The art of learning how to think

It’s Period 4 in a Year 9 classroom at Newington College. Students have just been told a prominent person has been murdered – and the person responsible is either the teacher leading the class, Headmaster Michael Parker, or one of two of their classmates.

Their task is to use critical thinking to work out whodunnit.

It’s a fascinating (and usually very noisy) exercise to watch. The boys know just three things: one of the accused will always tell the truth; one will always lie, and one can choose to go either way.

The ‘aha’ moment comes when they realise the answer has nothing to do with how the person was killed, or how the killer got close enough to do it. It’s when they understand they will arrive at the truth by using logic and reasoning and stretching their questioning into unrelated territory.

In short: they are learning how to think.

The process – critical thinking – is rapidly becoming a cornerstone of a Newington College education.
Boys are encouraged to be curious, open-minded and rigorous. They are taught to seek the truth and understand how personal biases might affect how they see the world and others. And they learn to challenge, listen and reflect.

‘Society’s forward trajectory of increasing reflective rationality has been roiled in the past decade by the emergence of a social media-based glut of misinformation and partisan attacks on expertise, particularly science,’ Headmaster Michael Parker says.

‘We are in danger of going backwards. A civilised society needs a population that seeks out truth, is able to sort fact from ‘fake news’ and values our freedom. Critical thinking enables that.
‘As well, most of our students will live into next century. Their jobs will not be skill-based – artificial intelligence and machine learning will have taken over many of those fields. They will be jobs that require higher order thinking.

‘It’s our job is to equip them to be creative, adaptable and, most of all, prepared.’

Critical thinking is imbued in the College’s academic program.

Equivalent focus is given to its rigorous, curriculum-based academic program. Newington offers both the HSC and International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, and recent past students are now studying at prestigious Oxford University in the United Kingdom, Yale University in Connecticut, US, and the New School in New York. Its VET program has seen boys win a number of VET Excellence Awards in recent years.

A range of elective subjects – among them artificial intelligence, coding and robotics, applied mathematics, journalism and all things astronomical – stretch students’ thinking into areas they might not have previously encountered.

Mr Parker recently established a Headmaster’s List for Academic Effort to recognise those boys who might not top their subject but still give it all they’ve got. His aim is for every Newington lesson – at its Early Learning Centre, at its prep schools at Stanmore and Lindfield, and at its senior campus – to be ‘interesting, fascinating and inspiring’.

Plans for the future include flexible, real-world learning days; a business hub where budding entrepreneurs can develop and test their business ideas and a critical and ethical thinking centre.
‘Our aim is to help develop informed, rational citizens who help society as a whole take a step or two forward,’ Mr Parker says.

Blog written by Newington College

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