Students are Thinking Critically in Haddonfield!

What is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking is the process of conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information.

Critical is the ability of thinkers to take charge of their own thinking. This requires that they develop sound criteria and standards for analyzing and assessing their own thinking and routinely use those criteria and standards to improve its quality.

What Does Critical Thinking Look Like?
Students and teachers who are thinking critically:

  • ask pertinent questions
  • assess statements and arguments
  • admit a lack of understanding or information
  • suspend judgment until all facts have been gathered and considered
  • look for evidence to support assumption and beliefs
  • have a sense of curiosity
  • are interested in finding new solutions
  • are able to clearly define a set of criteria for analyzing ideas
  • are able to adjust opinions when new facts are found
  • look for proof
  • are willing to examine beliefs, assumptions, and opinions and weigh them against facts
  • listen carefully to others and gives feedback
  • see that critical thinking is a lifelong process of self-assessment
  • examine problems closely
  • are able to reject information that is incorrect or irrelevant


States of Matter

Second graders examined matter in the science lab, focusing on the three states of matter.  Students worked in cooperative groups to discover the fastest method they can devise for melting ice.   To meet this challenge, students had to think about heat, the factor that causes the change in state. Students then engaged in a class discussion about whose methods and procedures yielded the quickest melt time.  Finally, student poured the meltwater in a petri dish to examine how water changes when it evaporates.

What's Your Learning Style?

Third graders are in touch with their intellectual strengths through a study of Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences. Students first take “tests” in which they read a statement and check it if it is true. After calculating results, each student’s intellectual strength is revealed.   

Once intellectual strength is established, this metacognitive knowledge helps individual students to better understand how they learn and process information.  This knowledge can help guide each student to the right path for learning. Students are encouraged to think about and use the strategy that would work best according to his/her intellectual strength.

Another important benefit from having the students learn about Multiple Intelligences is that the students gain a better understanding that everyone in the class is unique and has different strengths.  Because of this fact, we are the better for it as a whole when we all bring our strengths to our classroom community.

The Stock Market Game

Fifth grade students buy low and sell high!  The Stock Market Game project requires students to analyze data, make predictions, and apply mathematical concepts.  The program also teaches and reinforces these essential skills and concepts: Critical thinking, Decision-making, Cooperation and communication, Independent research, and Saving and investing

Students use real internet research and news updates, making the simulation an even better mirror of the real marketplace. While the competitive gameplay creates student excitement, the educational experience delivers the biggest impact.

Getting a Handle on Your Bee!

These third grade students are learning about how bees pollinate plants.  Students grew their own flowers in the science lab and used expired bees to learn about pollination.  Students records their analysis of the pollination cycle and had to constantly infer and synthesize information learned!

“I think I found a pattern!” 

Throughout the day, students in the Licorish 5th grade search for patterns.  What started as a pivotal part of Everyday Math instruction has become a way of teaching and learning beyond the curriculum and classroom materials.

Dr. Eric Milou, a Professor in the Department of Mathematics at Rowan University, presented several workshops to Haddonfield teachers during the adoption of Everyday Math at the elementary level.  Dr. Milou demonstrated the effectiveness of teaching children to identify the patterns found in geometry, fractions, multiplication tables, and throughout all areas of mathematics. 

This year our classroom focus has been on broadening the pattern finding mission.  Teaching students to look for patterns has increased the amount of critical questions being asked; most of those questions start with, “I wonder if….” 

Expansion of the pattern finding thinking has happened with relative ease in every area of study.  An example has been how students identify spelling patterns in their reading, writing and spelling word lists, and then make predictions on how the word origins, word meaning, and/or word usage is connected to the spelling pattern. 

 Students have always used the same kind of questioning in scientific inquiry.  Tapping into that thinking and having the language needed to discuss our thinking has made a day in 5th grade feel like a mysterious treasure hunt, all day, everyday.


Critical Thinking in Physical Education

Throughout this year, the ideas of critical thinking and fitness have been combined.  The result has been fantastic with the creation of new and challenging games that enhance the students’ level of fitness. 

In the game Building Blocks, students work together as a team to travel to the opposite end of the game and back while remaining in contact with each other at all times.  Each time they are successful they may get a foam block from the bucket.  At the beginning of every pass, the group must think of a different way of moving to the opposite end of the gym and back.  By the end of the game, the team that can build the highest tower with the foam blocks is the winner.  Critical thinking, communication, and teamwork are key aspects in the game.

Another game that was recently played in physical education was a game call Partner Steal the Bacon.  Students line up facing their partner across the game with a bean bag placed in between them.  In this game students must devise a strategy to earn points.  Points may either be earned by grabbing a bean bag and successfully make it back to the starting line or by tagging their partner once their partner picks up the bean bag.  Students quickly learn that the game is more than just grabbing the bean bag and running.


Vehicles in Motion

In this lesson, students applied what they previously learned to test how the weight of the load affects the motion of a vehicle.  Students worked in collaborative teams to investigate the effects of a load on motion, measure the time it takes for a loaded vehicle to move a given distance, and discuss, explain, and support their observations with data.


CSI Tatem

What is critical thinking? Current research indicates that the skill most basic to critical thinking is the ability to listen or read actively while continuously analyzing the information being presented. This ability requires the learner to be able to engage in a careful internal dialogue while they are listening and reading.  Strong critical thinkers and problem solvers can dialogue internally without skipping steps. Poor critical thinkers have a tendency to skip steps while analyzing information (Anita Reith Stohs, Powerthink,  1993).

To encourage critical thinking, second grade students were asked to read four mysteries during the month of February. As they read each mystery, students were required to identify clues provided by the author.  While reading, students also were asked to predict the solution of the mystery at the end of each chapter.  Evidence supporting each prediction was recorded in a reading log. After finishing each mystery, students returned to their list of clues and analyzed each clue as either an example of foreshadowing, which signaled the solution for the mystery, or an example of a red herring, which the author included in the text to mislead the reader. These responses to literature served as a scaffold for second grade readers to carry out a careful step-by-step analysis of information.

To enhance the students’ background knowledge for reading mysteries, a Crime Scene Investigation Mini-Unit was simultaneously taught in science. Students learned how to collect evidence at a crime scene and label the evidence using evidence bags. Mr. Priolo co-taught a lesson with the classroom teacher about how to analyze handwriting samples. Corporal Dan Leverick, a member of the Haddonfield Police Department and Tatem School parent, presented a 45 minute lecture and demonstration about how crimes are solved in Haddonfield. He focused on the need to do careful investigation at the crime scene without skipping any steps. He showed students how specimens are collected, labeled, photographed, and stored. He led students through a fingerprint identification  protocol. He shared many stories about how critical thinking and problem solving are used to solve mysteries here in Haddonfield.