Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Creative Problem Solving - A Map for Learning

I've been exploring the idea of creative problem solving as the big picture for all of education.  It can be considered the why behind everything we have to teach in schools.

To approach learning this way, step one would be to develop a language that consistently refers to the need for creative problem solving.  As individuals, members of society or inhabitants of planet Earth, we will always be faced with problems.  Personal success will depend on our ability to contribute to the process of problem solving.  It is as relevant to us in the large and small scale of our existence as much as anything.

Step two would be to identify where, in this problem solving process, any current learning falls.

Whether it's a topic in a content area or a skill for communication or technology, it can fit somewhere in the map.  Most likely a specific topic or skill could fit in many places.  The map provides a consistent picture that we can return to between subjects or grade levels and extend into the world beyond the school.

So besides just pointing out where the skill learned in today's Algebra class might be useful, we can also indicate where occupations lie.  If we are talking about how to creatively solve problems, we are always talking about "real life".  

I made the picture below as a draft for a visual display, but the essential flow is as follows:

Finding Resources
  1. Better define the Problem
  2. Gather tools or resources for continuing the process
Develop Solutions
  1. Incorporate existing knowledge, skills and tools
  2. Form new ideas - This is the heart of the process, where connections are formed.
  3. Evaluate options
Present Solutions
  1. Who needs to know?
  2. How can we best tell them?
I plan to elaborate on this a lot in the weeks ahead, but here are three things worth noting now:
  • There is a circular flow in the map between the main areas.  Notice that most solutions are going to end up as tools available to us for further problem solving.
  • There are countless problems to solve throughout the problem solving process.  In one degree or another, every step of a significant problem will likely contain smaller versions of finding, developing and presenting solutions.
  • It could be argued that creativity and problem solving are the same thing.  Then creative problem solving is nearly redundant.  I prefer to use the term to emphasize the importance of creativity throughout every stage of this process.  It's the oil of the machine and we can see the whole system grind to a halt in formal learning structures when it is absent.

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