Saturday, February 23, 2013

Critical Thinking

A public school perspective...
Last fall, I had a chance to go visit my friend's second grade classroom in a nearby public school.  It was very interesting to me.  My friend had asked me to come observe and see if there were any helpful suggestions I could give her.  One thing I noted in my conversation with her afterwards was how rigid the curriculum demands of our county are on what she teaches.  She has to teach to the standardized tests.    But, kids are better off long term if they have skills to problem solve, to think critically about a test question, and can answer questions in complete sentences.  Right now they are being taught to answer a question with yes/no or two to three word answers.  But, my friend loves her kids and wants what is best for their education short-term... and long-term.  So, what are her options?

A homeschool perspective...
I focus on the basics--reading, writing, and arithmetic.  We also study health, music, art, social studies, and science.  I juggle taking care of our home, teaching three kids on three different levels, and our other commitments.  Our school days are full.  But, last spring, I started realizing that my kids need to learn how to approach a problem and ask themselves how they can solve a problem.  I think it is one of the most difficult skills kids have to learn--how to face a problem and to not give up!  So, I began looking for age appropriate logic and critical thinking curriculums.  So, what are my options?

There are a few companies out there who publish logic and critical thinking curriculums.  They range in price and whether they are consumable or reproducible.  I have three kids in different grades so I prefer reproducible books.  They usually cost the same or just a little more than a consumable book, so it saves a lot of money for me in the long run.

This year I've been using Evan-Moor's Thinking Skills, grades 3-4 and Hands-On Thinking Activities for grades 1-3.  I have to be honest, I'm using both because I have them.  I like the Thinking Skills book.  It is reproducible and has great age appropriate logic exercises.  But, it is $21 on Amazon.  I purchased the second book for only a dollar second hand and it has far fewer activities, but it's great for 1st or 2nd graders new to logic and puzzles.  Would I spend $11 on it used?  Probably not.

Although I like these books, I wanted to find another curriculum that would work for me at home and my friend in her classroom.  One of my conditions was to find a less expensive option.

A few months ago, I happened upon Prufrock Press.  They publish several different logic and critical thinking series.  One is titled Lollipop Logic, for grades K-2.  Another is Logic Safari.  And a third series begins with Logic Countdown for grades 3-4.  

In this post, I'm going to review this third series, which includes Logic Countdown, Logic Liftoff, and Orbiting With Logic by Bonnie Risby.  I have the first two books of the series.  There are 54 pages of puzzles in the first book and 56 in the second.  The puzzles focus on relationships, analogies, sequencing, syllogisms, as well as inferencing and deduction skills.  These are reproducible books that lend themselves to use by homeschoolers and classroom teachers.  

For the past few weeks, my oldest daughter has been completing two exercises a week from Logic Countdown.  She enjoys them.  Once in a while she has come up with another answer for the relationship exercises.  Her answers are reasonable though and so I think that her answers are "right" even if they are different than the answers in the back of the book.  For the most part, the answers are clear cut.  I asked my daughter her opinion and she loves the book.  She find the exercises fun.  I want my kids to look at language or mathematical puzzles as "fun".  I believe this feeling will help them want to tackle problems they don't understand rather than shrink from them.  

As a homeschooler, these books are great for use with gifted students who finish their work quickly.  They are also great worksheets to give children when they're done with an assignment and waiting for your help.

As a classroom teacher, I wouldn't copy the pages of these books.  Instead, I'd use 2-4 questions daily after lunch or recess to get my students brains to reengage.  I'd write them on an overhead, smart board, or chalk board.  

The biggest difference between these books and Evan-Moor's critical thinking series is the amount of teacher explanation and thickness of the books.  Evan Moor gives a great deal of explanation for every pair of worksheets.  These books by Ms. Risby does not.  She gives an overview of the book's exercises at the beginning of each book.  But, I don't think the explanation is needed.  

One other difference is the font used in these books.  I've recently been looking at various worksheets on and teacher's notebook.  It is very interesting to me to see how many elementary teachers choose fancy fonts for classroom worksheets.  They also use an excessive amount of graphics (in my opinion).  These fonts look pretty and fun, but they are actually much more difficult for children to read--especially children who have difficulties reading.  The font used in in these books from Prufrock Press look old fashioned, but they are a tried and true font that is easy for children to read.  For children who have difficulty focusing, place a blank paper bookmark beneath each question.  That is the one downside to these worksheets--the formatting doesn't always let children easily distinguish between one question and the next.  
This wouldn't effect a classroom teacher using these worksheet exercises for warm-ups, but it would affect a homeschooler completing the exercises on his or her own.  

Would I recommend Logic Countdown and the other two books in this series?  Yes.  The books are an affordable, solid curriculum supplement. They will allow students to stretch their minds without adding a lot of time onto their school day!

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of Logic Countdown and Logic Liftoff for review from Prufrock Press.

1 comment:

Jeff Rivera said...

I really enjoy your perspective on curriculum in our schools. I agree that it is so important to teach students skills that will carry on throughout their entire lives, not just short-term solutions to a one-answer test. I look forward to more posts from you!