Critical Thinking and the lively discussions that Thinkers create!

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G11s working collaboratively together in preparation for a project

Critical thinking and creative thinking are often touted in education, but what do these actually mean? These are two ends of a continuum, and both are important skills required to make the best possible judgement!

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Team Discussions at a Theory of Knowledge class

Creative thinking allows us to adopt a big picture or macro approach and to consider and view issues from a multi-disciplinary perspective. We need to know how to research to collect data, discuss issues with others to gain as much information as possible.

We then use our critical thinking skills to use the information acquired and make useful and constructive sense of the knowledge; learning to consider an issue from various perspectives and viewpoints of others; analysing all the information to reach a successful end goal. We use our critical thinking skills to form a purpose through analysis and consideration of the data collected.

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MS students experimenting to discover answers

The world is an unpredictable, rapidly changing interconnected global economy. While technical knowledge is important, knowing how to analyse the information and applying this technical knowledge to various situations, and coming up with the best solution, is what gives us the edge over others. This means that we have to apply thinking skills in a creative and critical manner; to creatively adapt and be critically ‘smart’ to thrive and survive. We cannot survive by applying the same formula over and over again and education systems must be prepared to teach our students to be ready to survive in this new economy.

At ISS International School, we use this as the backbone to empower our students to become skillful thinkers and creators. Students who are able to both pose and solve problems, researching and expressing their understanding using multiple forms of literacies. This starts all the way from their early years and this same philosophy guides our academic delivery and results in the child developing this skill from 4 to 18 years.

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ES Students at the library, gaining new knowledge

Our difference is that our faculty create classrooms that are cultures of thinking for students. Our students are always encouraged to research and consider an issue from a multi-disciplinary and multi-cultural approach and to draw parallels between what they learn in class and apply this to what is happening in the world. As an example; within a creative language lesson, it is not all about grammar and punctuation only. Language classes become more interesting as our students are introduced to a subject which has as its backdrop a topic that studies a global issue and its impact. Students are encouraged to research the topic; discuss this amongst their classmates of multiple nationalities; understand their classmate’s different cultural perspectives; create a balanced viewpoint and present the topic in class, referring to multiple points of view. This facilitates learning at so many levels, i.e. learning the rudiments of a language, data collection, and analysis, discussion and debate, oratory skills and general knowledge – all part of developing critical thinking, whilst acquiring language skills

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MS Students experimenting to discover answers!

To meet this need, our faculty is professionally trained to ensure they are equipped to guide our students to adopt and develop this critical thinking skill set. “The development of a professional community in which deep and rich discussions of teaching, learning, and thinking are a fundamental part of teachers’ ongoing experience provides the foundation for nurturing a student’s thinking and learning.” (source reference: Six Key Principles of the Cultures of Thinking Project). This is coupled with ISS’s fundamentals of academic delivery; creating an empowering environment where our students are encouraged to develop and pursue their own sense of purpose; guiding and nurturing our students as they make this journey of self-discovery; ensuring inclusivity where everyone has an opportunity to express their viewpoints; and delivering each lesson in a highly individualised and customised style to ensure that each student learns at their own pace and benefits fully from the learning.

“The world is unpredictable and the issues and problems that one faces are often not the same. Therefore the education that we deliver must prepare our students to thrive in such an environment. Our approach to education at ISS is multi-disciplinary so that our students can view issues from multiple angles and facets” shares Mr. Jungo, who is the IB Diploma Programme co-ordinator and Theory of Knowledge (ToK) teacher at High School. “I personally challenge each student’s belief and encourage them not to take issues at face value or come to conclusions based on their cultural or religious backgrounds. They must consider issues contextually and question all the time, read extensively to gain new knowledge and apply all that they know to a situation to develop new thinking to solve an issue. I interact with my students one-on-one frequently and read their reflections in their ToK journals to gauge their development. This helps me create different strategies to guide them in their growth. It delights me when I see maturity in their reflections. This shows me that the strategies that I have applied for each have worked”. (To know more about critical thinking at ISS by Mr. Jungo please click here.)

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Taking what we know to create solutions at design class

In our Middle School, critical thinking is brought to life when teachers apply an inquiry, multi-disciplinary based approach to lessons. Every student is given the opportunity to investigate, question, analyse, evaluate and challenge their beliefs. This approach builds critical thinking skills, that will eventually become second nature and extend beyond the classroom environment. Our teachers cite an example with grade 7 students. They were challenged to design a hypothetical large scale garden for a school. Not only did they learn design concepts in geometry, but they also developed their critical thinking by reflecting on the accuracy and feasibility of their designs. The students also had to consider authentic budgets and costs, as well as ensure their own needs as a learning community were met. This was a challenging task but students rose to the occasion and produced thoughtful, realistic and meaningful designs!

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ES student sharing his project with fellow schoolmates

Our students at Elementary School are nurtured to consider how lessons taught in class can be applied to real-life scenarios. They too are taught to actively research; formulate questions, collect and record data and then present what they have learned. Ms. Gemma, our Elementary School teacher enjoys the teaching philosophy at ISS. “It’s not about spoon-feeding, even for the younger students. It is about creating a meaningful learning environment for our children. They are taught to explore, research and form conclusions.”

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Solar Garden

Over in Grade 4, the students were encouraged to explore diverse, resistant materials and mediums such as wood, bamboo, plastics, and polyurethane and were challenged to create something interesting. The result – stunning. All of our community can now marvel at the ‘solar system and universe’ that has been created outside the library.

Our Swedish alumnus Johanna who graduated from Cambridge University with a Bachelor of Law, and who is now pursuing her Masters of Law in Public International Law at Utrecht University in The Netherlands, further supports this by sharing that, “my years at ISS from Grades 9 to 12, definitely laid down the foundation for me to exercise critical thinking. Studying ToK challenged me to reflect on how I acquire knowledge and apply this thinking in all my other subjects. We were always encouraged to apply our own interpretations from across the subject areas we had studied, and also reflect further on issues based on our own experiences.” She further reminisces that “I remember coming into math class in Grade 11, straight after having had a fierce debate in ToK about whether mathematics is discovered or invented. Needless to say, this deeper thinking about my subject made it harder to focus on factoring in math class that day!”

ISS’s success reaches a pinnacle when parents themselves notice the change and maturity in the way their children process their thoughts and information. As Paul and Avis have shared, it fills them with delight to see the way their daughter Grace thinks and analyses issues now, even on issues that in the past would never have interested her! “She is thinking, questioning and creating her own questions about topics and drawing parallels between what she has learned at school and current affairs”, shares Paul. Avis adds that recent discussions around the dinner table revolved around Grace’s recent school work on Nazi Germany and Communist Russia, and seeing her think and analyse parallels to the recent political events in the United Kingdom and the United States. This has not only created lively and enjoyable discussions around the family dinner table but has also facilitated critical thinking beyond the student! This is what brings the greatest joy to Mr. Jungo when education goes beyond the student and spreads amongst other family members too!