Thinking skills

Hierarchy of thinking skills

Perhaps the ability to think is what distinguishes humans from all other forms of animal life. There are different levels of thinking. The IB places thinking skills in order of increasing complexity according to Anderson and Krathwohl (see page 5 of Approaches to Teaching and Learning). These six thinking skills (Remember; Understand; Apply; Analyse; Evaluate and Create) are actually based on Bloom’s taxonomy of 1956.

The first three which involve knowledge acquisition, comprehension and application are known as lower-level thinking skills whereas the ability to analyse, evaluate and create are known as higher level thinking skills.

The key assessment objectives of IB Diploma Chemistry relate directly to these thinking skills. The three objectives used for external assessment (the fourth covers practical skills) in plain English are:

1. State a definition or fact

2. Apply this knowledge in a straightforward situation

3. Analyse, evaluate and determine how to solve a problem by selecting the relevant information or method.

Relationship between thinking skills and IB assessment objectives
Thinking skillObjective 1Objective 2Objective 3
1. RememberX
2. UnderstandX
3. ApplyX
4. AnalyseX
5. EvaluateX
6. CreateX

It is important to be able to distinguish between the three objectives because Objective 3 cannot be implemented without the knowledge and understanding gained through Objectives 1 and 2. The external examinations recognise this and the questions are set so that approximately 50% of the papers tests Objectives 1 and 2 and 50% tests Objective 3. This means that your teaching (and your unit plans) need to be structured to fit this.

The way that the chemistry course is set out into main topics and sub-topics and with the information and concepts listed under 'understandings' and 'applications and skills' makes it relatively easy to design a structure to follow these thinking skills logically. For example, it can be illustrated by looking at the progression in thinking required and some of the processes that have to be gone through for a student to design and implement an experiment to determine whether the shell of eggs from free range chickens contains a higher percentage of calcium carbonate than from battery-reared chickens.

Progress of thinking skills required
Introduce the concept of an acid and a baseRemember different definitions
Define quantities

Remember amount, volume, concentration etc.

Define unitsRemember mol, cm3, mol dm-3, pH etc.
Show how titration works

Understand the stoichiometric relationship between amounts and concentrations to reach the end point

Solve titration problemsApply knowledge
Determine which indicator should  be used for a specific titrationAnalyse a novel situation
Perform an experiment to determine the amount of aspirin in an analgesic tabletEvaluate the method used and the result(s) obtained
Plan an investigation to determine whether the shell of eggs from free range chickens contains a higher percentage of calcium carbonate than from battery-reared chickensCreate an experiment to solve an unknown problem, evaluate the results and put them into context.

What we are trying to do as teachers is build up the ability of students to utilise higher level thinking skills. During your lessons you will need to be clear to yourself whether the questions you are asking require a lower level or higher level of thinking to be answered (command terms can be helpful here) and allow the appropriate time for students to think through their answers.  Allow for differentiation within the class and also encourage students to work sometimes as a team rather than always working on their own to solve problems. This site contains a wide variety of questions (see Fast track to tests & questions) and students can use them to further their understanding as well as test their knowledge. In general the multiple choice quiz questions perhaps require more lower level thinking skills to be answered whereas many of the the short answer questions tend to be focused more on higher level thinking skills.

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