In engineering it is called the engineering design process. In design, it is simply called the design process. There are many other names people use for the systems used to go from a problem to a solution. This strategy is one version out of many, but they all lead to the same results: finding the best possible solution to the problem given or discovered. Students have great creative thinking skills, but sometimes lack the problem solving and critical thinking skills to solve large complex problems. This strategy will help students identify a problem and then focus their energy to find the best solution to the problem.
Teacher Preparation and Planning:
Identify a theme from your unit of study or a broad area for students to explore. Depending on the subject area, this can range from migration of animals to single person dwellings. The point is to have a theme but leave it open enough that students have the freedom to explore and choose a focused topic that they are interested in. Then, select a text or Text Set on Newsela that aligns to that theme for students to read.
Determine the problem solving process to introduce to students.
There are several free resources that provide problem-solving processes that will fit the needs of the class. This strategy focuses on using a four step problem solving process (see resource section below).
Consider how the process will be delivered. Choices include:
Lecture/ Digital Presentation
Go through each step of the process providing examples for the students.
Video (Deep Dive)
The video included in the resource section below is a great example of how the design process is used in business to solve problems. Students can watch the video and then pause it to discuss when a step is being completed.
Student groups can find a problem solving process and research it and present their findings to the class.
In order to introduce students to the idea of a problem-solving process, have students identify a problem they faced in their life and how they solved it. Encourage students to reflect and provide as many details as they can about how they approached the problem and the results.
To further introduce students to the problem solving process, have them complete a Tower Build activity. The steps for the activity are as follows:
Give students minimal materials such as a single piece of paper and 6 inches of tape, and challenge them to build a tower that is 15 inches tall and holds a bounce ball at the top in 6 minutes. Students will have varying performances but for the most part the towers do not stand or are not tall enough.
Debrief with the students after the tower build activity in order for them to reflect on how well they performed and if their tower failed and why.
The purpose of this activity is to highlight the need to have a plan when facing an unfamiliar problem. This is a great activity to introduce a problem solving approach. Allowing the students to do this activity again after they learn the process is engaging and increases success of all groups.
Have students read an assigned article or Text Set on Newsela.
While students are reading, have them record the problem they feel is at the root of the article and any criteria or constraints that are presented in the article. The students notes can be recorded on a blank piece of paper, digitally, or using the graphic organizer linked in the resources.
NOTE: Students will have varying perspectives on what the actual problem is and it is good to point this out after the reading is completed and explain that we all have varying perspectives, and this is normal.
Newsela PRO Tip: The use of Annotations by the students and the teacher is an easy way to point out the information. The teacher may choose to highlight some indicators to help guide students to the problem, criteria, and constraints.
Students can record possible resources or topics for research they can use after they complete the reading.
Have students complete the Quiz and Write Prompt on the Newsela text they read and annotated.
Newsela PRO Tip: Customize the Write Prompt to have students create questions they have about the topic that they need to research. This will help students clarify their questions in writing and allow you to review the questions and help identify Newsela articles and other resources to answer these questions.
Have students begin researching their topics and brainstorming possible solutions to the problem they identified.
Web searches- This will be the fastest way for students to research their topics. Because the problems and the possible solutions will vary greatly, it may be somewhat difficult to find specific sources for students until after they identify the problem. When first starting out, using a search engine or government sites is a good starting point
Collaborating with your library is a great way to find resources for the students. Discuss the overall topic that your students are looking into and then provide a list of identified problems to your librarian and set up a time to come view the resources they have.
Collaborating with another content area is a great way to engage students in a big way. Other content areas can be the "expert" on a topic and conduct the research and then present that to the students in your class.
Have students evaluate their chosen solution and test it out in order to gather data from the tests. This data can be formal or informal.
For example: If a student was to redesign a chair, it would be great for students to setup a series of tests that look at the comfort, strength, stability, and durability. Students could create a survey to collect data from people trying out their design.
Have students implement their solution.
How this will look is going to vary depending on the topics. Try to keep an open mind, but remind students of the time frame they have and to be realistic with resources and time.
Examples; Physical model, computer generated model, drawing or sketch, website, TV or radio commercial
Have students create some sort of physical or visual presentation that they share with the class in a formal or informal format in order to demonstrate their problem and the solution.
Bringing in a professional related to the student topics or other teachers to watch the student presentations is a great way to make the entire process more authentic and provides the students with great feedback.
Some examples of professionals that have been used are: CEOs or heads of companies related to the problem, authors, other teachers, administrators and higher ed instructors that have a background in the area they are working in, scientists, government officials, and career specialists.
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