On Critical Thinking

The state of New York recently instituted a policy that physical therapists need to earn continuing education hours in order to renew their licenses. Up until this point, I was just able to pay a few hundred dollars every few years and I’d get to keep my license. This worked out well since I wasn’t practicing, nor interested much in PT.

Now, however, I had a decision to make. Continuing education courses are usually held over a weekend and require the expenses of traveling as well as paying for the actual course. Is it really worth all that to keep a license I’ve hardly used in the last ten years? I didn’t want to have to make that decision. Lucky for me, I didn’t have to.

With a little research, I learned there are plenty of free on-line continuing education courses. As a teacher, I was sure they wouldn’t be nearly as effective, but as a person who doesn’t like to pay much for things not of value to her, it was great. I thought I’d just read through the material, take the test, get my credits and move on.

I figured I’d learn a couple things, but was surprised that I learned things that pertained not just to PT, but to so many other things in my life.

Yesterday, I took a course about falls in the elderly. My grandmother recently fell and broke her hip, so not only did this topic pertain to the nursing home patients I work with, but I could see it from another perspective as well – that of the relative of an elderly person. Had I read the material prior to grandma’s fall, I think I would have said, “Yeah, I know this.” But all of a sudden I could see it in real life, in my life: after one fall, you’re more likely to have another (that happened to grandma), how being on more than four medicines is a risk factor (gram was on a ridiculous number), how the anxiety causes many elderly who fall to never actual regain the function they had prior to their fall (gram shows signs of being headed this way).

This way of taking information and making it personal to you is actually the topic of my course today. Today’s course was on critical thinking, and “personalizing” information is one of the definitions the author gives of critical thinking. Personalizing information is not just taking it in, but actually analyzing it and figuring out how it relates to you.

This prompted me to think about my anatomy students. When we learn the skeleton, I don’t just have them name the bones. They sit in a semicircle around me. Each group of four students has a box of bones in front of them. I ask them to pull out the tibia, then we talk about how to tell if it’s a left or a right tibia. I encourage them to hold it up to themselves, to a partner to figure it out. I show them that the round bump they feel on the inside of their ankle is the medial malleolus. I have them feel the bump just below their patella, and explain that that’s the tibial tuberosity. Then, they find those landmarks on the bone in front of them. I explain that if they put the tibial tuberosity in the front, and the medial malleolus internally, then they can easily tell if it’s a right or left tibia. When they’re taking their test, there’s a little well of happiness that rises in me when I see them feeling for that bump on their ankle.

The course started me thinking what other techniques I could employ to encourage more critical thinking in my students, and how much it helps them to remember information.

So once again, something I thought would just be another hoop through which to jump actually turned out to be something of great benefit. Who knew?

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