Puzzles and critical thinking

“The world we have created is a product of our thinking; it cannot be changed without changing our thinking” – Albert Einstein

Let us recall a small story of the chimp closed in an experiment room with a banana hanging from the ceiling out of his reach. A researcher intending to test the monkey’s mental skills enters the room and places a few large boxes here and there thinking that the chimp would use them to reach the banana. The chimp calmly observes the researcher and as he passes just under the banana, springs up and jumps on to the shoulders of the researcher to grab the coveted fruit.

What is the moral of this story? Real problems never have anticipated solutions and the ‘context’ of a problem is as important as the problem itself.

How to solve it? This question is the holy grail of many disciplines – from mathematics and engineering, through to the sciences and business. We are constantly faced with this question during our lifetimes, both in the work environment and at home. All these represent “problems” which require some solutions … hence the question: How to solve it?

Over the years, two primary approaches to problem solving have emerged. One is the technical approach (represented in many textbooks), which concentrates on specific problem – solving techniques. The other is the psychological approach, which is based on structural thinking – meaning that some structure is imposed on the thinking process during the problem-solving activity. This article mainly concentrates on the psychological approach of problem solving for students.

Students working in a problem-based learning environment should be skilled in problem solving or critical thinking or “thinking on your feet” (as opposed to rote recall). Indeed, puzzle-based learning allows us to learn problem-solving skills. We learn by experience (as we can learn problem-solving skills only by solving problems).

The article has been contributed by Butterfly Fields, a company working in the domain of innovative teaching-learning techniques. To know more about the work the company does, visit www.butterflyfields.com or call 040 2771 1020.

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