Cedric Villani is sometimes called the “Lady Gaga” of math. Bearded and long-haired, he typically wears a three-piece suit, a lavallière (a cross between a cravat and a bow tie) and a spider brooch on his lapel. But most importantly, Villani is an educator. As a teacher, Villani has found that math gives young people a way to think more effectively. For Villani, math is not just for thinking, though. It’s also about action. Despite contemporary challenges, such as fake news and complex global problems, the future is ripe with opportunity for better forms of thinking.
A free online game called NewsFeed Defenders helps train students to spot disinformation online. iCivics — an education nonprofit founded by former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor — co-created the program along with the Annenberg Public Policy Center. This and other organizations offer media and digital literacy resources for students. Many digital literacy resources are for middle- and high-school aged youth, but kids as young as three are capable of casual reasoning and improving their critical thinking skills.
CUREs (course-based undergraduate research experiences) are becoming increasingly popular, implemented at hundreds of colleges and universities across the US. One widely-cited study found that at least 45 percent of students in its sample did not demonstrate any statistically significant improvement in their reasoning and communication skills during their first two years of college. Spurred by such findings, educators have sought to engineer new approaches. One that seems to be working: asking undergraduates to conduct actual scientific research through CUREs.
A recent study may explain how people whose intelligence and talent landed them some of the most coveted jobs on the planet can make huge, forehead-smacking — possibly career-ending — mistakes. While raw intelligence accounts for certain successes in life, smarts do not guarantee future well-being. Indeed, critical thinking skills are far more predictive of making positive life decisions than raw intelligence. Unlike IQ, which is largely genetic, critical thinking can be learned and developed.