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Successful Adulting (Or What You Don't Learn in School)

Cats dropped upside down land on their feet. How? It’s not magic. They go through a process.

The cat first realizes it is falling upside down.

It then spins its tail to turn its head and front legs toward the ground.

It continues to spin its tail to counteract the spin of its back legs.

Its feet extend, and its back arches to serve as shock absorbers.

Its legs and back absorb the impact.

Image from Agence Nature/Science Source

Don’t try this at home. (Afterward, the cat usually scratches the person who dropped it and never will love that person again.)

Successful adults act pretty much the same way. Constantly dropped upside down, they land on their feet (and dislike those who dropped them). How do adults do it? It’s not magic. They use the problem-solving process, which is just as effective and undignified as the falling-cat process—and just as likely not to be taught in schools.

To help your students prepare for “adulting,” teach them the problem-solving process.

So, how does problem solving work?

Just as a cat uses its tail to counterbalance its body, so the problem-solving process uses creative thinking to counterbalance critical thinking.

Both types of thinking work like pistons in an engine, driving the problem-solving process. Critical thinking is focused and reductive. It analyzes and calculates. Creative thinking is original and expansive. It experiments and invents. Together, they create power.

But creative thinking is just for the arts, right?

Wrong. Engineers think creatively all the time. They use the engineering-design process, which is its own version of problem solving. For that matter, the scientific method is another version of problem solving. So is the writing process. The only way to progress from ignorance to knowledge, from nothing to something, from problem to solution is to use critical and creative thinking in tandem.

How can I teach critical and creative thinking?

Start by exploring the following minilessons for critical thinking:

Then explore these minilessons for creative thinking:

What other resources can I use?

If you’d like a full curriculum that teaches critical and creative thinking, problem solving, and many other 21st century skills, check out Inquire.

k-2 3-5 6-8

Teacher Support:

Click to find out more about this resource.

Standards Correlations:

The State Standards provide a way to evaluate your students' performance.