Building critical evaluation skills

 

Critical thinking is a key life skill that is important to teach students, not only to improve their employability prospects, but to be a critical elevator in life generally.

Within discussion sections of practical reports or investigations, students are often asked to list any errors and suggest improvements or alternate models. This could be within science, or health, maths or any other subject with a critical evaluation report.

Without scaffolding (just providing the usual question prompts), this is the sort of response in a discussion I would get (this is a genuine student response):

Discussion:

1. Errors present in the experiment:

none

2. Suggested improvements for the experiment:

less hot fire because I burnt myself.

The question prompts alone are not enough support to encourage logical and critical thinking and evaluation of the investigation.

Enter MER. MER stands for Method, Errors, Recommendations. It is a scaffold for logical and critical evaluation (reflecting on and addressing each step where applicable in the method). Having the structure in place also, I find, helps students be creative in thinking up improvements (or recommendations) for reducing errors.

Here’s what a discussion response to errors and improvements looks like using the MER (another genuine student response from the same experiment).

See how using such a simple scaffold can provide for greater depth, support critical thinking, provide scope for greater improvements and technological improvement, and a logical analysis of an investigation.

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