Image courtesy of Creative Commons
Thinking maps are ways of arranging ideas clearly. They provide a visual scaffold for information, and are often used when taking notes or planning a text or presentation. Now, imagine the displays and objects within a museum as a thinking map. Most of the museums you’ve been to will be ordered in the system of a Tree-Map, such as this; arranged by era, culture, habitat or a combination of these.
The tree map is a hierarchical method of displaying data. It allows you to see the whole of a topic to understand its context. But if you visited most archaeology museums, you’d probably have to leave the exhibit of Japanese earthenware to find out how pottery was being produced in Sweden around the same time period, say 1650 AD.
A short stroll from the OISE School in Oxford school lies the Museum of Natural History. On entering the towering oak doors, you are absorbed into the grand vaulted space, held up by spindly cast iron pillars and lidded by an impressive glass canopy. You find yourself surrounded by looming fossilized dinosaurs, glowing minerals and the most complete remains of a Dodo anywhere in the world. Continue past the butterfly displays, turn left and enter the Pitt-Rivers.
Myriads of polished wood display cabinets meet the eye, all watched over by a soaring many-headed totem pole. Each cabinet houses hundreds of objects, all labeled in neat handwriting. This initially impenetrable jungle starts to clear when you pick an exhibit to start your exploration.
A number of similar shapes in wildly varying materials, from all manner of human cultures, continents and times, reveal their common quality after closer inspection. An impressive triton shell trumpet hails from the pacific islands, where there were no large land mammals whose horns could be adapted for the purpose.
There are variations on horns from Asia, Europe and Africa, differing according to which mammal was present; buffalo, antelope, ibex or cow. You consider the animal companions that have supported human life. Other trumpets are beautifully formed to their purpose from clay or wood, but the display is not restricted to human instrument makers; also included is a tiny thorn from the Whistling Acacia. Native to east Africa, this tree forms a unique symbiosis with the local ant population. The insects fashion minute holes in the tree's hollow thorns that cause a loud whistling sound in the wind to keep grazing giraffes at bay.
The same conclusions were reached across completely detached cultures and even species, in multitudinous forms and expressions. The idea is what unifies the display; making a loud sound via the resonance in a flared tube.
A Double Bubble Map, used to identify relationships between items and for comparing and contrasting ideas.
Augustus Pitt-Rivers himself, who spent most of his life assembling the collection, wished to make clear the development of human technology and material culture, and show the elaboration from the bones of an idea to more and more complex designs and functions. Due to its lack of scientific accuracy, this approach is mostly extinct outside of this museum, however it stands as an excellent example of an alternative thought process that can be seen as a visualised form of Socratic questioning:
1. Clarifying a key concept
2. Challenging assumptions and misconceptions
3. Forming arguments based on evidence
4. Looking at alternatives
5. Examining the consequences and implications
6. Questioning the question
Why do we teach critical thinking?
Learning critical thinking skills can greatly enhance your academic performance. We want our students to be independent and autonomous learners who take full ownership of their education, and Critical Analysis Workshops are a daily feature of many of our professional courses. The ability to connect subject areas and disciplines previously perceived as separate allows a more creative and joyful approach to learning, in studies as well as in daily life. Analysing subjects in-depth through, for example, Socratic questioning, turns the traditional learning process on its head: from a hierarchical, teacher-led instruction telling you what to think to one that enables the student to discover how to think. Ultimately, these skills help you appreciate, understand and bring out the best of your peers' abilities as well as your own. Critical Analysis Workshops are part of the timetable on the Integrated Tutorial™ and Quatorial™ courses, which are held year-round at OISE centres in Oxford, London, Cambridge and Boston.