“Why won’t you help me? You’re the teacher.”
“This project is going to take FOR…EVER. Ugh.”
“You mean I actually have to think on this assignment?!?”
Ever heard one these grumblings from one of your students? Believe it or not, it’s a good thing. It means your learning environment is transitioning. Our students are programmed to succeed in the traditional educational system. They want to continue to use BASIC while the world now requires them to know Objective C.
FACT: The recent shift to 21st century learning – promotion of skills like creativity, collaboration, problem-solving, curation, and innovation – is just as difficult for students to embrace as it is for teachers. Shocked?
Our kids are accustomed to the age-old game of content acquisition (passive learning) and testing (regurgitation). And many have gotten downright amazing at it. You know them. They’re typically your honor students. The ones who breeze through the homework and ace all your tests. They average a 98% or better in your class. And they’ve found a nice, warm, cozy niche in your educational environment. The problem is that information, once scarce, is now abundant and instantly available in today’s world.
So now, you’re challenging them to move. You’re asking them to take knowledge and do something with it (other than just spew it back to you). You’re asking them to design. Create. Innovate. Share. Debate. Present. Choose. Imply. Ask questions. Manipulate the content – and do so in a team with others.
It’s not going to be an easy adjustment for some of them. And, as teachers, we must understand the challenge involved in figuring out the rules of this new game – 21CL. So, what can we do to help our students then?
Have you encountered student resistance to 21CL activities in your classroom? How have you handled it? Found anything that works? Share your experiences with the E21 blog community. Comment on this post.
We have to “deprogram” our students by increasing the 21CL opportunities. We have to talk with them about the fact that the game is changing. Discuss the new “rules” when you implement a PBL unit. Explain that it may seem at times like you’re not teaching them, but that’s because you want them to learn. The active process is now theirs, not yours. It’s because you want them to take ownership of their own learning. Assure them that you are not abandoning them – and they can call on you for help and guidance as they explore. Expect mistakes along the way…and encourage your students to learn from failure. You are their 21st Century Tour Guide.
Failure is okay. Some of the world’s most successful people failed miserably while learning to succeed. Remind your students that they fail time and time again playing video games.
And yet, in the end, they always save the world.
Are you sick of all the talk about 21st century skills? I mean, we are almost 12 years into the new millennium. Some educational pundits go so far as to demand we stop using the term, but Chris Dede attempts to rationalize the “21st Century Skills” movement:
Inventing new problem-solving heuristics when standard protocols have failed is an important skill; when all diagnostics are normal, but the patient is still feeling unwell, for instance, a skilled physician can think outside the box and become an expert decision maker.
Our kids NEED to learn how to think outside the box. This isn’t always an easy skill for them to pick up. You see, they’ve grown accustomed to the 20th century educational method whereby the teacher provides the answers and the student regurgitates them on paper homework, quizzes, or tests to prove they’ve acquired knowledge. They have already mastered this educational “game” and they like winning it. Our students want to be able to finish tasks quickly and easily, with great success. But what they want isn’t necessarily what they need. How will they answer those difficult questions that may not have a clear or easily-accessible answer?
Dede goes on:
…the nature of collaboration is shifting to a more sophisticated skillset. In addition to collaborating face-to-face with colleagues across a conference table, 21st century workers increasingly accomplish tasks through mediated interactions with peers halfway across the world whom they may never meet face-to-face.
Our students NEED to be able to collaborate; this goes beyond mere communication skills. They need to be able to work in groups to achieve project success. They need to know how to use modern-day tools like Skype or Apple FaceTime to connect and work with colleagues on the other side of the world. The only way they are going to begin life after Heritage Hall with that skillset is if we, their teachers, allow them time and setting to develop the essential skill of collaboration.
I love the comparison Dede makes next:
Conventional, 20th century K-12 instruction emphasizes manipulating predigested information to build fluency in routine problem solving, rather than filtering data derived from experiences in complex settings to develop skills in sophisticated problem finding.
Ask yourself, “Do I provide ‘complex settings’ for my students to work in? Do I allow them to find problems instead of memorize information? Do my students create their own data?” Hopefully, the answers to these questions are affirmative. Our students live in an information age – in fact, some have called it the “Age of InfoWhelm.” As Dede suggests:
The ability to separate signal from noise in a potentially overwhelming flood of incoming data is a suite of 21st century skills.
The 21st Century Charger needs to be prepared and able to filter the meaningful information out of the endless deluge of data. He needs to be able to ask questions about the data and explore resolution to such problems in a journey mapped out by himself. It is critical that the teacher becomes the “guide on the side” in this process for meaning can only be 100% relevant when it originates from oneself (the student).
In the book I read, Dede refers to Henry Jenkins’ interesting list of digital literacies. They are: play, performance, simulation, appropriation, multitasking, distributed cognition, collective intelligence, judgment, transformed navigation, networking, and negotiation.
To me, those are clearly skills that would make a person successful in the world of the near-future. The question that lies ahead of us is…
How can we prepare our students for life and the workplace of their future?
Application: Expert Method
As a physics teacher, solution fluency is a skill always on my mind. All too often students respond to a physics puzzle with “I don’t know,” as if the solution was a bit of forgotten trivia. Instead of taking small steps that build toward solution, students attempt a single giant leap towards the answer. When this strategy fails – as it inevitably does for challenging problems – they are left with nothing.
As a part of a master’s degree I am pursuing with three other physics teachers, we are conducting action research into problem solving in physics. Although all four of us had already attempted to teach problem solving in our classes, our instruction was mostly ineffective (see psudoteaching). To be sure, our students could tackle problems relying on algorithmic like procedures. It’s hardly solution fluency to blindly follow memorized instructions though.
From the research we read, we discovered that the common types of “example problems” are grossly ineffective at improving student’s problem solving abilities. In hindsight, this is almost embarrassingly obvious since it is the teacher who builds up the problem, the teacher who supplies the logic and the teacher who evaluates the result. Problem solving, and physics in general, are not spectator sports. You can’t learn by watching experts any more then you could basketball.
There seems to be general consensus that experts effectively solve problems by systematically working from general to specific using the following steps:
- Translate the problem into their own words/pictures (i.e. understand the problem)
- Qualitatively describe the problem (i.e. what major ideas are relevant to the problems solution?)
- Quantitatively describe the problem (i.e. apply specific pieces of major ideas to understand the problem in more depth – in physics this often takes the form of a series of equations).
- Execute a solution (i.e. calculate/solve equations or graphs etc.)
- Evaluate the solution (i.e. use multiple independent checks to determine a solution’s validity)
We took this general problem solving strategy, applied it specifically to physics and then printed out papers for students to solve problems on called the “expert method.” (a picture is below)
Although our research is very much ongoing, there are promising signs. Completely on their own, one of my classes asked if they could have expert method sheets on the final (Yes!!!!!). Additionally, since I require students use the expert method on problems they get stuck on, and most of the steps can be completed even without getting the right answer, it is very easy for me to distinguish between those who didn’t get the homework because they didn’t understand vs. those who didn’t get the homework because of a lack of effort.
Overall, I think this expert problem solving method has potential far beyond its obvious applications in math and science. Just like we have powerful reading strategies, I think we should empower students with specific problem solving strategies. Hopefully students will internalize these strategies with practice.
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.
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.
Solution Fluency by Definition
Solution fluency is the ability to think creatively to solve problems in real time by clearly defining the problem, designing an appropriate solution, applying the solution then evaluating the process and the outcome.
According to 21st Century Fluency Project, there are 6 essential steps in creativity and problem solving-known as the Six D’s:
Define the problem, because you need to know exactly what you are 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.
Solution Fluency in the Classroom
I am so intrigued by this essential and complicated fluency. By definition, a fluency is something that is so mastered, it is fluent—smooth, done with ease, and done as if subconscious. Solution fluency in Kindergarten, at this point, I feel is almost non-existent. We continually work on problem-solving, but it’s as if that’s a far as we get. There is practically zero application from one problem to a similar one. Yes, kindergarten is a young age and for that I will be a little easy on them. I don’t want to overlook my classroom examples though. I will try to throw in a positive example too.
One of my kindergartners found an extra marker lid in her cubby. A moment later, a child sitting at her table announced that he lost his lid to his marker. The girl asked me what to do with the lid. I said, “talk to the people at your table, it sounds like you can figure it out.” The boy without a lid said to the girl, “Hey, I don’t have a lid.” The girl with the extra lid said, “Miss Duty, can I throw my lid away? I can’t find a marker without a lid in my cubby.”
These two kids somewhat discovered the problem at hand, yet could not dream of a possible future with the problem solved. Their thinking did not take them far—there was no thinking. What I have noticed is that these kids require so much affirmation and are so dependent, that their own personal thinking is not up to their full potential. I have found similar scenarios everyday. In fact, while talking with another teacher (a fourth grade teacher), we discovered we could record 50 examples a day of lack of problem-solving skills.
I spent some time explaining to the Lower School teachers the 21st century fluencies and how they apply to us. I made an effort to have conversations with teachers across the school on Solution Fluency. My conversation with the fourth grade teachers struck me most. While my days in kindergarten are filled with problems like the aforementioned “marker lid” example, I found it very interesting that even in fourth grade, these situations are still occurring.
I know that Solution Fluency connected to 21st Century Learning involves higher-levels of thinking and even goes as far as technology-use. However, my concern is with basic common-sense. A question/concern I have heard now repeatedly in the Lower School is: My students can’t solve problems or do any thinking…I don’t want technology to be another resource or chance for them to skip the thinking process. How can we keep technology as a useful tool, but not let it take place of thinking, especially when these kids show very little problem-solving/higher-level thinking skills as is?
Many teachers came to me with examples of lack of problem solving. I would like to share a quick list, rather than diving into each one.
-A fourth grader received a poster to complete her project. She noticed that her poster had a mark on it. She asked what she should do. The teacher asked, “What do you think you could do to make it work?” The child could not come up with a solution. The teacher was shocked that after turning the poster around in different ways and staring at for several minutes that the child could not think to use the back of the poster, or even try to erase or wipe-off the mark.
-Two 1st graders were sharing the loft as a listening center. One child put on a headset and the other child wanted to listen to the story too. When asked what the children could do to solve the problem, one girls suggested that they take off the headphones at the end of every page and then switch. The teacher asked, “Do you think you will hear the whole story that way or just every other page?” The girls did not have a clue how to think of an alternative solution.
-A fourth grade teacher purposely prints extra spelling lists, important notes for the week, etc and posts them on the wall at the front of the room. She has done this since the first week of school. A boy-in the 2nd week of November-said that he can’t find his spelling list and grows upset and confused. The teacher said, “Well, what can you do about it?” The boy grew frustrated and couldn’t think of a solution. She reminded him to “look around the room for clues, like we always do”. The boy did not figure out that the extra lists on the board were available until someone directed him there. Apparently, that was the fourth kid in one month with the same problem.
I want to emphasize that these are not examples from the same kids over and over. If I listed all the examples of poor solution fluency, you would need a whole day or two to read them. My point: Solution Fluency is essential. What can we do to improve on this? In our last e21 meeting, I recall teachers commenting on 9th graders inability to find solutions in simply logging into email and other various simple computer skills.
Third grade partners were in the hall working on math. I heard them getting frustrated (they were doing story problems). I stopped to ask them how it was going. They said, “We don’t like this! We can’t figure out how to solve this problem and we usually get more help.” The kids went on to explain that it is much easier when teachers guide them through problems and that third grade is much harder because they didn’t get as much help. I was pleased to hear that at least one of the 3rd grade teachers is allowing these kids time to think for themselves. (example of the math problem they were on: There are two things that together equal 6 legs at the zoo. Figure out what the two things could be.–something to that effect)
I have found that these kids need affirmation. Affirmation for turning their paper in the right spot, affirmation in that the child wrote in his/her agenda correctly, affirmation that he walked in the hall nicely, or affirmation that he cleaned up his own mess. These kids are so dependent on others, that I believe Solution Fluency will be our biggest challenge. I don’t think it is impossible, but I think it will be difficult to completely let go and let kids do the discovery, dreaming, and designing of solutions. My concern has become how the students’ home lives are connected to their ability at school. Many parents are so caught up in wanting their child to be successful that they are doing a disservice by doing too much for them. Other parents are busy and find it easier to just do it for them rather than allow a teaching moment.
These kids need to grow independence. While I know in the middle and upper school there will be a different response to this fluency, I felt strongly about pointing out the serious need for solution fluency. I am very anxious to hear how other e21 members will address this fluency. I am simply addressing it as it came to me in my environment, the Lower School.
Researching this fluency has been an enlightening eye-opener for me. I will say that now this is on my mind, I am doing my best to allow for opportunities in my classroom to witness this fluency in action. In kindergarten, it takes patience. These five and six year olds need time to process the fact that there is a problem and that they are capable of finding their own solution. A positive example of good problem-solving in the classroom would be from the second week of November. We were on the playground when some of my students smelled smoke. The girls couldn’t see any smoke and really wanted me, the teacher, to tell them where it was coming from. I said, “I don’t see the smoke either. Do you think I know where it is coming from?” The girls figured out that I didn’t know either and rather quickly, one girls shouted, “Let’s go to the top of the playground toy and see if we can see it from up high!” I was elated that someone in my class would have dreamed of the possibility and designed a potential solution, and so quickly! She delivered the goods by sharing it with her friends and leading the way to the top! After they looked around the skyline for smoke, the girls unknowingly debriefed the situation—they evaluated that they were not high enough to see the smoke or that there were too many buildings in the way.
Solution Fluency at Heritage Hall
How the teachers in the Lower School feel about Solution Fluency and how the teachers facilitate healthy problem-solving methods will most certainly affect how these kids enter the more “independent world” of middle school. Let alone, their ability to survive and thrive in the Upper School with the ability to use the Six D’s, and better yet, leave Heritage Hall with the confidence and fluency in finding creative solutions in the real world. We want these kids to leave Heritage Hall and be marketable, employable, and good citizens—we can’t expect much out of these kids if they are still dependent, desiring affirmation in all that they do, or struggling with dreaming a possible solution to a problem. It all starts in the Lower School! How these kids see and attack problems at school and at home as young kids will definitely shape their experience and future designs of problem solving.
There is a lot of teaching and learning to do as teachers. How can we help facilitate and encourage Solution Fluency without doing too much? We have to allow kids to discover and dream up creative possibilities on their own. How will Heritage Hall going 1:1 affect the students’ acquisition of the fluencies?
Solution Fluency Resources
from http://www.fluency21.com/fluencies.cfm: “Creative Fluency is the process by which artistic proficiency adds meaning through design, art and storytelling. It regards form in addition to function, and the principles of innovative design combined with a quality functioning product.Creative Fluency extends beyond visual creative skills, to using the imagination to create stories, a practice which is in demand in many facets of today’s economy. It is widely regarded by many successful industries that creative minds come up with creative solutions.There is tremendous value in the artistic creation of items in order that they may transcend mere functionality.”
So today I introduced my students to their creative project for the semester: Build Your Own Utopia. I thought this would be something fun for them–a chance to flex their imagination muscles but still demonstrate an understanding of the ideas we’ve been discussing all semester long. Yet I heard over and over again from students: “This is HARD!” or “This requires me to think!” (insert shocked expression). The assumption on their part was that something creative should be easy and thoughtless. Maybe one way of understanding this is by looking at the difference between imagination and creativity.
Oklahoma‘s recent National Creativity World Forum 2011 (www. stateofcreativity.com), explains on their website that “ Imagination is the capacity to conceive of what is not yet present or manifest. Creativity is imagination applied (“imagination at work”) to do or make something that flows from the prior capacity to conceive of the new.” My students have imagination (they can come up quickly with some off the wall zany idea never heard of before), but when it comes to applying that imagination (creativity) they realize that its not enough to just come up with an idea, it has to be made meaningful and requires a lot of problem solving that they didn’t anticipate.
I’ll let you know how it goes.