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Critical Thinking Books and Software Review by Diane Wheeler


Developing Critical Thinking through Science and Sciencewise

One of the great things about Critical Thinking Books and Software is that they offer excellent products in several different content areas: language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies, as well as general thinking skills. I have been taking a look at two of their science products, and I am impressed.

Developing Critical Thinking through Science - Hands-On Physical Science, Book 1 is a book of 41 experiments designed for first through fourth grades. The first unit begins with basic observation skills, such as What Makes a Group? What is That Sound? and Looking Closer - With Magnifiers. There are six additional units covering Water, Buoyancy and Surface Tension, Air, Moving Air - Air Pressure, Force and Space, Light and Shadows. Each unit has between five and seven simple experiments (and I am NOT a science-oriented person - you can trust the word 'simple'!). One thing to remember, though, is that this is not a complete science kit. There will be a list of things that you will need to collect in order to do the experiments. None of the supplies are unusual or expensive, but if you are like me and never have a balloon or a bottle of soda water sitting around, you may need to make a trip to the store.

The critical thinking questions in each activity are excellent. I need help guiding my students through science projects, and they have scripted out thought-provoking questions that will help my tudents learn. I am delighted.

Sciencewise is a series of experiment books designed for students in fourth grade through high school. Each book has two sections: Dynamo Demos and Creative Challenges.

Dynamo Demos are experiments where the results may come as a surprise to your students. They discover what happens when an air-tight can, filled with hot water, cools; what happens when two balls of different sizes are dropped together, with the small ball on top; how different experiments work with water bottles that have leaks; how water does or does not escape. With all the surprises, it is a great opportunity for parents and students to find out together the reasons for the results. The scientific process skills of observing, predicting, experimenting, eliminating, and drawing conclusions are all learned through the experiments.

Creative Challenges give students a problem to solve, have guidelines to follow, and involve certain supplies. The first experiment is "Wacky Wire," where the student must invent a new use for a wire coat hanger. It must have a use besides hanging clothes; it may be bent, cut or changed, but no more than four other items may be used in combination with the coat hanger. I can only imagine the creations that my children will create. Now is the opportunity for me to see surprising results.

The instructions in Sciencewise are clear enough for non-science parents, such as myself, to understand, including answers to many of the "Why?" questions our students will ask. This program, too, will require collecting experiment supplies, but with some planning ahead that should not be a problem.

For more information on these excellent science books, contact Critical Thinking Books and Software at 1-800-458-4849, or on the web at

-- Product Review by: Publishers, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine

Building Thinking Skills, Level One and Level Two

I have been a fan of Critical Thinking Books and Software for several years and am delighted to review their Building Thinking Skills books. These are large workbooks, filled with exercises to strengthen cognitive thinking in children. They are written for children, but parents can benefit from the mental exercise too!

The goal of these books is to develop five cognitive skills - describing, finding similarities and differences, sequencing, classifying and forming analogies. As explained in the Instruction and Answer Guide, "These skills are integral to a learner's ability to put things in order, to group items by class, and to think analogically."

The student books are filled with more than 300 pages of activities ranging from describing shapes to explaining analogies. They are designed to be consumable, but can be used with plastic page covers and a grease pencil. The activities can easily be fit into the homeschool day. You can make it a formal subject, but my children think of these as a fun break. I am glad to see their minds being strengthened without even being aware of the hard work they are doing.

The Instruction and Answer Guides have lesson plans for each activity that include transparency masters (if using with a group of students), questions to help students understand the concepts and applications to subject areas such as language arts, math, science, and social studies.

This series, and dozens of other excellent titles, can be purchased through Critical Thinking Books and Software at 1-800-458-4849, or online at Each time I have spoken with their staff, I have found them to be helpful and enthusiastic. So, don't hesitate to call with any questions. They believe so strongly in the benefit of their materials that they offer a 60-day exchange, credit, or refund. I doubt you will need to take them up on the offer, though.

Building Thinking Skills has four levels, ranging from kindergarten all the way through high school. Are you looking for a way to help students exercise their mental muscles, organize their thinking, or increase their test scores? Check this series out! You might find the boost for which you are looking.

-- Product Review by: Diane Wheeler, Senior Staff Writer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine

Editor in Chief Series

Learning grammar rules and correcting errors are not my children's favorite language arts exercises. Can you relate? Well, one delightful way to include these important skills in your curriculum is to use the Editor in Chief series by Critical Thinking Books and Software. Rather than correcting their own work, which can be a painful process for all of us, they can take the writing of others and fill in the corrections necessary for it to be well written.

Each page has a piece of writing that needs to be edited. Below the writing, instructions are included such as, "Find the 8 errors in this activity. There are no errors in the illustration or the caption." These specific details allow the student to know their goals and begin the search as a copy editor extraordinaire. There are also solutions included for the teacher's convenience.

This four-book set is divided into Beginning (grades 3-4), "A" Level (grades 4-6), "B" Level (grades 6-8) and "C" Level (grades 8-12). Levels A - C have two books each, and if you spend a couple of sessions a week working on Editor in Chief lessons, both books can be completed within a traditional school year. Another idea is to use these books for summer time, reinforcing language arts skills learned throughout the year. This could save the usual "fall review" that many students need, and the lessons are interesting enough to make learning fun.

To order Editor in Chief, or to see other excellent products put out by Critical Thinking Books and Software, please call 1-800-458-4849, or see them on the web at

-- Product Review by: Diane Wheeler, Senior Staff Writer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine

A Case of Red Herrings - Solving Mysteries through Critical Questioning

Another great way to work on problem solving and deductive reasoning is to use the Case of Red Herrings series by Critical Thinking Books and Software. In these books, each page has a mystery that is "part of a longer untold story which is 'behind the scenes.'" Your students ask questions that lead them to the answer. For example, the first mystery is as follows: "Tana announced to her colleagues that she had created something that has no beginning, no end, and nothing in the middle. If they would stop by in the morning, she would share the formula for her creation with them. They did and she did. What did she create?" Answer? She had made her first batch of doughnuts and gave her colleagues each a doughnut and the recipe for making them. It took me several questions to get to the answer; my children immediately guessed bagels and made their way very quickly to doughnuts. Perhaps these are needed for the grown-ups more?

If your children are like mine, and they enjoy solving mysteries and reading detective stories, the Case of Red Herrings is a great addition to school, car rides, or rainy day fun with friends. Better yet, pop some popcorn and make a family night activity of trying to stump Mom and Dad. Guaranteed to be great learning and some fun laughs as you solve mysteries together.

-- Product Review by: Diane Wheeler, Senior Staff Writer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine

Mind Benders

One of our favorite activities last year was working our way through the Mind Benders series from Critical Thinking Books and Software. Designed to strengthen students' deductive reasoning, reading comprehension, organization, and information processing skills, they can also be plain ol' fun.

Starting with the Warm Up book, each problem is a clue, or group of clues, needing a solution. Number one, for example, reads, "Mrs. Shore is Mary Jane's mother. Mrs. Desmond is Mrs. Shore's mother. How is Mrs. Desmond related to Mary Jane?" The answer, of course, is, "She is Mary Jane's grandmother." Now, try number seventy-eight: "Six people were sitting equally spaced from each other at a round table. Their names were A, B, C, D, E, and F. F and A were directly opposite each other. B was directly to E's right. D was directly to F's left. Draw a picture showing how the people were seated at the table." Depending on the time of day, even the Warm Up book can be a challenge to my sleepy brain.

The "A" series of books are designed for second grade - adult, the "B" series for sixth grade - adult, and the "C" series for eighth grade - adult. By the time you are in the "C" series, you will be solving many-layered problems that use detailed charts to keep track of clues. The muscles in your mind will be bulging from all the fun exercise they will be getting.

Some use these as consumable workbooks; we used pads of paper and pencils to work out our solutions so that our up and coming Mind Benders students could benefit.

To order the Mind Benders series from Critical Thinking Books and Software, you may call their offices at 1-800-458-4849, or reach them on the web at These puzzles are an excellent way to train your whole family's minds to solve problems and keep track of information. With all the fun you will have, they may not even know the hard work that is taking place!

-- Product Review by: Diane Wheeler, Senior Staff Writer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine

Critical Thinking in United States History Series

One of the greatest joys and responsibilities of teaching our children is preparing them for successful adult lives. Helping them understand our nation's history and our current government is essential preparation for them to become responsible citizens.

Critical Thinking Books and Software has two excellent tools to help us in equipping children (and ourselves) for participation in our government. The Critical Thinking in United States History Series takes the skills of critical thinking and applies them to historical interpretation and debate.

Beginning with a definition of terms (such as argument, assertion, evidence, reasoning, fallacies of debate, assumptions, and values), the student then takes those terms and applies them to specific events from the history of our country. As explained in the introduction, "This not itself a history book, but rather a series of problems on which historians present differing opinions. The purpose of the book is to teach you how to analyze and evaluate historical arguments."

This series, written for students in sixth through 12th grades, includes Colonies to Constitution, New Republic to Civil War, Reconstruction to Progressivism, and Spanish-American War to Vietnam War, plus teachers guides for each. They can be purchased individually, or as a set for a slight discount.

Another interesting point made in the introduction is to remind students that issues in our society and our government don't have easy answers and that reasonable people will often disagree on solutions to society's problems. By employing the Critical Thinking in United States History series, I hope to empower my students to discuss intelligently, and disagree respectfully, on the important issues of our day.

-- Product Review by: Diane Wheeler, Senior Staff Writer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine

You Decide! Applying the Bill of Rights to Real Cases

You Decide! Applying the Bill of Rights to Real Cases teaches the history and the components of the first eight amendments to the Constitution. Then, with that basic knowledge, actual court cases are presented for evaluation.

Included in each of five units are discussion questions, definition of terms, discussion of past court decisions, more history of the individual amendments, application for today and, finally, a section where students can judge for themselves (every middle schooler's dream!).

This two-book set is written for seventh to 12th graders and would beautifully complement any curriculum that includes United States history or civics. I can imagine my creative seventh grader finding my old graduation gown in the dress-up bucket for her "day in court" using You Decide!

If you would like to order either of these excellent resources from Critical Thinking Books and Software, you can request a catalog by calling 1-800-458-4849, or see their web-site at

-- Product Review by: Diane Wheeler, Senior Staff Writer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine