Solving a Class Problem

March 30, 2014

Here's a 7-step process your students can use to practice their problem-solving skills - and solve an actual problem while they're at it!

1.  Have students list as many classroom problems as they can think of in five minutes.  Problems might be ones students confront in the class, the school, or the neighborhood.  List the problems and take a vote, eliminating the items with the least votes and going through the list again until you have decided on a problem to focus on.

Or, if you prefer, you can use the following hypothetical problem:  

There's a vacant lot in your neighborhood that looks awful because some people are using it to dump their garbage.  One group in the neighborhood wants to make it into a garden for senior citizens.  Another group wants to make the area into a playground for children.  

2.  Introduce the following problem-solving steps and explain that everyone can be a problem-solver.

  • Define the problem.
  • Identify as many alternative solutions as possible.
  • Evaluate the possible solutions.
  • Choose one solution and act.

3.  Define the problem.  
Describe the problem without taking sides and without blaming anyone.  Focus on the problem rather than the people involved, then break the problem down into its components.  

For the hypothetical problem:

  • What can be done about the people dumping their garbage in the lot?  
  • How can constructive things be done with the garbage (recycling, composting)?
  • How can growing food on the lot help the food supply of the people in the neighborhood?
  • What are the needs of the senior citizens? 
  • What are the needs of the young people?  

4.  Have students brainstorm as many solutions as possible in five minutes.

5.  Evaluate the solutions.  Identify the strengths, weaknesses, and consequences of each solution.  Ask:

  • What are some things that might follow if ___________?
  • Does this solution solve the problem?
  • Is it workable?
  • Is it fair to everyone involved?  
  • Is the solution specific: does it tell who will do what, when, where, and how?

6.  Have the class choose a solution.  Rather than accepting a majority vote, try to find a solution everyone will accept.

7.  If you have been working on a real classroom problem, you will get a chance to find out whether the solution chosen works.  After it has been in operation for a time, evaluate it.  Ask:

  • What has been successful about this solution?
  • Are there difficulties with it?