When developing any curriculum, the ultimate goal for educators is to create a structure that teaches children a particular set of knowledge they can apply situationally to solve problems. Regardless of the area of study, however, problem-solving skills are the common denominator to constructively deal with any challenge in life, including outside of academics.
Problems are inevitable, so problem-solving skills are vital to life: “Whether in school, work or in their social relationships, the ability to critically analyze a problem, map out all its elements and then prepare a workable solution is one of the most valuable skills one can acquire in life,” according to Resilient Educator. All teachers can agree on this idea. So, what are the best ways to instill these skills in students?
There are many ways that teachers can purposefully develop curricula with lessons for problem-solving baked into their class structure and learning strategies. The more students practice these skills in a classroom, the more prepared they are to apply them in real-life situations. These practices can also begin at a young age, with the skills scaling up with students as they grow older.
Building Blocks for Solving Problems
Let’s look at a few of the most basic and essential problem-solving elements and strategies.
Break the whole into simpler parts. Attempting to tackle a complex problem all at once can be overwhelming and unconstructive, so understanding how to break it down into smaller pieces is essential.
Recognize patterns. When students can recognize recurring or highly structured items and how they direct our attention, they can determine more quickly how to interpret the information and act on it more efficiently.
Focus on relevant information. The ability to parse through a larger piece of information featuring different concepts and identify which items are relevant to understanding key ideas is critical.
Use current information to understand the past. Students should be able to extrapolate ideas and use information from one context to understand ideas in another.
Classroom Applications and Opportunities
The ways educators teach their students these skills vary greatly depending on their age or maturity levels. The problem-solving skills timeline from Big Life Journal’s blog illustrates those differences. At younger ages, students learn to emotionally process and deal with problems. Lessons are focused more on students’ ability to be comfortable with difficulty, failure and the search for a solution. These lessons lay the groundwork for higher-level problem-solving capacities.
Activities to practice with younger ages include “emotional coaching,” or asking children to identify emotions and helping to process them. These interactions progress to higher-level thinking processes that focus on diagnosing the problem and its causes and brainstorming ways to solve it. Students eventually learn the best methods to break down problems and process them.
As students get older, the scaffolding for these lessons becomes less rigid. They must do more of their own independent thinking. The focus shifts to more open-ended questions and analysis as students learn to consider all dimensions of a problem and its potential effects before arriving at a solution.
Resilient Educator has a list of five activities for students of all ages to build problem-solving skills, including collecting solutions from students as a group or brainstorming alternative endings to a story — truth or fiction. These activities help to open students’ ways of thinking by challenging existing narratives or having them compare different potential outcomes. Students must look at an issue, then consider whether a response would be appropriate.
Advancing Curriculum Skills
Being able to consistently infuse problem-solving practices into the curriculum is not always easy, particularly as educators are always learning new information about the different ways students learn. At Mississippi College, the Education Specialist in Educational Leadership – Curriculum and Instruction online program deepens graduates’ understanding of the best ways to introduce problem-solving skills into curriculum and instructional design and strategies.
Mississippi College’s coursework also includes a look at age-appropriate teaching strategies and the science of learning, providing graduates with a look at key concepts and characteristics that factor into learning designs and teaching methods. As a result, graduates will be prepared to create curricula that can effectively instill these fundamental skills.