Future Problem Solvers
June 18, 2012
by Jenni Sebora

“Teach children how to think, not what to think” is the motto of the Future Problem Solving program.

For 38 years, Future Problem Solving Program International (FPSPI) has provided the foundation necessary for young people living in today’s complex world. Through FPS, young people develop creative and critical thinking skills, to promote positive futures around the world.

My daughter and her peers have been fortunate to be involved in this organization through their school. This last week, they, their coach, and their parents – including me – spent almost a week at the 2012 FPSPI conference at the Indiana University campus in Bloomington, IN.

Hundreds of coaches from around the world prepared students in the creative problem-solving process, to compete at the international conference. But, honestly, the competition was just the icing on the cake.

This conference provided a unique opportunity to meet – and make friends with people from around the world. In fact, a requirement of the FPSPI conference is that everyone has fun. The competition was important, but not nearly as important as making friends and having fun – and fun we all had.

The conference started out with the proud tradition of the international flag procession. Each affiliate program chose a representative to carry the state/region/country flag. Traditionally, the flag-bearers dress in costumes representing their country/state/regions. To honor each country that was present, the national anthem of each country was played as the respective flag was carried on stage.

Our team was chosen to represent Minnesota. Clad in fishing attire to represent the Land of 10,000 Lakes, one of the four team members carried the Minnesota flag onto the stage to be united with flags from across the world.

This was awesome. The auditorium was as expansive and beautiful as a European theater. As the flags were carried and the anthems played, the members of each country proudly sang the words to their anthems. This was very inspiring to witness and be a part of.

Kids from across the world clad in their own unique FPS shirts sat together in this massive auditorium to share in this wonderful experience. It was a grand gathering of creative and critical thinkers, including our children.

A favorite among all was sharing mementos among all the FPS participants. Each team or individual from their respective state or country brought along items that represented their region to exchange for other mementos from other areas.

From pins, to our Lester Prairie dirt (official Minnesota soil), to hats, T-shirts, jewelry, and stickers, mementos were exchanged, greetings extended, photos taken, and friendships formed.

The adults even got in on the action. As our FPS team ventured among the other teams and individuals, we held the fort down, so to speak, and exchanged mementos, as well. It was grand fun.

Our kids were most interested in listening to the British accents. They did just that, and took various photos with their newly-formed friends.

Swimming at the outdoor university pool, dining in an Amish community (best food ever), zip-lining at a local ranch, eating college cafeteria food, sleeping in dorms, watching the awesome variety show, singing in the FPS choir, and writing articles for the FPS international paper were some of the activities that our kids participated in.

And, of course, the competition itself. The topic this year was pharmaceuticals. I think that we should turn global issues over to our kids. It is amazing what knowledge abounds in these young minds – fresh ideas, not tainted by politics.

Because our kids have been a team for three years now, and have been coached well, they were not nervous, but got right down to business. They have the process down to a science.

I believe, next year, our kids will be competing in the community problem solving FPS division. That is where individuals or groups of students work together to do just that – solve a community problem. They follow the problem solving process to solve a problem they have identified in their community. They complete an action plan, do the work, and then present their project in an organized manner.

Our kids have already started this project. They have met with part of the city council in the community to present their action plan. When it is officially-approved, they will begin the work of implementing their action plan.

This year’s community problem solving champion was titled, “Hand up, not Hand out.” It was fantastic. All of the projects were fantastic.

The conference ended with a closing ceremony, including the closing flag ceremony, tired kids and adults, but memories that will last a lifetime.

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