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Friday, January 31, 2014

The Five Elements of Effective Thinking (Seeing the Flow of Ideas)

We're looking at Burger and Starbird's The Five Elements of Effective Thinking, chapter 4: Seeing the Flow of Ideas.

Summary: Ideas have history and lives of their own. Knowing where ideas came from can help us understand where they're going. Looking back and seeing the past can help us understand where to go in the future. All ideas are interconnected, and understanding those connections help us think more deeply about them. Understanding the interconnectedness of ideas also helps us integrate new learning into our current understanding of the world.

Critical Quotes:

"Innovators...recognize that each new idea extends a line that started in the past and travels through the present into the future. Successful and effective learners and innovators harness the power of the flow of ideas." (p. 95)

"...every advance can be the launchpad to far greater advances yet to be discovered." (p. 95)

"Every great idea is a human idea that evolved from hundreds if not thousands of individuals struggling to make sense of and understand the issue at hand. Thoughtful individuals moved the boundaries of our knowledge forward little by little;" (p. 96)

"They [teachers] know the meaning of the basic ideas, and they know how one idea leads to another. Students who duplicate that perspective grasp the ideas of any subject better than those students who view each new week as an entirely new intellectual mountain to climb." (p. 100)

"Effective students and creative innovators regularly strive to uncover the unintended consequences of a lesson learned or a new idea." (p. 106)

"We limit ourselves when we think that success is an end." (p. 109)

Ben's Thoughts:

I absolutely agree with the fundamental concept here, and I think the insight about how teachers view course material vs. how students view course material in the quote above is valuable to students who can leverage it. Teachers see the big picture and build the complexities out of a solid understanding of the fundamentals; we also see the connections between all the sub-sections, and how they work together to make a whole. This is often the thing that students fail to see, perhaps because they haven't fully grasped each piece, and so it is hard for them to put the pieces together in a whole. Good education gives students perspective, teaches them to see the "big picture", and helps them integrate everything.

There is one part of this chapter to which I take some exception. Personally, I'm a bit of a neo-Platonist, and I don't think of ideas as "human" (the way the authors describe them). I think of ideas as ethereal entities on their own out there in idea-land. When an idea passes through our mind, it represents an intersection between our physical reality and the ethereal idea-land where that idea resides. Some would argue that an idea that has never occurred to a human hasn't ever existed, but I prefer to think of it as out there in idea-land, just waiting to be discovered.

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