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Future Focused Skills: Problem Solving

Uncategorized Jun 22, 2020
Future Focused Teaching & Learning is all about helping to prepare students for a successful future, however many of the jobs that they will have don’t even exist yet. In order to prepare them effectively, we need to equip them with important 21st century skills so that they can be resilient, adaptable, and deal with future problems or challenges that may arise.
Every month I will focus on one ‘future focused’ skill, where I outline what the skill is, why it is important, and what kind of strategies and techniques can be used to develop them in the classroom. 
The skill of the month for June 2020 is real-world problem solving. 
As the name suggests, real-world problem solving is all about tackling authentic, relevant problems that exist in the real world today, and into the future. Some examples include: 
  • Climate change
  • Food security
  • Water scarcity
  • Racism 
  • Gender discrimination
  • Human trafficking 
  • Plastic pollution 

Of course the list could go on and on! 

Why is it important? 
Allowing students the opportunity to investigate and propose solutions to real-world problems is important for a number of reasons: 
  • Student empowerment and voice: students often appreciate the opportunity to make a contribution to society or to make an impact in the real world. It helps to make them feel heard and gives them a voice. 
  • Gives them purpose - it helps students to realise that the purpose of learning is not just to pass a test, but to develop important life-long skills and to make a real difference in the world.
  • Makes the learning more relevant and engaging: if students can see that the learning is relevant, it makes it more meaningful to them and they are more likely to engage. 
  • Develops other important skills - whilst tackling these problems, students also learn how to collaborate with a partner or a group in order to solve problems, and they will often need to think critically about issues. They also may need to get creative and ’think outside of the box’ when it comes to proposing solutions. 
  • Encourages connections with the wider community - real-world problem solving may involve getting out into the wider community, or interviewing people who are being affected by the issue. This helps to make the learning even more real to them, and helps to develop wider perspectives. 
What are some strategies that can be used in the classroom to develop real-world problem solving? 
You can either develop this skill through short class activities or longer assessment tasks. 
First of all, it is a matter of working out what part of your curriculum would be most suited to problem-solving activities. Once you have figured this out, you can then use your content as a medium for the skill development. The basic steps to creating an activity or assessment task to develop real-world problem solving skills are: 
  1. Set the scene/ explain the problem - for example, “The year is 2040 and the world is running out of food”, and proceed to outline it in more detail, using statistics and case studies to further illustrate the extent of the problem. 
  2. Set the task: eg. ‘You have been selected to be part of a special team that will investigate the cause of this problem and come up with a solution to be presented to the government’. 
  3. Depending on your time limit and the amount of scaffolding that your students require, you can then direct them towards specific resources, or you could leave it to them to conduct their own research. 
  4. If it is a long-term project, make sure you build in accountability systems by providing clear expectations around timeframes and key deliverables (eg. Action plans, research notes, etc). 
  5. Either tell them exactly how you want them to present their findings, or give them some choice (again this will depend on your timeframes and the abilities and characteristics of your students). 
  6. Something else that is important to consider is what will happen with the presentation of findings. If it is just submitted to the teacher and then nothing else happens with it, students may question the point of engaging in these types of activities. Perhaps the findings could be presented to a different audience, such as the school admin, parents, the local council, business owners, the local newspaper, or the local member of parliament? Or maybe they could send it even further into the wider world through the means of the internet, whether that be a website, YouTube, social media, etc (depending on your school policies and parental permission). 
During these types of activities, the teacher’s role is more of a facilitator. Rather than providing students with the answers, the teacher’s job is to provide prompts, feedback and guidance on the learning process. It’s more about posing questions that will help students think about things differently, or to get them back on track. 
Taking it a step further…
My favourite way of developing real-world problem solving skills is by designing the teaching and learning program to revolve around a big-picture question that is centred on a problem, issue, challenge, or hope for the future. I find that there are many benefits to this, as it helps to streamline the content, freeing up more time to spend on developing these important skills. It also makes the learning much more relevant and meaningful to students, as everything is taught through the context of that particular problem. 
If you would like to learn more about this particular strategy, you might want to register your interest for the ‘Cut Curriculum Chaos’ course,  so that you can be notified of its next availability. 

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