Problem Creators

“Begin with the most obvious worst idea, and put it up on the board. That means no other idea can be worse, and it builds the confidence of all the participants.” — Ellen Crews

Without a clearly defined process, I have seen many students be quick to judge others’ problem-solving ideas. Some students didn’t fully understand the benefits of a peer’s idea, others could quickly identify a reason it wouldn’t work out, and still others wanted their own idea used no matter what. Since social-emotional factors are so important, maybe a better starting point would be to  involve students in problem creation right off the bat.

At Vista Innovation & Design Academy in California, design thinking has made its way to the center of curriculum and instruction. While many problem-solving models exist, this approach features a six-step process.

  1. Identify — Within a discipline, find a problem.
  2. Empathize — Who will be helped?
  3. Focus — What is needed, and who needs it?
  4. Ideate — Brainstorm without fear of failure.
  5. Create — Make a prototype.
  6. Test — Try out the solution.

Inviting students to pose problems is also a key aspect of Dan Meyer’s approach to math instruction. If you haven’t seen his TED talk, I highly recommend it! These problems can affect how students use a mathematical lens to look at the world around them. Also, here is a scripted lesson demonstrating his Three Act Problem Solving approach.


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