Critical thinking skills that are often noted as essential in STEM areas include:
- Distinguishing correlation from cause and effect
- Distinguishing analysis from description
- Understanding reductionism and knowing when to use it.
- Recognizing important variables in complex phenomena
- Isolating and testing variables
- Knowing the value of prediction (versus retrodiction)
- Distinguishing scientific evidence, reasoning and rationalizing
- Exercising sound reasoning in understanding
- Making complex choices
- Understanding the interconnections among systems
- Framing, analyzing and solving problems
We can look at retrodiction as an example of a skill that is probably unfamiliar to many people. Retrodiction is the act of making a "prediction" about the past. That's an idea that is hard for students to grasp at first. You would speculate about uncertain events in the more distant past so that you can "predict" a known event in the less distant past. If greenhouse gases had been capped at a certain level in 1950, what effect would it have on the current readings? If a murder victim's body had been refrigerated for a month before it was discovered, how would it affect an autopsy findings? It is used in archaeology, climatology, evolutionary biology, financial analysis, forensic science, and cosmology.
Hands-on, project-based math and science curriculum activities are often the nest places for students to think critically about the use of math and science in solving problems. In the taxonomy of higher level thinking skills, this deepens their knowledge of the basics.
This approach is used in many K-12 curriculum too. WGBH offers teachers a number of classroom resources at http://www.teachersdomain.org.
The problem based learning approach (PBL) can be seen in "PBL in Action" activities such as The Wing Strength Design Project and Geometry in the Real World: Students as Architects offered by sites such as http://www.edutopia.org and http://www.21stcenturyskills.org.
Developing Reflective Judgment (Jossey-Bass Education Series)