, business education and medical education.

In the following video, you will see how a teacher conduct problem-based learning in her classroom.


A lot of problem-based learning is strongly connected with project-based learning.  Project-based learning does not need to tackle with a real-world problem.  At the same time, students are usually more involved or have much more control in the project.

Let’s watch this video about project-based learning. 

Here is a very nice infographic about project-based learning.  Hope this can be a very good reference for your own design.

So, what are we going to do for the last two projects?  Here is the rubric for your reference.



  • Keep the dialogue you have with your peers in blogs.  You got a lot of feedback now.  Please check what your partners have told you and respond to them.  Please finish commenting back to them by Oct. 14.


  • Work on reflection 8– Project-based learning and Design.


  • Think about an essential question– a question you are always wondering/ curious about/ interested in; a question that is important in K-12 education/ higher education.
  • Check the rubric for the last two projects.  We will talk about more details on Wednesday.
  • Reflection 7 is due today.  Again, you don’t need to give me a late pass if you can finish it by dinner time (no later than 7 pm).

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