Creative Problem Solving Strategies

Students need to experience creative problem-solving opportunities to prepare for the 21stcentury. Adobe recently surveyed 2,000 educators and policymakers from around the world. Three quarters of respondents predicted that careers which require creative problem-solving skills are less likely to be adversely impacted by automation and machine learning. Students need to be taught these critical skills in school to be competitive in a changing world workforce.

But how can you bring creative problem solving in to your classroom effectively? Use these guidelines to support creative problem solving with your students.

  • You don’t have to ignore content.

Remember that problem solving activities are integral to every core content area. There are problems to be solved in history, geography, science, math, and language arts. It is a question of framing the experience. Rather than offering students a question with a single answer, provide open-ended questions that encourage the same content understanding. For example, instead of asking for the result of 5+5, ask students for factors that result in 10. Instead of memorizing and reciting historical events, encourage students to develop and analyze potential solutions and outcomes. Creative problem solving is a habit of thinking that encourages students to consider the multiple options and potential outcomes that are found in every content field.

  • Take time to reflect, redesign, and grow.

Using a framework that allows students to reflect on their solution, redesign, and grow is essential. In the real world, effective solutions are rarely achieved using the first prototype. Strategies for testing and analyze solutions and making changes give students experience in design processes found in virtually every career. Be sure to build time in to problem solving activities to take a break, evaluate, and make appropriate changes. Have students record these experiences to instill the importance of analysis, evaluation, and redesign for better solutions.

  • Make it safe.

Students need to feel safe to take risks. Therefore, be careful about tying student grades to creative problem-solving outcomes. This will encourage students to pursue easy, safe solutions. Instead, evaluate evidence of work and learning. When students aren’t worried about a fail-safe solution, they will pursue more creative, interesting possibilities that encourage growth and critical thinking.

  • Get comfortable without the answers.

When encouraging students to pursue their own creative solutions, teachers must reevaluate their role in the classroom. In traditional instruction, teachers are the providers of knowledge and hold all of the answers. In classroom creative problem-solving activities, teachers provide options for students to pursue their own solutions. Stand ready to offer options for research, team strategies, and encouragement—instead of THE answer.

A changing world requires classroom teachers to embrace new paradigms for instruction. I have used these guidelines in the development of our entire line of social studies and language arts products, but they can be used in the development of lessons across core curriculum areas. I hope these strategies help you to bring creative problem solving to your classroom.


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