What I’ve Been Reading: Effective Thinking

Only 147 pages!  Edward Burger and Michael Starbird wrote the book The Five Elements of Effective Thinking in only 147 pages.  It’s an accessible read, which I love.  I particularly like the fact that the book applies to both the classroom and the corporation.  And it has made me question how much I really understand about my discipline.  Which is good.

Effective Thinking

“When faced with a difficult challenge, don’t do it.”  Interesting advice.  The authors suggest that breaking down a insurmountable task into a smaller, easier to manage challenge which you can learn from before attempting the big challenge.  They provide the example of putting people on the moon.  NASA started with intentionally crashing an automated probe on the moon. It took 15 further iterations over seven years before they landed Neil Armstrong on the moon.  (This feels a lot like the Lean StartUp approach to entrepreneurship.)

Michael Starbird was the keynote speaker at the University of Waterloo Teaching and Learning conference I attended yesterday. He told a story about teaching a liberal arts student introductory math.  He pushed her, and pushed her to try a straightforward math problem that she couldn’t solve.  In fact, it was difficult enough that he expected no one to solve it.  Yet, she approached this problem in a very creative way, by experimenting and iterating her solution, with no “math” instruction at all, just naive logic.  At the end of the class, she approached Dr. Starbird to thank him.  She had been struggling to write a major paper for another course.  She told him that she had figured it out in class, “I have to write a bad paper first, then I can write the good paper.”

No one said that effective thinking is easy to learn.  But when you master these skills and put in the work to learn, it can be rewarding.


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