How we problem-solve… creatively
With the da Vinci Decathlon being held in both our Junior and Senior Schools at Ascham this week, the thinking caps are firmly in place! Mrs Michelle Baddams, Coordinator of Enrichment Programs (Prep to Year 6), explains here how we embrace creative problem-solving at Ascham and why it is an essential tool for students today.
Creative Problem-Solving (CPS) is a term that has been used in schools and workplaces for decades—since the 1940s in fact. Testament to its strength as an approach, there have been many iterations over time but they all trace back to the work of Alex Osborn, founder of the Creative Education Foundation. Unsurprisingly, Osborn was also the first to coin the term ‘brainstorming’, a concept which has undeniably stood the test of time in countless different settings—it most certainly remains commonplace inside Ascham’s classrooms.
Essentially, CPS is a proven method for approaching a problem in an innovative way. It helps us to redefine problems as opportunities, find novel solutions and set to work. The method continues to be successful decades later because it is founded on two clear assumptions:
1. Everyone is creative in some way; and
2. Creative skills can be learned and enhanced.
In developing his CPS method, Osborn identified two distinctly different types of thinking essential to creativity: convergent thinking and divergent thinking. It is somewhat reassuring to note that we all use both types daily, instinctively. Marrying the two, however, to harness our inherent creativity and apply it to problems or challenges in a purposeful manner, is easier said than done.
At its core, divergent thinking is the ‘brainstorming’ component. It allows for generation of an endless number of ideas with the goal of moving beyond obvious ideas and achieving a breakthrough. Convergent thinking, on the other hand, is the application of rules and criteria. These are applied to the plethora of ideas gathered during the divergent thinking phase with the intent that the ideas can become achievable innovations. Convergent thinking provides the tools needed to analyse, select, evaluate and refine ideas whilst ensuring an element of newness remains.
To get the most out of the CPS process, we need to separate the idea generation (divergent thinking) from the analysis of ideas (convergent thinking). For if we do both simultaneously, we risk stifling our creativity and our decision-making becomes biased. In essence, we need multiplicity of thought and we need the skills to achieve it now more than ever.
CPS has potentially has never been more relevant. Yes, it has been significant in fostering incredible innovation since its inception but given today’s rapidity of change, never has the need for the skills and mindset required to find new ways to adapt and evolve been greater.
Consequently, here in the Ascham Junior School we are more determined than ever to develop CPS skills in our girls. As teachers we inherently want the best for our students. And as Ascham teachers, we also want for our girls to be achieving at the top of their individual games. We want for them to be well prepared. We want for them to be willing to take measured risks and to try new things. We want for them to be forward-thinking and to see new possibilities. Yet innate to the human experience, our girls will encounter hurdles in their daily lives and along their life journeys. Hence the reason we are so determined to equip them for life. These hurdles won’t just be problems to solve in the process of their careers and professional lives—among others, there will be personal challenges, friendship difficulties, health issues and struggles on the sporting field. And when these hurdles do arise, we want for our girls to be equipped with the skills and the confidence to find fresh perspectives and innovative ways to tackle them.
So how exactly do we facilitate such a lofty goal?
Akin to Osborn’s assumptions, in the Junior School we view creativity as a skill to be learned and enhanced. We also believe that each of our girls is creative in some way (often many ways). Grounding our teaching and learning on these assumptions, the skills and principles of CPS are developed in both an explicit and intentionally subtle manner.
Explicitly, CPS in taught through the design-thinking process in our numerous and diverse STEAM initiatives across Hillingdon (P-2) and Fiona (Years 3-6). Examples of this are as diverse as the designing of bird-deterring lunchboxes in Kindergarten, to the creation of solar ovens in Year 3 that address energy generation issues in remote areas, to Year 6 developing and coding an early warning system to mitigate the extent of damage in a natural disaster.
CPS is also front and centre when we embrace the challenges inherent in external academic events and competitions. The upcoming Knox Grammar da Vinci Decathlon is one such competition. It is designed to stimulate and challenge young minds, placing particular emphasis on higher-order thinking skills and CPS. The Tournament of Minds, which extends across Terms 2 and 3, is another competition where CPS is emphasised. In this international competition, in which authentic and open-ended problems are posed, the intention is to foster creative, divergent thinking whilst also developing collaborative enterprise and teamwork.
In the classroom, we subtly embed the principles of CPS throughout the Junior School curriculum. In aiming to create authentic experiences that enhance the scope and depth of learning, we adopt a multidisciplinary approach where CPS is central to learning objectives. Examples of this approach could be teaching geometry through art or geography through fiction. We also foster CPS through philanthropic initiatives by using emotional connections to devise solutions to help others overcome obstacles. Collective practice is undoubtedly where we best develop CPS skills. In no particular order, in our practice we:
- allow time for questions
- encourage mistakes
- respond to curiosity
- embrace difference
- allow space for creativity
- create emotional connections
- defer judgement
- create environments that support individual expression
- explore all perspectives
- foster autonomy and independence
- encourage appreciation for how we learn
- employ varied and pertinent thinking routines
- use technology
- challenge ideas; and
- discuss lateral thinking.
In a nutshell, if we can achieve our collective goal to equip our girls to find fresh perspectives and innovative ways to tackle challenges, they won’t just overcome the hurdles they encounter—in true Ascham style they will leap over them, leaving dust in their wake!