It's not what you know, it's what you do with it: So why are children not learning critical thinking

Updated: Jun 18


“We still talk about a knowledge economy, but the reality is that the world is moving beyond it. What we have now is an innovation economy. Knowledge has been commoditized. There is no longer a competitive advantage in simply knowing more than other people, because Google knows everything. What the world cares about is not how much you know, but what you can do with it.”

Tony Wagner, Senior Research Fellow, Learning Policy Institute.

As per Tony Wagner’s quote, kids need to learn how to innovate - learn to turn knowledge into something tangible. Children need to learn the foundations of critical thinking at a young age. Just as we teach “L” directed thinking at a young age (logical math concepts) we need to teach “R” directed thinking at a young age, teaching children how to discover opportunities and to find ways to respond. The digital business models, driving us to the Innovation Economy, are creating an environment where knowledge is abundant and those that can transform knowledge into tangible solutions or innovations will thrive. Learn more by reading my blog post, “The driving forces that will shape the Innovation Economy”. Youth still require the skills of the Knowledge Economy such as coding but they also need a set of complementary skills that will differentiate them in the Innovation Economy.


Limiting our teaching to traditional skills such as math, languages, etc when our children are young and then focusing on traditional skills such as coding as they progress is not sufficient. If we want our children to have flexible minds that can readily absorb new information and respond to complex problems, we need to develop their thinking skills in a manner that will allow them to execute on their technical skills in response to a challenge. Research has proven that creativity and problem solving are “teachable” and “learnable” skills (Scott, Leritz, and Mumford). The key is to both provide a foundation of critical thinking and to teach skills in an experiential learning environment. Kids Hack Labs teaches “Design Thinking” in its Change Makers program. Change Makers enables innovation, empowers creation and engages empathy.


Design Thinking is a thought process used across industries and around the world to drive innovation. It is used by top organizations and start-ups. I encourage you to Google “Design Thinking”. Teaching children how to use Design Thinking trains the brain to

  • observe with curiosity

  • empathize with the perspective of another person (empathy)

  • create solutions and test them

  • make changes based on experience and feedback

Here are the 6 steps of design thinking, presented as per challenging your child to tackle a social challenge.


1. Empathize

Your child selects a social challenge (i.e. waste, inequality, education) and completes a series of questions around its impacts to people and their surroundings.


2. Define

Your child defines their challenge in a statement (If I do this, people will have better lives because ….).


3. Ideate

Your child embraces the power of possibility. They imagine without judgment and make a list of ideas.


4. Prototype

Your child selects an approach from their list of ideas based on set goals and builds an example of the approach (play-dough, lego, drawing or online design tools).


5. Test

Your child tests their prototype through story based explanation. Your child learns to both provide and receive constructive feedback and make adjustments.


6. Create

Your child creates innovation. They tell their story in a creation.


Children need to learn how to identify challenges in their own world and how to solve them with a logical approach that can be learned and improved through constant practice. Practice needs to be hands-on, with the level of complexity increasing along with the child’s thinking abilities. Children will always need to be taught core skills and knowledge such as math, language, coding, social science, etc but we need to spend a balanced amount of time teaching them how to apply these skills to innovate and approach challenges. This will build resilience in children as well as improve their quality of life as they achieve meaning.


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