Tag Archives: thinking

CollegeQandA book review: The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking

Book Review: The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking

The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking
This is a review of: The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking authored by two mathematics professors – Edward Burger and Michael Starbird.  The book is a five part progression through techniques to make you a better thinker.  Each progression is explained in the text, and the authors then relate stories to elucidate the concepts with various students and situations they have encountered over their teaching and research experiences.

I have read a number of books on critical thinking, which can be hard to understand, but this book takes an approach that provides direct and simple ideas on how to improve your thinking.  The book, simply, makes sense, and even for a college professor, it is useful to be reminded both about how you and your students think and sometimes forget to think.

Does this book relate to CollegeQandA?

If I had a top ten recommended books on thinking and learning, then this book would be on the list.  Meta-thinking is one facet of self-improvement that will have big and direct benefits in college.  This book is short (and small).  Because of this, the authors recommend reading the book 3 times.  Not sure if that’s needed, but this is a nice book to get you started on understanding what learning and thinking are, and how to them more effectively.

And the book has a section on questions.  So, of course the book relates to this site.

I would recommend this book to…

Anyone interested in a quick and useful read on improving their thinking.


CollegeQandA asks: What are stupid questions?

What are stupid questions and is there a debate?

Questions are important as we’ve discussed previously.  You may have heard the adage, “there are no stupid questions“.

Well, this is wrong.  There are stupid questions and most of the time they are stupid because you could have answered them if you thought for a few seconds.  To figure out if a question might be considered stupid do two things:

  1. Think about a possible answer or where you could find the answer
  2. Try and empathize from the perspective of the person whom you are asking
Graffity question: can you dig it?
Is this a stupid question? (is this a stupid? (is this a? is this? is?

Types of questions and why you ask them?

There are a number of questions we ask and there are all sorts of reasons we ask them.  Briefly:

  • Ask for immediate help with something
  • Ask for quick information
  • Ask to save ourselves time from looking up the answer
  • Ask to start a discussion
  • Ask to make someone reveal more information
  • Ask to keep a conversation going

And that’s just a few reasons.  I would argue that stupid questions are ones that reveal that you are too lazy to think or find out the answer to by yourself.

Think before you ask…

Those of us who answer many questions on a daily basis must try and remember patience, but for those of you asking questions all we really want is for you to take a few seconds and think about what might be the answer or what other sources to find them from.  In some cases, we will pretend to not know the answer to force you to learn to do this.

In particular, I will list questions that you need to try an avoid:

  • Where is your office? – any internet search question is shallow and is for your phone
  • Is this right? – how can you figure out if it is right
  • Will this be on the test/exam? – now it is

The last question is, probably, the most discussed question among professors and students alike.

The will I lose my job litmus test…

The second part to avoiding stupid questions is to think about who you are asking.  You need to remember that your questions are part of your represented image to that person.  In the case of professors, is your question an interesting question that shows you have worked with the material on your own before asking what is just at the top of your head.

Imagine asking a question to your boss, future boss, or someone you want to impress.  Does the question show that you have thought about the question and possible answers?  Is the question needed to form real understanding and not shallow understanding?

In class questions

The problem in class is material is coming at you very quickly, and for you to pose a well thought out question is hard in real-time.  I recommend writing your questions down in your notes, and then asking them at the next lecture or office hours.  If a professor can’t deal with questions, then they are too focused on dumping material and not interested in true understanding.  Or they’re having a bad day – professors are people too.