Solution Fluency: to thine own problem-solving self be true

In November, kinder21 presented the concept of “Solution Fluency” to our group and discussed a simple problem faced by a group of her Kindergartners. They were outside for recess playing basketball and the ball became wedged between the rim and the backboard.

The kids tried a bunch of unsuccessful solutions to get it down, which included (memorably) shouting at it, before someone finally tossed another ball at the stuck ball and hit it, which knocked it down.

kinder21 explained the “6 D’s” of Solution Fluency, and the process the kids had unwittingly gone through before finally hitting upon the one that worked.

It got me thinking: how do you get students — or anyone for that matter — to consider and follow those 6 steps every time they are faced with a problem? Do I do that? Could I hold myself to that standard? I visited the 21st Century Fluency Project’s site for a closer read of the D’s:

Define the problem, because you need to know exactly what you’re doing before you start doing anything.
Discover the history of the problem which provides context.
Dream Envision a future with the problem solved.
Design your solution in stages through gap analysis from Define to Dream.
Deliver the goods. Complete and publish your solution.
Debrief and foster ownership, by getting involved in the evaluation of the problem-solving process.

It seemed pretty reasonable, but somehow I couldn’t see myself printing the D’s out and hanging them on my classroom wall as a guide for my students to follow.

I thought about my own problem-solving process and compared it to the D’s, and realized I was more drawn to some of the stages than others.  If I had to follow the 6 D’s sequentially… well… I just would not necessarily do so every time, and my solution might suffer for it.

But they seem so sensible, what was my problem with the D’s? I read the description again and saw this preamble:

“This is about whole-brain thinking – creativity and problem solving applied in real time.”

Eureka! The key word for me was “whole-brain” thinking. It reminded me of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator test I took in college.  My mom is pretty well-versed in this area and had some good resources, so I investigated further.

You can read up on Myers Briggs, or just check out the chart below and think: where do my thoughts tend to go when I am faced with a problem that needs solving?

Is there one (or more) which seem too cerebral, too ethereal, too impulsive, or perhaps too inefficient? You will most likely be drawn to two of the quadrants (one top, one bottom).

Which quadrants represent for you the most comfortable way to begin the process of problem solving?

S: DEFINE THE PROBLEM
·  Face all the facts
·  See the situation as it is.
·  Be realistic and avoid wishful thinking or feeling that may distort the picture
·  What do we know for sure?
·  Who is involved?
·  What has gone before?
N: CONSIDER ALL THE POSSIBILITIES
·  List possible courses of action
·  Put these into words and make conscious
·  Develop a range of alternatives without analyzing or critiquing.
·  Don’t reject anything yet, keep brainstorming.
·  What solutions “leap out”
T: WEIGH THE CONSEQUENCES of each course of action
· What steps do you take to get there?
· What will happen if you do?
· List steps for each course of action
· Make an impersonal analysis of cause/effect
· Make a tentative judgment about what will give the best result
F: WEIGH ALTERNATIVES in terms of feeling.
· How deeply do you care about the things that will be gained or lost.
· How will this effect others?
· Impact on people
· Impact on values and sensibilities?
· Acknowledge subjective elements

Source: Myers, Isabel B., McCaulley, Mary H., Quenk, Naomi L., Hammer, Allen L. MBTI Manual: A Guide to the Development and Use of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, Consulting Psychologists Press, 3rd Edition, 1998.

Personally, I tend to operate out of the right-hand side of the box, so if I am approaching a problem I am thinking about the feelings of those involved, what obvious possibilities are “leaping out”, and I will begin to generate a list of ideas by brainstorming.

Someone who operates out of either of the quadrants on the left might not understand why I might approach it that way, and might see it as inefficient, but for me considering the effect on others and the having opportunity to creatively discover a solution appeals to my values and preferences.

I never would have considered a career in finance because of the type of thinking required. It’s not my strength! However, put me in a classroom with a group of learners who have a variety of strengths, needs and aspirations and ask me to give them skills in, and an appreciation for, world languages and culture and you’ve got the right girl.

We all have our own sets of values and preferences that might lead us down one path or another when faced with a complex problem to solve, and each type of person can make helpful contributions to the problem-solving process.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills designates Problem Solving as one of 6 essential, and currently not assessed, skills for students to learn, and describes it thus:

“…Solving complex, multidisciplinary, open-ended problems that all workers, in every kind of workplace, encounter routinely.The challenges workers face don’t come in a multiple-choice format and typically don’t have a single right answer. Nor can they be neatly categorized as “math problems,” for example, or passed off to someone at a higher pay grade.

Businesses expect employees at all levels to identify problems, think through solutions and alternatives, and explore new options if their approaches don’t pan out. Often, this work involves groups of people with different knowledge and skills who, collectively, add value to their organizations.”

If we imagine the Kindergartners with the stuck ball as representing a group of four distinct problem-solving “types” — S (sensing), N (intuition), T (thinking), and F (feeling) — working together to solve the problem, the conversation might have looked something like this:

Finn (F): Oh no! Johnny’s crying!
Samantha (S) : His ball is stuck!
Finn: We need to get it down!
Nick (N): Maybe we could parachute off the top of the school and kick it out as we fly by the net?
Tricia (T): No, that won’t work. We don’t have parachutes and we might get in trouble.
Finn: Johnny will be so upset if we can’t get it down, he got that ball for his birthday!
Samantha: Let’s see, what can we do?
Nick: How about we yell at it REALLY loud? Maybe we’ll scare it down!
Tricia: That didn’t work. Any more big ideas?
Finn: That was kind of mean Tricia.  Maybe we should get the teacher?
Samantha: Tricia, don’t criticize. Finn, go get the teacher.
Tricia: Sorry Nick. Maybe you could think of something that knocks the ball down without using things we don’t have, and without imagining that the ball has feelings.
Nick: Maybe a bird could hit it… I’ve got it! Maybe we could hit it with something?
Tricia: That’s more like it, but how could we hit it if we’re down here and it’s up there?
Samantha: (picks up a ball)
Nick: How about another ball? We could throw it!
Tricia: That’s quite logical actually, I think it could work!
Samantha: (aims ball at stuck ball)
Nick: Maybe if you stand with your back to it and throw it over your head…
Tricia: A simple, forward-facing shot will work, let’s just get it down.
Finn: Yay! It worked! You did it!
Samantha: I’m going to go bring it to Johnny.
Nick: That was cool! I really think we should try parachuting off the roof though…
Tricia: Great shot, Samantha.
Finn: GREAT shot Samantha! Johnny will be so happy!

In the conversation above, any of the kids might DEFINE the problem (the ball is stuck), though defining a problem is usually the realm of the fact-oriented S.

Certainly the feeling-oriented F would recognize the importance of solving the problem, and would generate the sense of urgency that would press the S into problem-solving action, rather than simply abandoning the ball and finding a new one to play with.

The fact-oriented S would give context to the problem (DISCOVER) that would help the others to break the problem down into manageable parts.

The N would begin generating possibilities (DREAM and DESIGN), some of them improbable, and the T would analyze and critique, thereby influencing the DESIGN.

The S would put the design to use (DELIVER), the T would analyze the results (DEBRIEF), and the F would celebrate the results (DEBRIEF).

What I am getting at is that we all do have the capacity to do all 6 of the D’s, and students would certainly benefit from some outright training in problem solving, but they will choose to use the D’s that make sense to them. “Dreaming” of a solution might sound hokey to some, while “Design a solution through gap-stage analysis” might sound overwhelming to others.

For me, Solution Fluency is about knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and recognizing the strengths in your teammates that fill in where yours leave off. For simple problems it is important to be able to work independently, but for the complex it is equally important to be able to work together.

RESOURCES:
http://www.fluency21.com/fluencies.cfm
http://www.p21.org/storage/documents/21st_century_skills_education_and_competitiveness_guide.pdf
http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/

Myers, Isabel B., McCaulley, Mary H., Quenk, Naomi L., Hammer, Allen L. MBTI Manual: A Guide to the Development and Use of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, Consulting Psychologists Press, 3rd Edition, 1998.

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Posted on 16 January 2012, in Solution Fluency and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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