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"Five Elements of Effective Thinking"

September 14, 2012

Edward Burger ’85, the Francis Christopher Oakley Third Century Professor of Mathematics at Williams College, is looking to change the way you think.

In “The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking” (Princeton University Press, 2012), Burger and co-author Michael Starbird from the University of Texas at Austin, explore new ways for people to increase their effectiveness and creativity by embracing practical and straightforward habits of mind.

The authors draw on real-life examples from education, business and the arts to illustrate success that comes from retraining how you think, allowing you to realize any goal in a more creative, intelligent and effective manner. One of the stories included in the book involves Dr. Lester Reiss, beloved Connecticut College professor of philosophy.

Other topics include exploring deep understanding; using failure as a positive step in the thinking process; learning to create leading questions; how to see the world of ideas within context rather than in a vacuum; and methods for embracing change. Burger and Starbird hope readers will open their minds to new ways of looking at, and engaging in, both the creative process and the world.

“People are often surprised that, though I teach math, I spend a good deal of time talking to my students, as well as lifelong learners and professionals, about concepts, ideas and connections – modes of thinking that transcend all vocations and disciplines,” Burger says. “I like to encourage people to always see the bigger picture.”

“I’ve found that individuals tend to innovate and synthesize information quicker and more effectively when they explore ideas rather than merely memorize facts. My hope has always been to provoke thought and offer new ways of learning – not just for those few early years while we are in school, but for our entire life’s journey,” continues Burger.

It’s a lesson that Burger began learning in his early days at Connecticut College.

“I arrived at Connecticut College in the fall of 1981 with the (supremely geeky, yet sincere) notion that college was all about serious, hard work: I was to be an intellectual sponge and absorb as many facts as possible,” Burger says.

But it was a notion he quickly moved beyond.

“By the time I graduated, my attitude had dramatically evolved. I realized how important the collective experience is,” he continues. “The true promise of education is to mess things up – to challenge the basic assumptions we have about who we are and who we want to become while also discovering our intellectual passions.”

Through the book, the authors hope to encourage everyone to become “lifelong learners.” Burger especially sees the book as a useful tool for the college community, including students, teachers, parents and alumni. And “effective thinking” is beginning to spread – schools around the country are adopting the book in a variety of disciplines and programs. Burger has been invited to introduce these practical modes of innovation and creativity at a host of institutions and companies, including Microsoft, the World Bank, and even the United States Department of the Interior.

“We need to foster an environment that encourages us to make up our own minds,” Burger says. “In short, we must inspire each other to teach, learn, question and create.” “These are the life lessons I took away from my transformative education at Connecticut College.”

Currently Burger is traveling across the country to speak about his new book. In addition to authoring 12 books, Edward Burger ’85 has written more than 30 research articles and produced over 15 video series, including a set of video textbooks for math students. Burger has received many prestigious awards, including Baylor University's Robert Foster Cherry Award for Great Teaching, the largest and most prestigious prize in higher education teaching and scholarship. In 2013 he will be inducted as a Fellow of the American Mathematical Society.







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