If we want students to be problem solvers, we have to give them chances to solve problems.
Hello blog world! This post has been in process for a month and a half now, and this evening I finally felt I had the right words to write. You see-empowering my students to problem solve is something I am very passionate about. I believe it helps build their self-confidence, allows them to take risks in a safe environment and helps them build skills that their future employers are looking for. I think problem solving is a skill that teachers, parents and society as a whole wants our kids to have. With that in mind, I am going to give you some ideas of how I empower my students to develop their problem solving skills in my classroom, and I hope that it may inspire you to think about how you are empowering your students as well.
One of the very first ways that I help my students develop their problem solving skills is by creating routines and procedures in my classroom that help them learn how to problem solve. This begins at the beginning of the year and continues throughout. Routines and procedures give students something to reference back to when they aren't sure what to do. These routines also include-what do I do if I am not sure what to do? This is a very subtle way of empowering students. If you aren't sure what to do if your pencil broke, ask your friend. As adults, if I am not sure how to do something I seek out a colleague, family member or trusted advisor that can help, and I figure it out from there. Students also need this flexibility. This doesn't mean that they are not responsible for themselves, because they are, but it gives them a way to figure out routine tasks in the classroom.
This summer I had the pleasure of reading Shift This by Joy Kirr. The message I truly gained from this book is shifting from a teacher-centered classroom to a student-centered classroom (and if you haven't read it-go get it NOW!). One of the ideas I took from her book was creating a student station-an area where students have supplies readily available to them to use whenever needed. In all honesty, this frightened me. I thought my students would make a mess of the stapler, tape, etc., however, that could not be farther from the truth. The students have taken better care of this area than almost any other area of my classroom. Why? Because it is THEIRS! They don't have to ask me if they can use my stapler, get a piece of tape, sharpen their pencil, etc. This makes our classroom run more efficiently and it gives power to students to problem solve on their own behalf. If they need a staple, they get it. If their paper rips and they need to tape it back together, they quietly go do that. I am always impressed with how my students exceed my expectations in such situations.
Now this leads me to another way we can empower students to be problem solvers...the way we respond to students can help them develop that skill. If a student is to come up to me and tell me they broke their pencil, I have several different ways to respond. One thing I try to always do is put the problem solving back on them. Instead of saying, "Get a new one" or "Go sharpen it", I try to respond by saying things like, "So what can you do?", or "How can you solve that problem?". This creates a moment for the student to stop and think about it and then empowers them because most of the time they already know what to do. If I am constantly telling them how to fix something or solve a problem, they don't get the opportunity to do it by themselves. I don't need to micro mange their every move in class. I create the routines and procedures and then allow them to work. This gives them a safe environment to take risks and figure out how to solve problems.
I like to integrate into every day ways for students to develop and practice their problem solving skills. After all, if we want students to be problem solvers we have to give them the opportunity to practice solving problems. But I also like to integrate it into my curriculum, which brings us to our last point-BreakoutEDU. I first discovered BreakoutEDU at a conference this summer and have since developed a deep love. BreakoutEDU equates to a breakout room in a box. This allows students to practice their problem solving skills while also demonstrating their knowledge of curriculum. Two for one, RIGHT! Not only does it develop problem solving, but it develops communication skills, collaboration, and persistence-just to name a few.
As you can see, I am a big fan of creating a classroom where students are empowered to be problem solvers. I don't consider myself an expert by any means, but wanted to share a few ways that I have found to be effective in my teaching. Do you have some ideas or ways you do this in your classroom? Share below because as teachers we are definitely better together!