Lack Of Thinking Tools In Science Textbooks

Presented by Norman Lounds

In their book, Sparks of Genius (1999), R. S. and M. M. Root-Bernstein proposed that creative problem-solving in all fields of endeavor utilizes thirteen thinking tools.  They demonstrated in particular that eminent scientists employ the full range of these tools, which include the following mental skills: abstracting, analogizing, body or kinesthetic thinking, dimensional thinking, empathizing or playacting, imaging, modeling, observing, pattern forming, pattern recognition, playing, synthesizing, and transforming. We have surveyed 103 working scientists and engineers concerning their use of these thinking tools. STEM professionals use all of the tools, ranging from a low of 15% using empathizing and 29% using playing, to a high of 85% using synthesizing and 92% using visual imaging. In addition, we analyzed a dozen science textbooks to determine the extent to which the thinking tools were incorporated into their content matter, illustrations, problem sets, and exercises.  While elementary school texts mimic professional scientific thinking by drawing on and articulating the full range of thinking tools, high school and college texts limit their tool use to only a handful: abstracting, analogizing, dimensional thinking, modeling, observing, and pattern recognition. Science textbooks do not, therefore, represent the creative thinking processes of scientists accurately or completely.