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All Places > Explore > Parents as Partners > Junior Learners (Gr. 4-6) Curriculum Supports > Blog > 2015 > July

critical_thinking_644x362_0.jpgThe ability to think critically will be essential in workplaces of the future.

That's according to the Ontario Ministry of Education, which put a renewed focus on critical thinking in new curriculum guidelines issued for elementary schools this spring.

Garfield Gini-Newman, a professor with the Department of Curriculum, Teaching, and Learning at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, is an expert on the pedagogy of critical thinking and ways to embed it in classrooms from kindergarten to graduate school. Below he explains just what parents can expect from this new curriculum and why it's so important for their kids.

What is Critical Thinking?

"To think critically is to make reasoned assessments or judgments using criteria to guide in our deliberations," he says. "We really should not see critical thinking as a 'skill' but rather a way of learning and a competence to nurture. When we see critical thinking as a skill, it becomes one of many to address in teaching. We need to see critical thinking as the foundation for powerful learning. There is not an activity in teaching that could not be approached in a critically thoughtful manner. Even asking students to remember to put a title on their report can be tweaked to ask for an effective title that is informative, concise and captivating."

brain_chart_244x244.jpgHow Can Critical Thinking Be Taught at School?

Everything students and teachers  do in schools can be framed in a thoughtless or thoughtful way, he says. "Asking students to copy notes from a board is a thoughtless task that has students passively receiving information," he says. "Asking students to select threeleast useful statements to not copy down would transform a note-taking exercise from a thoughtless to critically thoughtful task. Everything we do with students from reading for meaning, to decoding an image to writing a persuasive paragraph or creating a compelling poster are invitations to think critically."

However, merely providing opportunities to engage in critical thinking is insufficient, Gini-Newman says. Students need help to develop the tools to successfully think critically, he says. Important questions for parents and teachers to consider include:

  • Do students have enough background knowledge of the subject at hand?
  • Can they identify the criteria they need to guide their thinking?
  • Do they understand the nature of the challenge before them?
  • Do they have they thinking strategies to help them gather, organize, sort and see connection among the evidence?
  • Do they have the dispositions of good thinker, e.g. do they have perseverance, attention to detail and empathy?
Is Critical Thinking a New Idea in Ontario Schools?


"No, critical thinking as a goal in education has been around for many generations," he says. "What is new is the recognition that critical thinking is important for all students, not just the 'academically gifted' and university-bound students." Also, there is a new recognition that kids need to be explicitly taught the tools required to think critically."


Why is Learning to Think Critically Important?boy_thinking_241x325.jpg


If we want kids to be able to truly understand what they learn and be able to apply that understanding to new situations, critical thinking is fundamental, Gini-Newman says. "Students who learn from rote, didactic teacher-driven lessons are less likely to retain and be able to apply learning," he says.It's also important to not teach kids in this 'transmissive' manner (teacher simply giving students information), only to expect them to be able to think critically later on. "(That's) not only unfair to students, it is ineffective in nurturing a disposition for critical inquiry," he says.

How Will Jobs of the Future Require Critical Thinking?


The industrial age required workers to be able to replicate information and comply with rules, so that was the goal of the school system, he says."In a post-industrial economy and a digital world, replication and compliance will not longer suffice," he says. "In today's world we need children who can apply their learning to solve complex problems, propose innovative solutions, and work collaboratively to deepen their understanding."

Tips on Honing Critical Thinking Skills at Home

Below, Gini-Newman shares his top tips for parents on how to hone critical thinking in kids at home.

  1. Avoid asking list questions e.g. what did you do in school today? Instead invite a conversation with a provocative question like "What was the most useless thing you did in school today?" Explore why they found the learning useless. How could it have been more useful?
  2. Routinely invite children to identify and share the criteria they could use to help them make a reasonable decision.
  3. When helping with homework avoid the temptation to provide an answer. If stuck, provide 3 answers for your child to consider then discuss why your child thinks a certain answer is best.

Gillian O'Reilly and Meghan Howe of the Canadian Children's Book Centre compiled their top 10 summer reading picks for ages 9-11.  Check out their list:




A Country of Our Own:
The Confederation Diary of
Rose Dunn

by Karleen Bradford



The Hidden Agenda
of Sigrid Sugden

by Jill MacLean




Scare Scape

by Sam Fisher




The Spotted Dog Last Seen

by Jessica Scott Kerrin




The Stowaways

by Meghan Marentette





by David Carroll




The Unlikely Hero
of Room 13B

by Teresa Toten





by Lesley Choyce




Jane, the Fox & Me

by Fanny Britt



Cat Champions: Caring for
Our Feline Friends

by Rob Laidlaw

summer_camp_blues_644x362.jpgAfter 10 months of hard work at school, you can hardly blame your kids for wanting to take it easy over the summer.  However, research shows that over the summer months, students who don’t engage their brains may experience a summer learning loss, particularly with regard to math and reading skills.


Scott Davies, professor of Sociology and Child Studies at McMaster University and co-author of the report "Summer Literacy Learning Project”, says that due to long summer holidays, about a month or two of academic gains can be lost.


“If you add that up over consecutive summers, for some students, that could mean falling a whole year behind,” says Davies. “September and October of each school year is generally spent on remedial activities, helping students catch up.”


The gap can be most prolific among children who are deemed at-risk.  One US study shows that by Grade 9, most of the achievement gap between low and high income students can be directly attributed to summer. But that doesn’t mean that kids who live in wealthier families are off the hook.  “Even kids who are doing well have a setback,” Davies says.  “It’s important for all children to use their brains, even when a teacher isn’t asking them to.”


Some schools understand that summers off can create lower achievement, particularly for at-risk youth, and have implemented a year-round schooling model.  However, the majority of schools still subscribe to the traditional, historically agricultural, 180-day school year.


“Because the agricultural calendar is so institutionalized, we’ve seen some pilot projects that offer staggered holidays, but there’s no wide scale movement towards this type of schooling,” says Davies.


You don’t have to hire the best tutors for the summer, or send your children to expensive academic camps; there is a lot you can do to minimize the summer learning slump, and it doesn’t necessarily have to feel like summer school or homework.  Davies recommends:


  • Encourage your kids to keep reading.  Check out our summer reading lists.
  • Reinforce learning skills like reading and math by playing board games, or have kids write a journal or letters /postcards to relatives.
  • Have children in younger grades practice their writing and digital skills by having them e-mail you everyday.
  • Have your kids start a blog that chronicles their summer activities.


Davies says educational can be fun.  “Learning during the summer doesn’t have to be boring and tedious,” he says.  “Reading and writing are both enjoyable; using technology to reinforce literacy skills only makes it more fun.”

Welcome to Five Minute Science, where we offer up cool science experiments you and your kids can do together using everyday household items, in about five minutes!


This week you get to refreeze an ice cube and learn some science too, from the experts at Let's Talk Science.



To show how matter can change from a solid to a liquid and back to solid again.


Be sure to ask your child what he or she thinks might happen before you do the experiment -- what result is expected when a wire is pushed down on ice?





The Experiment



  1. An ice cube
  2. Two unsharpened or dull pencils
  3. Approximately 30 cm of thin wire
  4. A dish


  1. Wrap each end of the wire tightly around each pencil to make handles.
  2. With the ice cube on a dish, place the wire on the ice cube.
  3. Using the handles apply pressure with the wire on the surface of the ice cube.
  4. The wire will melt its way through the ice cube. This process can take several minutes.
  5. When the wire is halfway through the ice cube, lift up the ice cube.


Explaining the Science:

Did you see the wire melt through the ice, and then the ice refreeze, trapping the wire inside? Why do you think this happened? The scientific explanation is that when you apply pressure (push) on the ice cube, its temperature increases. This causes the ice cube’s temperature to rise and the ice slowly melts. As the ice melts beneath the wire, the thin space above the wire is filled with the melted water.  The air in the room (or the atmospheric pressure) presses down on the melted water, but the pressure is less than when you pushed down on the wire, and the temperature of the air around the ice cube is cooler, so the water refreezes. After several minutes, the wire will be frozen inside the ice cube. Cool!


Curriculum Connection:

While this experiment is simple and appropriate for any age, adults should supervise children – especially when handling pencils and wire. In the Ontario Science and Technology curriculum, Understanding the Properties and Changes of Matter is taught in grades 2 and 5.


Extra Credit!
  • What happens if you try this experiment in a warm room?
  • Next time you're ice skating, observe what happens to the ice. Learn more in this TVOKids Homework Zone Video.

Welcome to Five Minute Science, where we offer up cool science experiments you and your kids can do together using everyday household items, in about five minutes!


This week you get to make milk swirl, and learn some science too, from the experts at Let's Talk Science.



To show what happens when you mix liquids that have different kinds of molecules.


Be sure to ask your child what he or she thinks might happen before you do the experiment – what result is expected when you place a cotton swab dipped in dish soap in the centre of a plate of milk with drops of food colouring added?






The Experiment



  1. Milk (2% or higher - the more fat the better)
  2. Food colouring (2-3 colours recommended)
  3. Dish soap (dishwashing liquid)
  4. A cotton swab
  5. A plate


  1. Pour milk onto a plate covering the bottom.
  2. Place 4-6 single drops of food colouring randomly on the surface of the milk.
  3. Dip the cotton swab in the dish soap and place the tip of the cotton swab in the centre of the milk. What do you see?



Explaining the Science:

Did you see the swirls of colour when you placed the cotton swab in the dish? What do you think is making the colour move around? The scientific explanation has to do with the different molecules in the two liquids -- the milk and the dish soap. Milk contains many different types of molecules, such as water, proteins and fat. Water and fat do not mix, even when they are together in milk - the fat forms little globs which are separate from the watery part of the milk. The molecules in dish soap are interesting because they are polarized - that means that each end of the molecule has an opposite reaction. One end of the dish soap molecule is attracted to water, while the other end is attracted to fat. So when the dish soap is added to the milk, the part of the molecule that is attracted to water moves towards the water in the milk and the part of the molecule that is attracted to fat moves towards the fat in the milk. This causes the turbulent, swirling reaction. The food colouring helps to show that turbulence - and looks pretty too!


Curriculum Connection:

This experiment is simple, safe and appropriate for any age. In the Ontario Science and Technology curriculum, Properties of Liquids and Solids is taught in Grade 2.


Extra Credit!
  • Try using different types of milk (skim, 2%, homogenized). How does that affect the swirling of the colours?
  • Try dipping a clean cotton swab (no dish soap) into the milk. What happens?
  • Try dipping the cotton swab in other liquids (e.g. lemon juice, fizzy pop) and see what happens. Is that what you expected?