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Developing Critical Thinking in Learning Mathematics

What is the sum of 18 and 13? How do you find it?

The second question is frequently addressed to the students. It seems to be easy, yet the process of finding the sum plays an important role. As Primary 1 students have been introduced to number bonds, counting back and on, grouping or regrouping the numbers, there will be one answer with various strategies. These are acceptable and they can be used to develop students’ critical thinking.

Firdaus, Ismail Kailani, Md Nor Bin Bakar, Bakry (2015) conducted a study to find how problem based learning in Mathematics affected students’ critical thinking skills. It was measured by three components, namely (1) identification and interpretation of information, (2) analysis of information, and (3) evaluation of the evidence and arguments. The results show that problem based learning is effective in developing critical thinking skills.

Critical thinking has been mentioned several times in the first two paragraphs, but what is it? Simply put, critical thinking can be described as an ability to evaluate information. It becomes important as it helps students to be more independent and creative, and helps to improve their language skills as they practice how to present their answers with logical reasons. It is not only about finding the answer, but also understanding what they are doing. Furthermore, they can apply it to solve practical challenges on a daily basis. Here are some ways to support the students in developing their critical thinking.

Give them longer time

It will take longer for the students to find the sum of numbers by using various strategies than by using simple long addition. For upper primary levels, it will be more challenging as the question is presented as a word problem. They need to identify, collect the information provided in the question, apply and evaluate the strategies. During the lesson, they are not in Maths competition. They don’t need to find the answer in the blink of an eye.

Ask them to present

Giving them a chance to present.The way they find the answer is a key to developing critical thinking. Their understanding will be evaluated. In addition, a misconception can be corrected. It will be great if the students ask why after a certain explanation. Their curiosity leads them to learn more than what they have understood.


After the students know which strategy is suitable, challenge them to find in what other areas they can apply the strategy. Asking them to count the stationery they have, to calculate the mass of flour needed in baking cake, or estimate when the tomato seed they plant will be ready for harvest, are some examples that can be used.

Developing students’ critical thinking is a continuous process. It can’t be done within an academic year. Once the students are able to think critically, they will find some alternatives to solve the challenges they have in daily life.


Firdaus, Ismail Kailani, Md Nor Bin Bakar, Bakry. (2015). Journal of Education and Learning. Vol. 9 (3) pp 226-236. Retrieved May 24, 2020, from

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