This is part three of a four part series on the four Cs of STEM. New here or want a review of what STEM or the 4Cs mean? Check out this article!

For a STEM activity to move beyond just another team-building activity, we need to think about the rigor of the tasks Critical thinking tasks can (and should!) look very different for different kids, depending on their age, the objective and the amount of support available to them! The best way to think about critical thinking is that is requires a person to pause, think about everything they know (and what they don’t know yet) and then develop and execute a plan to see the task through. For adults, critical thinking can happen at work, when faced with a difficult decision or when working on a Sudoku puzzle; anything that forces us to slow down and think counts!

What Does Critical Thinking Look Like for Kids?

For kids, the most challenging part about building critical thinking skills is finding the right level of balance. Too hard? Frustration creeps in and they might feel less willing to try again in the future. Too easy? Doesn’t work to build skills and might result in the dreaded “I’m bored!” comment. Critical thinking activities are improved when kids work in teams - strong communication and collaboration skills help kids to persevere and build grit. 

In a classroom setting, curriculums are designed to foster critical thinking skills through the delivery of material. Great teachers know that it’s not enough to just provide students with a chance to try something challenging - they need to provide the right level of challenge, coupled with the right amount of support, to help students find success. Repetitive experiences of “Hard work is worth it!” is what lays the foundation for success later in life across all areas. 

So where does STEM come into play? Nearly any lesson STEM activity should have many elements of critical thinking - check out some examples from our STEM Game Races Space Escape event below:

  • Science - Testing variables to achieve a desired result. Applying properties of force and motion. Looking for and making sense of patterns.
  • Technology - Consider how others’ findings relate to their own understanding of a topic. Gathering information from multiple places and uncovering a new understanding or finding.
  • Engineering - Comparing strategies to solve each problem and communicating your ideas to the team. Constructing a system that will achieve a desired result. 
  • Math - Employing flexible mathematical thinking to find solutions. Analyzing structures and applying properties of shapes. 

What Can We Do at Home?

  • One of the easiest (and most fun!) ways to support critical thinking at home is by playing games! Game play is a great way to get kids thinking about strategy and persevering through a challenge. Check out some of our favorites!
  • This might be a no-brainer, but take a step back when you child is working on something challenging. If they need help, ask questions like “What are you working on now?” or “Which part feels tricky?” This line of questioning focuses on the process, rather than just getting the “right” answer, which is exactly what we want to see!

So What’s Next?

We’ll continue the theme of focusing on the process next time, when we dig into how creativity fits into STEM!

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