Critical Thinking and Inquiry - Education Research

Education Research has long been concerned with definition and recognition of Critical Thinking, and with the pedagogical techniques that foster its development in students. More recent research into pedagogical strategies has re-cast discussion of critical thinking into a discussion of promoting "Inquiry-Based Learning."

Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives

A classic study in educational research by Bloom and Krathwohl (Bloom et al., 1956 ) provides a very useful, commonly cited framework from which educators can promote the development of thinking skills. This framework associates six Educational Objectives (of increasing sophistication) with a set of skills or abilities that demonstrate each of the objectives:
arrange, define, duplicate, label, list, memorize, name, order, recognize, relate, recall, repeat, reproduce, state
classify, describe, discuss, explain, express, identify, indicate, locate, recognize, report, restate, review, select, translate, understand
apply, choose, demonstrate, dramatize, employ, illustrate, interpret, operate, practice, schedule, sketch, solve, use, write
analyze, appraise, calculate, categorize, compare, contrast, criticize, differentiate, discriminate, distinguish, examine, experiment, question, test
arrange, assemble, collect, compose, construct, create, design, develop, formulate, manage, organize, plan, prepare, propose, set up, write
appraise, argue, assess, attach, choose, compare, defend, estimate, judge, predict, rate, core, select, support, value, evaluate

Fundamental Necessities for Scientific Inquiry

Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards: A Guide for Teaching and Learning (more info) , published by The National Academy Press, is a valuable resource for instructors who want to implement inquiry-based learning in their classes. Among other things, this book from the National Research Council lays out abilities that are necessary in order to do scientific inquiry and necessary understandings about what scientific inquiry actually is. (Excerpts from Tables 2-2 and 2-3.) Note that while these tables are labeled as applying to secondary school, they are obviously applicable to undergraduate education as well.

Abilities Necessary to Do Scientific Inquiry - Grades 9-12

  • Identify questions and concepts that guide scientific investigations
  • Design and Conduct scientific investigations
  • Use technology and mathematics to improve investigations and communications
  • Formulate and revise scientific explanations and models using logic and evidence
  • Recognize and analyze alternative explanations and models
  • Communicate and defend a scientific argument

Understandings About Scientific Inquiry - Grades 9-12

  • Scientists usually inquire about how physical, living, or designed systems function.
  • Scientists conduct investigations for a wide variety of reasons.
  • Scientists rely on technology to enhance the gathering and manipulation of data.
  • Mathematics is essential in scientific inquiry.
  • Scientific explanations must adhere to criteria such as: a proposed explanation must be logically consistent; it must abide by the rules of evidence; it must be open to questions and possible modification; and it must be based on historical and current scientific knowledge.
  • Results of scientific inquiry -- new knowledge and methods -- emerge from different types of investigations and public communication among scientists.