Using CultureGrams to Teach Critical Thinking
A great way to foster critical thinking and engaged learning in your students is to help them learn to ask good questions, to push beyond the obvious, to see purely factual data points in a broader context. Asking good questions promotes independent thinking, stimulates curiosity, increases understanding, and helps people see how seemingly disparate ideas connect.
We encourage teachers to use CultureGrams to promote critical thinking in their classrooms, and there are many ways to do so. You might ask students, for example, why many major metropolitan areas are often located in coastal areas or near major waterways. Take Australia, China, Canada, or Brazil, for example. Look at where many of the largest cities are concentrated. Why aren’t the cities scattered more evenly across these countries? The answers to these questions may vary, depending on the country. You could discuss the significance of trade and access to foreign markets; the importance of water to sustain life and as a means of travel; the influence of history, geography, and climate on settlement and growth; etc. Encourage students to ask why things are the way they are. This can lead them to insights they may not have had previously.
You could also ask students to think about what countries in a particular region have in common besides just occupying a particular part of the world. Have students think about the many of the island nations of Oceania, for instance. Do they share common geographical features or similar climates? Are there common languages, a common religion, or similar cultural attitudes? How do their economies compare? What common challenges do countries in Oceania face? Also, what differentiates countries in the region? And what is the impact of these similarities and differences on the region as a whole?
Another fruitful area of exploration might be to ask students how the content in one CultureGrams category impacts the content in another. How does the land and climate in a particular country influence the economy? How has a country’s history shaped its linguistic or religious development? How do a culture’s attitudes about family affect how they view dating and marriage?
And lastly, you could ask students to compare statistical data between two or more countries. What does the data reveal? How can the differences in data be explained? For example, below is a customized table that provides data related to health and life expectancy for Belgium and Uganda. What does the data reveal? What might be some of the root causes for the differences in the numbers?
To be clear, teachers will need to monitor these kinds of activities/discussions to make sure that students are coming to sound conclusions and not speculating wildly about cause and effect. But that process in itself can be useful in teaching students how to analyze factual information.
Of course, there are many other areas in CultureGrams that you could use to encourage critical thinking, but we hope this gets you started thinking of some of the possibilities. Please let us know if you have any great ideas on this topic or if you come up with interesting activities that foster critical thinking.