When you purchase The Theseus Learning System, you receive a 124 page spiral-bound Lesson Book and the accompanying software (computer program for thought mapping) on CD. The spiral-bound Lesson Book is divided into twelve Lessons (discussed below in more depth) and is very colorful. The Lesson Book includes many illustrations and different colored fonts. The CD includes the Theseus computer software program, which enables one to generate and organize thought trees, and also includes a .pdf file of the Lesson Book. It was originally intended to be for older students, such as those in high school and above, though now its creators are also marketing it to corporations as well.
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The Theseus Learning System was developed by a former college philosophy professor who discovered while he was teaching that most of his students had arrived at college without critical thinking skills. Because of this, he and his colleagues developed the Theseus Learning System, which is a course designed to teach students how to map out their thinking in order to see their thoughts clearly and in logical order.
It is clear that this course is intended for students who tend to get bogged down in fidgety (non-focused) thinking, who use arguments that are illogical, or who are unable to organize their thinking into rational statements and conclusions. This course is not a formal logic course and barely touches on aspects of formal logic. This course is not a writing course, though it does touch on reading critically. It is more of a series of lessons aimed at focusing scattered thinking into precise pieces of organized thought (and then helping you make these thoughts visual).
Early in the Lesson Book, Dr. Norman explains that the purposes of this course include:
- Mapping thoughts as organized, visual patterns
- Defeating mental confusion and fidgety thinking
- Utilizing the software in order to help you visualize your thoughts
- Framing clear, compelling arguments
- Breaking down complex thoughts into individual pieces
- Cutting through the fog of too much data
- Equipping the student to ask good questions (who? what? why?)
- Helping those students who are both visual and hands-on
Here's a breakdown of the topics covered in the twelve lessons.
Lesson 1: Seven Basic Thinking Skills (What Critical Thinkers Do)
- The seven basic skills involved in higher-order thinking
- How to master them
- Getting to know the problem
- Keeping your attention focused on what's important
Lesson 2: Meeting Theseus Software/p>
- How to install the software on your computer
- Getting Started with the Software
- Creating and working with thought trees
- How to use the Idea Bin (a bin that you put scattered thoughts into and then pull them out one by one and insert them into thought trees - meant to organize disorganized thought)
- How to use the toolbar
- How to export created thought trees and print them out
Lesson 3: Orderly Thinking
- Why ideas need to be organized
- How and why trees are useful for organizing ideas
- How to unscramble complex ideas
Lesson 4: Questions and Answers (The stuff of real thinking)
- A practical way to think about thinking
- How to recognize the basic elements of thought
- How thought is structured
- Why it's important to focus on questions (thinking begins with questions)
Lesson 5: Picturing Thought (The Shape of Effective Thinking)
- What effective thinking looks like
- More about thought trees
- How the components of effective thinking fit together
- The main uses of thought trees
Lesson 6: The Thought Tree Method (How to Think Things Through)
- A step-by-step approach to thinking things through
- A focused approach to problem solving
- A reliable way to organize compelling trains of thought
Lesson 7: Advanced Visual Thinking (How to Frame an Effective Thought)
- How to focus thinking
- How to identify the issue
- How to situate the issue
- How to frame the claim
Lesson 8: What, Why & How (Asking the Right Questions Made Simple)
- How to ask the right questions
- How to address them in logical order
Lesson 9: Effective Answers (How to Support your Claim)
- How to create and evaluate supporting answers
- How to grow thought trees with strong branches
- How to handle objections
Lesson 10: Applications 1, Critical Reading (How to Analyze an Argument)
- How to use the thought tree method to read critically
- Clarify the thinking of the text
- Identify key components of that thinking
- Understand how they relate
- Assess the merits of the argument
Lesson 11: Applications 2: Persuasive Writing and Presenting (How to Put Together a Compelling Line of Thought)
- How to use the Thought Tree Method to prepare written and oral arguments
Lesson 12: Applications 3: Mind-Bending Challenges (Test your new skills on these!)
- How to apply what you've learned to deep and challenging issues
After Lesson 12, there is an Appendix that includes an answer key for a few of the exercises, and an Appendix that summarizes more specific information about thought trees.
Because the item being reviewed is so very visual, it is difficult to capture the essence of the item in this medium. Basically, the software allows the student to draw small boxes, put information in each box, and link the boxes together via lines, creating a "thought tree." The boxes can be made smaller or bigger, can be moved around, or can be colored specific colors for different reasons.
The program includes an "idea box" that can be used as a brainstorming receptacle for random thoughts that can be then be organized and placed in thought tree boxes later. The program includes a few completed thought trees for the student to see and also includes a few exercises for the student to complete. The program can also help the student generate his or her thought trees by way of answering questions that the computer then uses to make boxes.
It is clear that the creator of this program has battled the complicated task of teaching students who are wholly unable to formulate logical arguments and thought patterns. The desire to help students climb out of their holes of convoluted thinking is clear and honorable. However, this program just recently came out (six months ago) and needs supplementation and/or revision.
For example, I will admit to being very confused by many exercises in the Lesson Book. The basic principles of each chapter were easy to follow but when it came time for the principles to be applied to the author's given example or exercise, I was unable to understand the practical exercise. It was almost as though the basic information was easy to grasp (I was quite able to understand the basics of what a thought tree is and how to potentially use it) but that the author used such complicated examples that I couldn't follow the text's application.
Furthermore, there are so few examples that if one was confusing to the reader (read: me), the student would have very little other examples or exercises to safely (meaning that they have their solutions in the answer key) practice upon. Some suggested activities are addressed in the Appendix answer key but the vast majority are not. Therefore, for me the practical application of the exercises was very small and I was left wondering whether my solutions to the suggested exercises would have been acceptable, for there was no standard to compare them to. Bottom line: I would have appreciated a great deal more exercises (with suggested solutions) that were more basic to work on, say, having Easy, Medium and Challenge exercises for each lesson (and sub-lesson), all of which would be given suggested solutions in the answer key.
My confusion over the practical application of the exercises (basically, trying to figure out what the exercise's "thought tree" should have looked like and why) crossed over into a difficulty with the software, for although the software does supply a few completed thought trees (and a few thought trees to practice upon) they were confusing and complicated and left me again wondering how to apply the information in the text that I had read. And the promised skill of being able to map pretty much any conundrum or question totally eluded me.