The Power of Critical Thinking
And why doing some quick “back-of-the-napkin” math is still valuable today
It’s amazing to think just how many people refuse to believe in a concept simply because they can take a few minutes to do some basic fact checking and math. Why? Simply because it’s easier to simply say “that’s not possible” versus taking out your smartphone and doing some quick Google searches. Most likely your phone is somewhere near and/or in your hands (you might even be reading this article from one). This quickly disproves the “that’s not possible” logic rather quickly when you have a plethora of knowledge you can pull from in a matter of seconds.
So, why doesn’t most of the populous use this method?
One area of which you can proudly point your finger is the education system. We push the concepts of basic math on our kids. History. Science. Arts. All good things. However, we could brush up on how we teach problem solving. Right now, we give them these problems:
If Anna has a cart with full of watermelons with a net value of $100 and there was a sale of 3 watermelons for $5, how many watermelons are in the cart?
Okay. Not too hard as this does cover basic math. $100 net value divided by the $5 sale is 20. There are 20 groups of 3 watermelons so that means there’s 60 watermelons in the cart (20 groups x 3 watermelons).
This is great and all, but we pretty much gave away the answer in this question if you know basic arithmetic. Also, this probably isn’t a very interesting topic to the grade school student because we’re talking about a shopping cart filled to the brim with watermelons. Unless, of course, you’re absolutely obsessed with these amazing fruit items and jump at the opportunity to discuss your love for them. Don’t worry, nobody is judging you (at least I’m not).
Now, let’s throw some problem solving into this mix. Instead of giving the rather specific scenario to the student while prompting them for an answer, let’s make them get all the facts so they arrive at a solution based on their own calculations. Where do we start? Simply throw a problem at them to solve:
Calculate the cost for Canada to switch to 100% renewable energy
That’s it. Let your students go wild on their search engine of choice, while helping them along the away. How would I solve this? I would first look up Canada’s net energy usage (by month, for the last calendar year, whatever data set I could find). With this number, I would them search how much of Canada’s energy is currently drawn from renewable sources. After gathering these numbers, I would calculate the difference to get the needed energy to switch over. So, for a very rough example using ball-park figures, if Canada consumed 10 TWh (terawatt-hour) of energy last year and 3 of the 10 came from renewables then 7 TWh is the amount of energy left to be switched to renewables.
From here, I would then start pulling costing from different sites to generate based on a TWh level. Say, I decided to invest in offshore wind and it currently costs $10 million/TWh of energy to set up the infrastructure. That means it would cost Canada $70 million ($10 million/TWh x 7TWh of remaining non-renewable energy) to switch to 100% renewable energy. See? Nothing very complex to this method. Just basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and Google. Or Yahoo. Or DuckDuckGo. I don’t discriminate.
Excuse me, but is this not taught in specific classes at grade school?
You’re probably correct. As you begin to specialize, the concept of problem solving most likely is taught if not covered during some subjects. What I’m saying is this needs to be taught universally to all students. Put it in with your basic math, English, Science, Arts and even gym. Simple things like convincing people to do “back-of-the-napkin” math when it comes to politics could even sway the ties of elections if all candidates “promises” were more thoroughly validated. Anything can be validated while we’re on this topic. You could even convince your side of any argument or debate (spousal arguments excluded, of course) by showing them hard facts, numbers and how you got to your answer.
So, can we please make problem solving and fact checking a mandatory part of education for future generations? At least until they reach high school and decide not to use this valuable skill.