Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Critical Thinking Co. Review

One of the reasons we homeschool is that we want our children to be able to think for themselves, to be able to problem solve to find a solution. It is our job to prepare them for life, not just memorize facts from a book. While rote memorization is profitable in certain areas, we don't want to solely rely on that method for our children's education. We strive to give our kids the tools necessary to make clear, reasoned judgments. In other words, we want to develop their critical thinking. Critical thinking has been defined as "the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action." Or more simply, identifying and evaluating evidence to guide decision making. What better way to strengthen their critical thinking than by using products from a company with the same name.

The Critical Thinking Co. is "committed to developing students' critical thinking skills for better grades, higher test scores, and success in life." They offer many books and curricula to prepare students. We've been using Math Analogies Beginning Software, a Windows program designed for kindergarteners and first graders to enhance their critical thinking skills. 

An analogy is a likeness or comparison between two things. Analogies play an intricate role in the solution of problems such as memory, perception, and decision making. And since problem-solving is a fundamental part of mathematical development, understanding analogies is an important skill that gives young students a good foundation for learning math.

Alyssa (6 yr) was the one practicing the analogies. I set her up with the program and helped her through the first few questions. They start with simple picture comparisons and work toward more difficult word  connections. Like typical analogy questions, the : is read as "is to" and the :: is read as "as".  So, in the example two : 2 :: one : ? is read as two is to 2 as one is to. Once I explained to Alyssa that she needed to find the connection or similarity between the pictures, she got right to work.

The program shows a simple screen with each question. On the top is the analogy; on bottom are the choices. To answer the problem, you drag your choice to the question mark. If you answered correctly, the word correct is shown in green font. If you answered incorrectly, the word incorrect is shown in red font.

There are many different things that are used for the comparisons: shapes, numbers, letters, cake with candles, smiley faces, coins, time, measurements, and more. The many choices keep the program interesting. The first day, Alyssa did 75 problems before questioning if she could be done. When you begin, you click on the First Attempt button. We weren't sure exactly how it worked at that point. I assumed it would be a few questions and then the lesson, per se, would be over. After that, I had her complete 25 analogies a day as part of her math work. On the 5th day, she was done almost the moment she began. Once she hit that 152nd problem, it sent her back to the main page. She was then able to click on the new Second Attempt button. That time, she completed 9 problems. The third attempt gave her 1 single analogy. The program is designed to repeat missed problems. Once you answer all 152 problems correctly, you have completed the program.

Alyssa easily completed this by herself. There were a couple times when she didn't quite understand what it was asking of her, but the simple design was not overwhelming at all. Some of the analogies made her really think about the answer. I loved watching her as she figured them out. Problem solving is what it's all about. The only thing I wish that would be different is having the option of multiple users. I had wanted a couple of my boys to try it out, but it only allows 1 user at a time. If you want someone else to complete the program, you have to cancel out all the work that has been done. It's easy enough to do, but it would be nice to be able to use it with more than one student at a time.

I think this is a good program and would like to see the higher levels of the analogy software. I like that it makes the student think. It's a wonderful foundation for those young learners.

If you'd like to read more reviews of this program or one of the many other products from this company, head to the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog.

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