Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Teacher Creativity Skill: Solve a Problem

One of the essential skills that we all need to develop is the ability to solve our own problems. As we travel through life encountering and responding to problems, we develop a larger and larger palette of tools with which to solve the next problem. Building that toolbox helps us to feel confident in our ability to approach the world creatively.

In the Digital Age, we have a world of resources and opportunities to not only help us find answers and practice problem-solving, but to give us the resources for imagining and developing our own solutions to problems. Our Internet-enabled world can help us become better problem-solvers and can help us develop those skills in our students. I've shared just a few areas and resources below.

Finding An Answer

What did you do BG (Before Google)? I know that we often take our ability to find an answer at a moment's notice for granted, but it truly is an amazing gift to be able to access so much information with such ease. I often tease my kids when they ask a question to which there is an obvious "right answer" for not going right to their phones. I say, "If only there were some sort of device that was connected to a network of information and resources..." They roll their eyes, but this just goes to show you that just because we have the ability to get information this way, it doesn't mean that we have the workflow or skills to put that into practice. We all forget that we can use the Internet this way. Even my most tech-savvy colleagues will occasionally give me the opportunity to use the Let Me Google That For You Web Tool.

So one thing we can learn for ourselves and help our students learn is the ability to search for information well on the Internet. There are many great blog posts like this one that will give you handy tips and tricks for searching Google effectively. (If you want more, google "How to search Google effectively). If you are teaching these skills to your students, I'd definitely recommend Google Search Education and this infographic as a starting place.

Beyond Google, there are plenty of other ways to search for information on the web. There are, of course, plenty of other search engines and tools. More importantly, though, the Internet is a social space where you can ask a question directly to human beings. My favorite method for this is to ask a question on Twitter or in one of the Google+ communities that I belong to. Also, if there is a particular person to whom you would like to address a question, it is not hard to locate their contact information online and then reach out to them. I've often been pleased to find out that authors, thought leaders, and celebrities are more than willing to reply to an email, a tweet or a post on their social media pages.

Learning a Skill

I'm often surprised that people I talk to feel that they don't have time to learn how to do simple things. That is a mindset from a different era. If I could teach everyone just one lesson, it would be how to find instructional resources online. When I don't know how to do something, I don't call an expert first. I look to see if anyone has created a tutorial online. YouTube is an amazing resource for this. I use the search box to look for my topic (e.g. how to change a dyson vacuum belt) and I am presented with a list of video tutorials that step me through the process.

There are thousands of sites that are dedicated to helping people learn how to do all kinds of things. Check out this great list to learn about just a few of them. Some of my favorite places to learn new skills include: MindTools, DIY.org, LifeHacker, Instructables, MAKE, and Howcast. Of course, depending on what you want to learn, there are also great resources that are more focused on a particular topic. And again, there are great ways to connect with folks who share your passions through social media. Pinterest is an excellent example of a digital space where people share what they have learned to do.

Thinking Through a Problem

The digital world is a great place to sort through a problem as well. Anyone can collect great data to help them look at a problem using any number of online polling and survey tools. People can also map out their thinking using visualization and mind-mapping tools. Then, of course, if a digital solution to the problem is appropriate, there are hundreds of amazing tools that can be brought to bear on the project individually or in a combined form.

In fact, that is the healthiest way to think of digital tools. While a tool by itself has some functionality, it is when we use the tools we have together that we produce the best results. Try building a birdhouse with just a hammer or just a saw. Recently, I created this video during a workshop:

In order to create that product, my partners and I used a combination of GarageBand, Thumbjam, email, text, PhotoShop, BeFunky, Camtasia, and of course, YouTube.

We didn't set out to use all of those tools, but we pulled from the tools that we knew how to use to create the experience we were looking for (i.e. to solve the problem at hand).

Gaming for Practice

Another way that technology can help to build problem-solving skills is through gaming. Having students explore and create with games like Minecraft, solve puzzles digitally, and even create their own games is an under-utilized strategy in education. List list below represent just a few great resources to explore in this area:

TED Talks Gaming Playlist
PBS Kids Problem-Solving Games
The Problem Site
30 iPad Games for Your Brain

Problem-Solving Skills

Of course, ultimately we need to be purposeful in how we approach  problem-solving for ourselves and with our students. Creating environments in which students can safely take on the role of problem-solver is the focus of many of the most compelling initiatives in learning, including Project-Based Learning, Design Thinking, and the Maker Movement.

Learning about these pedagogical approaches is a great first step for bringing problem-solving skills to the classroom. While a Google search will get you there, You might want to begin with some of the premiere educational sights like Edutopia, TeachThought, Edudemic, and MindShift.

Our Challenge

Giving students the opportunity to identify problems and design and execute solutions is a big step from what goes on in the traditional teacher-centered classroom. Learning how to do this so that students develop confidence in their own abilities to creatively approach the world with a will to make things better takes a similar effort on our part to imagine classrooms that meet this need. Fortunately, we live in a time and place in which the the tools and community exist to make this a reality.

photo credit: colemama via photopin cc
photo credit: torbakhopper via photopin cc


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.