Blog | October 19, 2016

How an Olympic Skier Learned the Importance of Critical Thinking

Carrie Sheinberg discusses how this key aspect of deeper learning helped her navigate the slopes--and through life

Champion for America’s Future member Carrie Sheinberg joined the United States Ski Team at age 17. She would eventually compete in the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. Her specialty? The slalom. A slalom course includes 50 gates that a skier must swerve between while hurtling close to 40 miles per hour down an icy and steep mountain slope. According to Sheinberg, successfully completing the slalom course requires a deliberate strategy to ensure no gate is missed. That’s what’s called critical thinking.

Deeper Learning blog

Critical thinking is one of the core competencies taught via an academic technique called deeper learning. Deeper learning takes core academic content, like math and reading, and teaches students how to collaborate, communicate effectively, direct their own learning, and believe in themselves. Having this core set of skills will allow students to apply their knowledge in the classroom, and more importantly, in life.

Critical thinking is how Sheinberg trained herself to achieve her goals as an Olympic skier. Here, she reflects on the moment right before she would launch herself out of the starting gate onto a slalom course:

When you’re in the starting gate, that’s where real critical thinking comes in. You’re looking at this course in front of you: It’s icy, it’s steep, and it’s cold. And you have to figure out how you’re going to navigate it. Even though maybe 20 people have gone before you, they have all done it their way, and you have to do it your own way. Those are the kind of things where thinking independently and critically can really set you apart from the rest.

When incorporated into the K-12 classroom, deeper learning means that students learn how to creatively analyze and evaluate information so that they can develop their own solutions to overcome difficult problems. In addition to pure academics, deeper learning provides the knowledge, skills, and tools that will help students effectively navigate the hurdles they are bound to encounter in the real world and in the workforce.

Just as Sheinberg had to analyze an icy mountain slope, she also had to navigate her own path in life. After retiring from professional skiing, she went on to graduate from the University of Utah and later became a journalist for ESPN. She’s now also a mom of two young boys. At each life stage, Sheinberg has been able to tap into the same critical thinking skills developed on the ski slopes:

Throughout most of my life, deeper learning was exactly what I was doing. I was focused on a goal and I was learning how to achieve it every single day. I was learning to think for myself; I was learning to decide what my own best path was going to be.

Young Americans need to be given the best possible chance to succeed in an ever-changing world. Critical thinking skills and the other competencies that make up deeper learning lay a foundation for success as the next generation transitions from their academic life to real life.

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Next in the Deeper Learning Blog series: Core academic content

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