5 Problem-Solving Skills & Classroom Application
Strategy # 1: Get Involved in Problem-Solving Competitions
There is nothing better to guarantee the need for problem defining than problem-solving competitions such as Destination Imagination or Odyssey of the Mind. I have been involved in these organizations for the past 10 years, and the complexity of the problems presented and the open-ended nature of potential solutions requires students to analyze the problem thoroughly before trying to develop a solution. While problem synopses are very general and sum up the problem in about 5 sentences, the actual problem is provided on a multi-page document that team members must examine, understand, and analyze to determine the best approach for solving the problem. Check out this the 2017-2018 challenge previews at www.destinationimagination.org/challenge-program/2017-18-challenge-previews/
Strategy #2: Ill-Structured Problems
I mentioned Ill-Structured Problems in a previous post, but they apply here, as well. Problem defining is very important in ill-structured problems because sometimes there is so much missing information that the actual problem can feel unclear. Having students identify and write what they perceive to be the problem they are trying to solve can help make sure they stay focused during the problem-solving process.
This is my 3rd grader, Kaidyn, and her invention: Magic Mystery Shampoo. It's a color changing shampoo meant to solve the problem of kids who don't like washing their hair.
Strategy #1--The Invention Process--Taking students through the inventor's process requires research both in why the problem you hope to solve with your invention is actually a problem worth solving and what the best methods are to solve the problem. Even more importantly, you must research whether or not a solution has already been invented, so that you do not accidentally steal another person's invention and call it your own. There are so many elements to inventing that invite research, so encouraging your students to participate in local invention competitions, such as Invent Washington is a great way to give them a real-world purpose for in-depth research.
I suggest providing students with graphic organizers and research prompts in the beginning to help them navigate the abstract nature of researching their own solutions to problems. In my model, I identified happiness as a problem through the World Happiness Report. Then, I researched different recommendations to improve happiness, such as color, health, essential oils, proper spinal alignment, etc. As you can imagine the potential depth can be overwhelming for younger students.
If you're not comfortable with official competition, host your own stress-free Invention Convention. Just get kids involved in the process!
Strategy #1: Rubric Breakdown
For many problems, especially when they are connected with competitive problem-solving or classroom assignments, there is a rubric attached for scoring or grading. Teaching students how to identify individual elements within a rubric to pull-out as part of an evaluation matrix can help them analyze their solutions and determine which of their ideas best meet the expectations of the competition or the assignment. This strategy can also be helpful for the student as they are trying to break down a large assignment into manageable parts.
Strategy #2: Student-Selected Criteria
To increase ownership and personal value in the evaluation process embedded in problem-solving, allowing students to identify criteria that is important to them as a part of their matrix can be a good strategy. For instance, if they really want to be able to use video production or Legos as a part of their solution or if they want to incorporate slime creation into their solution, perhaps that could be a criterion within the matrix.
After investing a lot of time in developing a solution, the testing and re-design process can be very challenging. There may be a fear of failure in testing, and sometimes the failure leads to students wanting to give up. If they have had experience testing solutions and documenting failures in less risky situations, this skill can be strengthened and feel less scary when they encounter it in a more high-stakes problem-solving scenario.
Strategy #1: Consumer Reports
One of my favorite units to teach is Consumer Reports. I share examples of real Consumer Reports articles based on various products, and we discuss all of the testing that was involved in determining which products are the best. We analyze potential variables that could create unfair testing situations and we design tests and practice them on the products we have selected. I typically start the class off with a band-aid testing, as that is an inexpensive product that is sold in multiples. The students will determine the criteria that makes a good bandage, such as painlessness, the stick-factor, absorption, etc. Then we design tests. After students perform their tests, we debrief and discuss how tests may or may not have been fair, and which bandages held up the best. They find out quickly there are many factors that must be considered when designing a product test, such as how much pressure is applied to the bandage when putting it on the skin, or where they place the bandage, or how much liquid you apply to the bandage to determine absorption. Then, we discuss possible redesigns. This type of experience lets the students have failures and consider the validity of their reporting if they don't test their tests.
Strategy #2: Snap Circuits
Snap Circuits are a relatively inexpensive and safe way for students to experiment with electricity and transferring energy. The kits come with a book of projects with visual images to direct students in the placement of the snaps that will lead to a completed circuit. However, if you give students a challenge, such as make the light come on and do not give them the instructions, there are bound to be some errors along the way that could encourage re-design. Because Snap Circuits are a lot like Legos, students don't tend to mind taking them apart and reconfiguring them to design a better solution.
An additional activity I have done with the Snap Circuits is having students design their own instructional diagram to include in "the book" after using the book to complete several of the planned projects. After experiencing how the circuits work together and what different elements of the kit can do, this is a great way to differentiate for those kids who have a lot of experience with the toy or who have demonstrated understanding of the circuitry and transfer of energy.
Davis, G. A., Rimm, S. B., & Siegle, D. (2011). Education of the gifted and talented (6th
ed.). New York: Pearson.