Sparking Critical Thinking with Labster

Dr. Elisha Anne Teo Pei Yi

The Power of Critical Thinking

Critical thinking–the process of deeply analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information–is a vital life skill. In an era of overflowing information, critical thinking enhances one's ability to discern credible information and fosters a curiosity to explore beyond the surface. It ensures the ability to analyze complex situations, make informed decisions, problem solve and communicate effectively–all skills relevant for life and career. Critical thinking also nurtures adaptability and resilience to face challenges and promotes engaged and informed citizenship.

Embedding critical thinking at the core of education is not just beneficial–it's essential, ensuring today's learners become informed, adaptable, and proactive leaders in an increasingly complex and technological world. At Labster, we believe that science, including science education, is an opportune place to hone critical thinking. However, intentional learning design is required for this opportunity to be taken.

How Labster Promotes Critical Thinking

Labster promotes critical thinking by engaging students in activities and pedagogical strategies that encourage them to question, analyze, and evaluate information deeply. Here are four strategies used to cultivate critical thinking in Labster simulations:

1. Fosters Advanced Thinking Skills

With Labster, students are encouraged to go beyond remembering or explaining information. Simulation activities purposefully scaffold students toward more complex cognitive processes, where students engage with the material in a more elaborate manner (see Bloom's Revised Taxonomy). This is central to deeper learning and critical thinking. After being introduced to buoyancy in Applications of Buoyancy, students apply the concept to build a floating swimsuit for Dr One. In Atmospheric Circulation, Climate and Biomes students relate the two concepts of atmospheric circulation and climate and apply them to determine the biome and latitude of the lab. Students evaluate the possibility of a therapeutic approach in breast cancer in CRISPR-Cas applied to TGF-beta-induced EMT. In SDS-PAGE, students end the simulation by critiquing the quality of a complete electrophoresis run.

Scientific equation in a virtual lab

Earth's savannas in a virtual lab

2. Encourages Inquiry and Problem-Based Learning

By incorporating inquiry and problem-based learning frameworks in simulations, students have an overarching question or a problem to solve. In order to formulate an answer or solution, students draw upon both their existing knowledge base and the new information introduced during the simulation. This approach reinforces deeper understanding and promotes knowledge retention and transferability. 

In Marine Biology and Thermal Effects on Marine Oxygen Levels, students roleplay as an environmental investigator tasked with solving a local fish extinction. Students are required to pull from knowledge of spectrophotometry, water quality, and ecology, as well as utilize their skills in graph interpretation and map reading. Using a real-world problem also encourages students to see the relevance of science in broader societal contexts and encourages interdisciplinary thinking–again, stimulating further neural connections that result in deeper learning.

Thermal effects on marine oxyen virtual lab with dead fish

3. Provides Opportunities to Learn from Failure

Failure prompts reflection, a core component of critical thinking. When learners face failure, they are encouraged to analyze what went wrong, question their assumptions, and consider alternative approaches. Trial and error results in a more holistic and balanced understanding of a topic. Encountering and overcoming failure also builds resilience and adaptability. Learners who are comfortable with failure are more likely to approach challenges with an open mind and to willingly explore new strategies, traits that are closely linked to critical thinking.

In physical classrooms and laboratories, general safety and constraints in time and resources limit opportunities for failure. With Labster, students can take their time to explore different options, make mistakes without danger, receive immediate feedback, and attempt again without pressure or consequence. As students carry out Thin Layer Chromatography, they are presented with multiple options at each step of the experimental protocol. If students select the incorrect equipment, measure the incorrect amounts, or use the wrong technique, immediate constructive feedback is provided, and students can reconsider an alternative solution. In Solution Preparation, students can similarly make mistakes while preparing a solution, but with the support of a big red reset button that allows them to try again. The opportunity to fail allows students to have a comprehensive understanding of the experimental protocol and why it is designed in such a way. 

TLC plate in virtual lab setting
Virtual lab with a button

4. Enables Critical data analysis and interpretation

Deriving meaningful conclusions from data is a complex critical thinking skill that requires the ability to examine patterns, trends, and anomalies. 

With Labster, students practice this skill frequently in the many simulations involving analyzing and interpreting data. In Coulomb's Law, students measure and graph different values of electrostatic force–the simulation then guides the student through increasing stages of mathematization and logic, ultimately arriving at the physical meaning of Coulomb's law. Inspired by board games, Human Impact on Climate Change allows students to manipulate a table-top climate model, to explore the complex relationships between multiple variables.

Electrostatic force vs. distance calculations
Earth science variables

Critical data analysis also extends towards considering how data has been collected. It involves logical reasoning, challenging assumptions, evaluation of evidence, and the analysis of arguments. All of these prompt learners to not only identify what the data suggests but also to consider what might be missing, or what nuances, uncertainties, or alternative explanations could exist.

In The Scientific Method, students learn how to design a scientific experiment, from testing a hypothesis to choosing an experimental model and selecting experimental controls. This systematic, logical approach is foundational to understanding how knowledge is built in science. Measurements and Uncertainty adds another layer of criticality by directly addressing concepts of accuracy, precision, error, and uncertainty in data collection. Both simulations highlight the importance of evaluating how information has been generated to comprehend the nuance it creates during results interpretation. 

Counting jelly beans with the scientific method.


Labster is driven to develop learners into informed, adaptable problem-solvers ready for a rapidly evolving world. To support that outcome, Labster creates opportunities for critical thinking by targeting complex cognitive processes, utilizing inquiry and problem-based learning, embracing failure, and strengthening data analysis skills. These pedagogical strategies make education relevant and prepare students for the complexities of the modern workplace and lifelong learning.


Dr. Elisha Anne Teo Pei Yi, Labster Learning Guide & Lead Scientific Content Creator

a man sitting in front of a computer monitor
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