problem solving

Developing 21st Century Skills: Problem Solving

Problem solving isn’t just a skill we memorize. It is a way of thinking about and approaching problems to ensure we know what the problem is and can get to a solution that makes sense.

Teaching kids to solve problems will help them stick with it through a solution and learn how to manage not only small everyday issues, but how to make good choices throughout their lives. Teachers who can help a child in a situation that they don’t know how to resolve can get them on the path to confidence and independence. The problem-solving skills learned in the classroom can be applied to social situations, academic study, and work environments. Taking the following steps in your classroom will help you develop the 21st century skill of problem solving in your students.

Set a Good Example

problem solvingEveryone makes mistakes—even teachers. Allow your students to know about a mistake you made, and talk with them about possible solutions. Ellen Booth Church in “How You Can Help Children Solve Problems” advises teachers to be a model for problem solving. “Model fluid thinking and a positive attitude as well as a process for solving the small problems of everyday life,” she recommends. Teachers can also make sure that the classroom itself is a place where students feel comfortable in admitting errors and helping their classmates with suggestions. Mistakes are our biggest learning opportunities—ensure you’re treating them that way.

Talk Through Problems

Whether it’s with just one student who can’t get geometry, or the whole class that can’t agree on a community project, lead a discussion about the problem. Once the problem has been identified, get a discussion started about ways to solve it. No solution is wrong one bad—encourage your students to be creative and work to build an answer while recording all of the suggestions. Talk about all of the ideas they came up with and help them select the best solution.

Encourage Problem Solving

problem solvingDon’t wait for problems to arise, but encourage students to tackle problems in your classroom. Whether it’s as simple as asking for ideas about what would be the best technology to use for creating a class newsletter or tackling solutions for a controversial topic in a current events discussion, encourage your students to use the problem-solving techniques they have learned. Practicing how to problem solve is the best way to learn the skill and develop a problem-solving mindset.

Plan for Problem Solving

Opportunities for problem solving are present in every lesson and it’s important to make sure your lesson plans include open-ended questions that have more than one correct solution or several correct solution paths. Be sure to allow time for students to discuss several solutions and find ways to learn from mistakes. Center at least part of the lesson on student discussion, limiting your role to asking guiding questions and assessing solutions. In this way, students will begin to trust themselves and their peers to solve problems instead of asking the teacher or looking to an adult for constant guidance and reassurance.

Teaching can take many forms and while lectures may sometimes be necessary to convey information, helping students learn problem solving must be approached in a format where ideas can be discussed, suggestions made, and mistakes analyzed. Creating confidence in your students so that they aren’t afraid of saying something wrong, but have the courage to try out an idea and learn from a bad choice starts them on the path of true problem solving.

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Sue Hamilton

Sue is a Pennsylvania native and graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a B.S. degree in English. She worked as a radio newscaster and newspaper reporter before becoming a paralegal in a small civil law firm. Reading is her passion and Sue is an avid volunteer with her community library.

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