Future problem solvers 2012
April 16, 2012
by Jenni Sebora

A little while ago, David Letterman interviewed “Hunger Games” star Josh Hutcherson on his late night talk show. During the interview, Hutcherson shared that he had a younger brother who placed fifth in the world Future Problem Solving competition.

Letterman’s response was something like this, “Wow! Why can’t we get that guy on the show? I worry about the future.”

Future Problem Solving teaches students how to think, not what to think. Students learn and use critical thinking and creative thinking skills, problem-solving skills, and decision-making skills through a six-step process.

My sixth grade daughter is in her third year of participating in this wonderful program through her school. She has been with the same team throughout the three years she has been involved in FPS. Her team consists of four sixth-graders, herself, another girl, and two boys. Their principal is their coach.

Their team certainly is not the only team involved in FPS in their school. In fact, my son was also on a FPS team for three years. I am speaking as a parent and observer of the program, FPS is a wonderful learning experience for anyone involved.

Students are taught a problem-solving process, and use these tools to determine an underlying problem, brainstorm possible solutions, and then develop criteria to determine the best solution.

Students are given a scenario of a problem on such topics as climate change, health care access, redistribution of wealth, human rights, and this year’s state competition topic – trade barriers.

The students research the topic, and the day of the given competition, they must use the six-step problem-solving process to, again, identify an underlying problem, brainstorm solutions, determine the best solution, and develop an action plan.

The problem-solving process is done within about a two-hour time frame. Certain vocabulary and verbiage must be used within their paper and action plan. After this part of the process, teams then must create a skit that conveys their solution – their action plan.

As part of the skit, they are given a list of props they can bring along to use creatively in their skits, such as straws, aluminum foil, yarn, etc. When they are in the skit preparation stage, each team is also given a famous person’s quote that they must include in some fashion in their skit. A few minutes before they must perform their skit, they are also given a surprise prop that they must utilize in their skit, as well. That is called “thinking on your feet.”

Competitions include regional, state, and international competitions, for which they must qualify. The FPS competitive component includes team problem solving (which is what my children have been involved in), individual problem solving, scenario writing, and community problem solving.

Community problem solving encourages students to be change agents in their own communities. In fact, the team my daughter is on, is doing just this. They identified an issue in their community, applied the FPS model, presented their identified issue and action plan at a city council meeting, and are going forward with further research on their action plan. These are sixth-graders.

I am very proud and excited to say that this team recently placed second in the junior division in the state competition, which qualified them for the International Future Problem Solving Conference in June at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN. The topic for internationals is pharmaceuticals.

We will travel in a school van for an 11-hour trip to Indiana University. The students will stay in the dorms and meet students from all over the US and the world. The International Conference features students from Australia, Great Britain, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Portugal, Singapore, South Africa, and most states in the US.

Obviously, the main focus will be the competition, but they will also have many other unique opportunities through this experience – activities, a dance, tours, and the exchanging of mementos with students from around the world.

The event begins with an opening ceremony and ends with a closing ceremony. Our team has been chosen to carry the Minnesota flag for the opening ceremony. They will be representing Minnesota. They are brainstorming a costume or prop to wear during the ceremony that will represent something about our wonderful state. Quite an honor.

This process has taught the students teamwork, decision-making, conflict resolution, time management, problem-solving skills, and a plethora of other skills.

Maybe we could have our children take over health care, economic, and other world issues. They learn to get along, while still solving problems.

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