Using Science and Composition Together to Teach Analytical Thinking
Robin Barnes, Ph.D. (CUSP), Laurie Anderson, Ph.D. (CUSP, Computing & Software Systems)
Our DC1 course used writing and storytelling to teach critical thinking. By walking through physics from Galileo to today, we demonstrate the analytical process by example. The students then develop that knowledge through their own writing. The course begins with the knowing that the earth still and at the center of the universe, and work our way through the discoveries and catastrophes of 400 years of physics. The students think through the principles using quantitative reasoning and basic mathematics, but their primary tool for demonstrating their learning is writing. Their first essay forces them to take a position on a topic in classical physics. They learn some logic, and explore their assumptions in a second paper that uses a syllogism. A third paper is cause and effect, and their fourth paper uses analogy.
The analytic skills the students learn are reflected back in the storytelling. The logical flaws they identify through writing appear again from the thought catastrophes that occurred in physics over the past 400 years. We demonstrate some of these physically. In our first workshop, they meet at a balcony to determine by observation if heavier objects fall faster. In another, the students examine cell phone safety and decide if a tinfoil helmet would protect them from danger. They examine the twin paradox and decide it time travel is possible. They learn the root ideas of modern physics and then we discuss how the universe began. In the end, they bring it all together in their heads through their writing.