Critical thinking is about breaking down big problems into smaller ones. When we want inspiration, complex tasks can overwhelm us; thinking critically orients us to seeing these complex tasks as arrangements of simpler tasks that have simpler solutions. Team Challenges are great examples of these complex tasks. When we read through our challenge the first time, the diverse sections’ many demands can begin to appear as one large, amorphous struggle. But if we flip pages to the scoring breakdown, we can see a different story.
We notice that different sections are weighted differently, and recognize the need to prioritize the tasks worth more points. With tasks prioritized, we can develop a general timeline so the solution unfolds as we work. Once we’ve tested early models, our rough ideas get sharpened and we can move to the subordinate tasks with a keystone in place. When we begin to solve smaller problems, the foundation is laid out for us to build a solution we once could hardly imagine.
The breaking-down model of critical thinking works wonders for our brainstorming episodes too. Critical thinkers don’t just have an idea; they wonder about the strengths and weaknesses of that idea, knowing that these thoughts are the breadcrumbs to the next great thought. And of course, every good critical thinker is part of a critical thinking team. Brain storms are so named because the lightning, thunder, rain and excitement come from all directions; this way, the ground for miles around is fertile for ideas to grow. A critical thinking team knows each member has unique strengths, and that there are at least as many merits to an idea as there are perspectives involved.
Critical thinkers don’t just break down ideas either; they also wonder about the ways they think them up. Does the place we think in affect the thoughts we have? Do we write them down on paper or a dry-erase board, or do we toss them back and forth together? Do we start experimenting whenever we have an idea, or do we approach them all once we’ve made a list? What about our resources—do we go to the library for books, search Wikipedia for clues, or even walk through the aisles of a hardware store for inspiration? Every step of the way, the critical thinker knows that there are always more possibilities to be found, and as many methods of finding them too.
These thoughts show us how important creativity is to the critical thinker when he or she looks to build solutions. Creativity comes from “create,” and that’s exactly what it’s about—bringing ideas to life! Critical thinking is always aimed at the things we can do with the ideas we have and scrutinize. We can all imagine times when it was only by doing what we had talked about, or trying something we’d wondered at, that we had the insights really worth having. Creativity and critical thinking are both tools and just like a tool in your DI toolbox, you have to practice with them to improve your skills and figure out all the different ways you can use them. And for the creative critical thinker, practicing and using these tools is fun! Every moment becomes an opportunity to break down an idea or create a new strategy: Can I memorize these vocabulary words more efficiently? Is math more enjoyable if I play classical music in the background? How much nicer can chores be if I use them to think about DI? No matter where you are or what you do, creativity and critical thinking are terrific tools for the job.
So the next time you get together with your team members, think with them about the ways you could make the challenges you face into simpler parts. Talk about how these simpler parts can be addressed, which to work on first, how to divide and conquer, and whether or not to try some new brainstorming ideas. Challenge yourselves to use critical thinking whenever it could be useful, help each other find new ways to think about their ideas, and listen to one another about the strengths, weaknesses and new directions apparent in any idea. Put creative strategies to work in everyday life to make them second nature, and most of all, have fun with your new tools. Unlike hammers and nails, they don’t rust, they aren’t heavy and you never stub your thumb.
About the Author: David Shuck was born in Green Bay, Wisconsin and joined his first DI team in the third grade. He has been captivated ever since. Over the course elementary, middle and high school, David has been lucky enough to compete with eight different teams, all managed by his awesome mom, Theresa Shuck. Today, having graduated in 2016 from Vanderbilt University, David freelances while applying to graduate schools for philosophy. His interests include reading and writing about ethics and metaethics, playing board games, disc golfing, and watching BBC Earth nature documentaries on Netflix.