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Problem finding

April 10th, 2012

I’m still thinking about the question I asked myself in my earlier posting. I think the main way the learning opportunities I offered my students differed from ‘playing the whole game’ was that my students did not get to be problem finders. According to David Perkins, playing the whole game involves not just problem solving but problem finding that is, figuring out what the problems are in the first place. In the context of subject English, for example, I was good at selecting ambiguous texts with complex problems to solve, but I rarely gave my students the opportunity to be the problem finders – I had already taken for myself the fun and the challenge of finding the problems that I thought were worth solving.

Not so long ago I was involved in a research project where I observed a group of five-year-olds being offered the opportunity to be problem finders. Their teacher dedicated a week to reading and responding to Margaret Mahy’s The Lion in the Meadow and during this time a shared problem emerged from the collective analysis of the text that was child, not teacher, initiated. The problem related to the question of whether or not there really was a lion in the meadow. This problem deeply engaged the students. It was a problem that required thinking, explanation and justification. It was a problem that stimulated the ‘curiosity, discovery, creativity, and camaraderie’ that David Perkins identifies as indicators of a ‘whole game’ activity. I am interested in what being a problem finder in other learning areas might entail. Do you know of any examples?

(You can find out more about this series of lessons here  and here.)

 

Knowledge generation, Workshop 2012

  1. Silke
    | #1

    Hi David. Being a Problem Finder within Science could be just looking around in our physical world and put questions to what we observe: Why does toast become brown when it is toasted? Why is milk white? Why does water boil when you heat it? etc. But actually I think that the best teachers of how to be a Problem Finder will be smaller kids who are able to ask the most facinating and mindblowing questions. In Danish we have a song about this little boy who asks questions like “Why is the nail on my finger? Why dont I have eyes on my neck? Why do you always have to wear a hat (yes, the song is old!) ? etc etc ” until he is punished by the adults … So you need to find children who have their curiosity intact.
    A question: Why is it important to understand? Why is problem finding and solution important? When do we support our children and ourselves in just observing without analysing or judging?

  2. | #2

    Problem finding is an aspect of creative thinking too little recognized as above comments reflect. What may be important is to present students with complex situations and encourage them to gather data, analyze same and find those anomalies, irregularities, or areas where reality does not quite match the ideal. Therein we will find problematic situations and can then lead to further inquiry, purposeful investigations, critical/creative thinking. Some good examples in MBA programs ((http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_FHLFDTFfPQ) and design schools like Stanford (see 30 April, 2012 issue of The New Yorker)

    One question is How do we know we’re getting better either at problem finding or problem solving?

    John Barell
    http://www.morecuriousminds.com
    How Do We Know They’re Getting Better? Assessment for 21st Century Minds, K-8 (2012, Corwin)

  3. nzteacher
    | #3

    Hi Sue,
    I am currently in Dubai and the school I am at is exploring the emergent curriculum in relation to our understanding of Reggio Emilia. I see a lot of problems emerge from an environment where children are free to share what they are interested in or objects brought from home for “news”. An example of this was a bubble blower brought in for news and one of the boys wanted to make the biggest bubble. There is no end to possibilities when we start listening to children. Love your thinking.

  4. | #4

    Hi Sue, I’m interested in what problem(s) emerged from the children’s analysis of the text – and was this in your view or in the teachers’ view a different kind of problem than an adult reader might have seen in their reading of the text? In other words I’m interested not just in where the questions came from (teacher or students) but whether they were actually different kinds of questions altogether?

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