Gifted students crave creative problem solving experiences. The gifted classroom can be a problem solving playground where students discover problems and solutions.
Offering gifted students problems to solve with fluent, flexible thinking is an important element of gifted curricula, especially at the middle school level and beyond. Students are ready for abstract thinking, and many students are aware that the "real world" is full of abstract problems. In creative problem solving, a students learn apply divergent thinking and "out of the box" ideas to solve real problems.
Teaching Creative Problem Solving by Explaining What Questions are Asking
The first phase of creative problem solving is understand what type of answer a question is truly seeking. Providing students with a list of question terms and the type of answers they require will offer clarity throughout the unit. Having such a list not only helps students answer questions, but it will help them phrase questions more correctly.
The following list should be provided to students and posted in the classroom. It is not necessary to make students memorize the list; gifted students will likely pick up on these standards innately.
There are several sources to find problems that students can use fluency and flexibility to answer. One ready and willing source is parents. Teachers can use a newsletter to contact parents and request real problems that require creative solutions. It is important to note that the parents do not have to have a solution; the students will be coming up with solutions to offer.
Parents should submit problems they encounter during daily life, from difficulties parking at the soccer field to interesting problems at work, or even national issues to which there seems "no answer". Including parents in question gathering has the bonus effect of increasing parent involvement.
An Activity to Generate Creative Questions and Answers
Gifted students tend to read at a higher grade level than their peers, and the gifted classroom can utilize that high reading level by offering a variety of "odd news" articles. Secondary students may want to research their own articles, but upper elementary and younger middle school students should have articles provided to them unless the class is also learning research skills.
Students should choose an "odd news" article, and read it quietly. Then, students should come up with as many questions as they can based on the article, using the different question terms of how, what, when, where, who , and why. Not every news story will lend itself to every term. After the teacher has proof-read the question, the student should write down each question on a card.
Without knowing anything about the news articles, other students in the class (or other classes) should draw out questions and try to answer them. They should use fluency to come up with a list of potential answers, and they should use flexibility to have a variety of categories of answers. Then, after reviewing their answers, students should write the most practical or likely answer on the back of the card.
Grading Creative Problem Solving
At the end of a creative problem solving activity, students should be have an answer to the problem. The quality of the answer is subjective, but any answer is a start. As students are offered more opportunities to solve problems, teachers should raise their expectations on the quality and quantity of answers. Grading in the gifted classroom is different than other classrooms, because the problems students face are often subjective. Creative problems solving lessons need clear grading standards.
At the end of a creative problem solving unit, students should be able to face a variety of problems with confidence. They should be able to come up with a variety of responses, and some should be unique, while others should reflect popular thinking. If questions are well-phrased well, students are well-prepared, teachers should have high expectations for their students to solve a variety of problems in a variety of ways.
Originally posted on Suite101 on October 8th, 2008.
Ally Sharp is a teacher, writer and editor, and technology trainer.