The very nature of the scientific process underscores the importance of critical thinking in biology, which in itself is a science. If biology is considered a science, then it only helps that those who study it—at whatever phase of their education—approach it as a science. Through systematic inquiry, students of biology can make observations about their external world, frame hypotheses on why phenomena occur, design the relevant experiments to test their predictions, and ultimately draw conclusions based upon the outcomes of their research.
This end process of drawing conclusions from experiments largely depends on deductive reasoning. A step further would be to use the relevant evidence to establish the reasons behind a particular result or outcome. Moreover, science students and are required to form theories through inductive reasoning. This involves framing general conclusions based on findings from specific data. The interplay of this deductive and inductive reasoning forms the backbone of the critical thinking required in biology and any science-based study. But that is not all of it.
Drawing from Bloom’s Taxonomy, students must be able to synthesize information from an array of sources, gauge the quality of their evidence, transfer their technical knowledge into other contexts, and solve problems. Therefore, since critical thinking is essential to the study of science and its disciplines, students of biology who are lacking in this area are less likely to have the cognitive wherewithal to successfully carry out their studies. Before we go any further, we must ask, what is critical thinking?
Critical thinking refers to one’s ability to reason rationally and clearly and to understand the logical connection between or among ideas. It has morphed from the ancient classrooms of the Greeks into the modern-day educational system and then the media. One way to gauge critical thinking in modern times, as many have put, it is the ability to identify fake news. Critical thinking has also been described as the ability to think independently and reflectively. That is to say, those who think critically can use their reasoning ability to its best. Their minds are active enough to allow for learning. They process information rather than receive and store information.
More so, critical thinking involves question existing assumptions and established ideas instead of nodding “yes” to everything dished out by the media, educational and other human institutions. People who think critically always want to ascertain whether the ideas they have are a true representation of reality. And they are open to learning. They will identify, analyze and resolve problems systematically instead of going the way of instincts.
Put simply, a student who thinks critically understands or seeks to understand the link between ideas. Such a student can determine the relevance of his/her ideas. He/she can spot inconsistencies and errors in thinking and approach problems and solve them in a systematic manner.
That quality of being inquisitive is a treasure anyone who wished to learn more from life, let alone biology students. A healthy level of curiosity helps biology students gain a greater understanding not only of the world around them but also of their internal experiences. When critical thinking is developed, it helps students remain curious about areas beyond biology and helps fuels their desire for a wide range of topics they can explore to gain a better understanding of the world. This quality is important if they are to become lifelong learners.
Students who are critical thinkers also tend to solve problems a lot easier and faster. Beyond gulping down names and botanical nomenclatures, critically students can face and process complex challenges of real-life and to offer lasting solutions. The scientist, Albert Einstein, known to be one of the most critical minds of all times has this to say, “It is not that I’m so smart; it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” Einstein also added that “if I am given an hour to solve a problem, I would likely spend five minutes thinking about the solution and the rest 55 minutes dissecting the problem.” One other skill critical thinking students get to learn is the fortitude to stay with a problem for much longer until a solution is found.
More than anything else, educators have ranked creativity as the priciest skill to teach students in school today. At this point, it bears mentioning that, at their roots, critical thinkers are also largely creative thinkers. It is a sort of catch-22 phenomenon. Critical thinkers need to be creative. And creative people are almost always critical thinkers. It takes a critical mind to question the status quo long enough and create something superior that readers the status quo almost invalid. The creativity developed in biology students will stick with them beyond the four walls of the classroom. They will take the same mindset to the various fields they find themselves; business, medicine, marketing, sports, and so on.
Part of the goals of education is not to raise people who think like us but to equip students with the right tools to think for themselves. Thant also means forming informed opinions about life, themselves, the world system and the challenges they face. When biology students—and all students in general—learn to think for themselves, they become independent beings who can use their initiative in taking decisions by themselves. The goal of a good teacher is to equip students to the point where the student no longer needs the teacher to succeed. When students learn to be independent, they become responsible for their decisions and the outcome of their lives. This will in turn help sharpen their leadership acumen for the future.
The importance of critical thinking in biology goes beyond the classroom or lecture theater. It is a life skill that, when learned and practiced, has the potential to make leaders out of students, not nerds.
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