“A problem well put is half solved.” ― John Dewey
Real life is complex and the problems in it aren’t well defined, and lack clear solutions. Unfortunately when we present problems in the school setting, they are often linear projections- point A leads to point B. In the real world it is point A goes to point C then zig zag back to point D and zoom to point J….
This shows that they need to be able to identify and apply various strategies to solve these problems.
The crux of the matter is that problem solving skills do not develop naturally; they need to be clearly taught in a way that can be adopted across multiple settings and contexts.
One of the most important skills that must be taught to our children this 21st century is problem solving and in our work in boosting STEM skills at our social enterprise we are constantly searching for how to bring this home to our children.
In our research we found the efforts of an elementary school teacher in New Jersey, USA. Ms Kate Mills taught the equivalent of primary 4 for 10 years and is now a Literacy Interventionist at another Primary School.
She focused on building her students to grow to be people who will be successful outside of the classroom.
Her focus from the first day of school was to choose language and activities that fosters a classroom culture of problem solvers.
In order to produce students who are able to think about how to achieve their goals and manage the mental process of achievement (this process is called metacognition), she normalized “trouble.”
Research has shown that metacognitive skills help children become better problem solvers.
How does she “normalize trouble” in the classroom? By teaching the importance of struggle in life; acknowledging it, and calling it what it is: a sign ofgrowth.
Ultimately the children learn to accept challenges and failures as opportunities for refinement.
She looks for every chance to share problems from challenges other schools had and highlight how it is students like themselves not their teachers or parents that solved them. She didn’t downplay the fact that they had guidance from adults along the way.
The key was for the children to become more independent and productive as they apply and adapt their thinking when engaging in future complex tasks.
This sets up the expectations of the students to understand that the teachers aren’t there to solve problems for them, but to aid them in solving the problems themselves.
She utilizes a powerful method in deploying the essence of pushing through the problem solving process. She shows a broken escalator video to her students and in it is a man who got confused when his escalators broke down as he rode it. The children are perplexed why he didn’t just get off it. She explained to them that a lot of us tell for help when we are stuck instead of embracing the challenge and trying new ways to work through it.
Research shows that just because children know the strategies does not mean they will engage in the appropriate strategies. Therefore we should encourage them by providing opportunities where they can explicitly practice learning why, when and how to use these strategies properly in order for them to become autonomous learners.
As an a educator and a parent, I appreciate and focus on modeling the lessons from the learning experience stated above to encourage our children becoming problem solvers. Our desire is dwell upon the value of going beyond working harder by doing it smarter trying new and different strategies and revising the process.
When they do this, they are more successful all around.
Adetola Salau; Educator / Speaker / Author/ Social Entrepreneur / Innovator
She is an Advocate of STEM Education and is Passionate about Education reform. She is an innovative thinker and strives for our society & continent as a whole to reclaim it’s greatness. She runs an educational foundation with the mission to transform education.