Thursday, May 26, 2005

Reasoning and Real-Life Decision Making

Reasoning is at the heart of critical thinking and problem solving, but it rarely gets mentioned in K-12 curriculums or is required for University or graduate students. But it's never too late to learn. If we don't examine how we arrive at decisions, then we will make more mistakes and be more we susceptible to being misled by others. Reason is not infallible, nor is it the only guide to decision making, but it is a tool to use in every job we do.

A common criticism of formal logic is that it is far removed from practical decision making, but that is true only if the principles are not really understood. Real-life decision making considers evidence (with various amounts of reason, depending on who is doing the reasoning), but it also takes place within context of life experience and preexisting expectations.

Today's paper looks at this 'Real-Life Decision Making',and in fact you can see two different systems that become activated depending on whether you make a decision based on presented evidence that agrees with what you expected to see, or disagrees with your prediction.

The researchers were interested in the possibility of different systems because of its implications for decisions made in the courtroom, but the implications are much broader than that. The line between bias and the wisdom of experience can be difficult to draw.

We've included some other nice sites for logic and reasoning below.

Causal Reasoning fMRI pdf
Logic in Argumentative Writing
Stephen's Guide to the Logical Fallacies
Intro Math Reasoning
Gr 3-5: Math Reasoning and Proof
Gr 6-8: Math Reasoning and Proof


  1. Part of the reason that K-12 students have a poor grasp of logical thinking is that to pick it up implicitly depends heavily upon the quality of your Science and History instruction, two school subjects dealing with causation and effect.

    I don't have the figures for Science education handy but those released recently by Diane Ravitch for History are frightening:

    Some of this, perhaps much of it, is attributable to having 80 % of the instructors being uncertified for the field. My understanding that the shortage of qualified instructors in Science is less dire but still serious.

    With History and Science being taught at subpar levels that effectively leaves math instruction as the sole vehicle to implicitly pick up a sense of logic.

    Logical thinking can of course be taught explicitly but it very seldom is - even in math courses.

  2. Anonymous9:05 PM

    Have you used any specific thinking skills / critical thinking skills tools (books, software, etc) with children? As a parent preparing to homeschool next year, I am on the lookout for something in this area.

  3. Anonymous9:07 PM

    Have you seen the new software by Johns Hopkins? It's called Descartes' Cove and includes one-sixth of its content on reasoning and proof. I currently have a class of highly-able math students trying very hard to complete the day's work so that they can continue to work on the software.

  4. It's quite a complex issue how to get K-12 students on track for more critical thinking. In some cases, children need to spend more time on the 'foundational skills' for critical thinking like fund of knowledge and working memory, but the shortage of qualified science, history, and math teachers, contributes to the problem.

    We would love to hear about critical thinking curricula or software that others have enjoyed. We are eclectic tweakers by nature and Brock spent time in Social Thought at the University of Chicago (Great Books), so that also affects our point of view.

    Critical Thinking Press has some resources that are quite good (some are just of the puzzle type, but try to tackle interpretation of history, fact vs. opinion, and decision making. For our homeschooler, last year we subscribed to Decisions Decisions Online ( which he enjoyed immensely. It was a little over-priced we thought ($50), but it really involved him weighing the evidence and making decisions about contemporary issues.

    For many topics that arise, we have him read different points of view (for instance he looked at the disagreements about Christopher Columbus and analyzed websites for the Democrats and Republicans at the time of the election), and then discuss and support his opinions.

    Our son is 10 and he also takes online courses with Great Books Academy (uses Jr Great Books - the Touchstones series) and Stanford's EPGY. The EPGY course has also emphasized critical reading and literary analysis.

    He is just beginning the Fallacy Detective and Thinking Toolbox, and the truth is, he loves this sort of stuff in his spare time anyway. He likes to surf about urban legends ( and always has his nose in puzzle books, Encyclopedia Brown type stuff etc.

    For mathematics, we recently found a nice series at the library that required a great deal of math reasoning: Math Works. He just finished the book on Solving a Crime (jewel heist) which involved a little spatial visualization,a lot of deductive reasoning, and using mathematics to solve 'real life problems'. The first authors are Wendy and David Clemson.

    Re: Descartes Cove - we just heard about that, and were thinking of buying it. What do you think of it? It was nice to see the amount of reasoning, proof, and spatial visualization involved.

    Too many software programs don't challenge higher order thinking. Maybe there will be more opportunities for cross-pollination between University-Gifted Ed Experts and software designers?

  5. Anonymous6:25 PM

    I'll let you know about the Descartes' Cove software later when they've had more chance to get into it.

    Another good book/puzzle which we just discovered is Gridworks by Think Fun. It's a lot of fun!

  6. Anonymous11:32 AM

    The Descartes Cove software is on sale for $75 through the end of August 2005 (after that it's $150).

  7. We have heard mostly mixed reviews about Descartes Cove. The game play apparently is fairly blah, but it does present some challenging math problems. The software may be overpriced too. If any of you have tried the software, add your reviews in this comments section if you get a chance.

  8. I like the way you got your point across.This article has made pople write the most sophisticated comments that i've seen so far. I have to say that i agree with you thatkids need more help and tutoring. Keep it real .