By Starrla Cray
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN A giant sponge to soak up floodwater? Roads that glow when they’re icy?
Finding creative solutions to real-world challenges is what Lester Prairie’s Future Problem Solvers (FPS) program is all about.
Five of Lester Prairie’s seven teams are advancing to state-level competition this year, which will take place Saturday, March 29 at Centennial Middle School in Lino Lakes.
“We’re really excited,” advisor Alexandra Edlund said.
How does FPS work?
During practices, students research a specific global topic given to them by the international FPS organizers. A few past examples include desertification, emergency planning, genetic testing, megacities, and social isolation.
Then, at competition time, teams of three to four students (fourth grade and older) receive a hypothetical situation with more detail about the topic, set at least 20 years in the future.
A six-step problem-solving technique is used to address the future problem.
First, teams identify potential challenges that could arise.
“Then, you narrow it down to one underlying problem, and come up with 16 solutions,” FPS participant Zach Jackson said.
“We all usually star two of our favorite problems, and then choose one that we all like,” Alexis Langenfeld said.
Brainstorming solutions is fifth-grader Jayden Alsleben’s favorite step in the process.
“You can get really creative,” his teammate, Jason Zimprich, agreed.
Beau Schmidt explained that extra points are given for originality, but solutions can’t be “too extreme,” like the end of the world or someone dying.
The fourth step is to develop several criteria questions, such as: “Which solution will cost the least?” or “Which solution will be the easiest to implement?”
The solutions are evaluated on a scale of one to eight for each criteria question, and the numbers are added together to see which solution ranks the highest overall.
After the best solution is identified, teams develop an action plan and write an essay about it.
“All this is done in two hours,” Edlund said, adding that the packet is 12 pages long.
Afterward, teams have an opportunity to present their action plans with a short skit. This is Zach Jackson’s favorite part of the competition. Teams are given a box of simple household items (such as aluminum foil and construction paper), and can use the items as props to demonstrate their solution.
For Schmidt, traveling to competitions is one of the best parts about being a future problem solver.
“We get to go to different places, and it’s super fun,” he said.
This year, the regional competition took place in St. Cloud, and the topic was “surveillance society.”
Students prepared for the event by researching various aspects of surveillance, such as public safety vs. personal privacy, effectiveness at preventing/solving crimes, and new methods of surveillance through electronically transmitted information.
“For state, the topic is land transportation,” Edlund said.
To get ready, students have been researching pertinent news articles regarding traffic jams, infrastructure, safety, energy sources, and more.
“They apply their research into their packets,” Edlund said.
‘Outside the box’ future
During her teacher training in college, Edlund remembers hearing that it’s important for students to learn to think “outside the box,” because that’s what companies are looking for in their employees.
“[FPS] teaches cooperation and teamwork, and definitely creativity and thinking out of the box,” she said. “It focuses on how to think, not what to think.”
A few of Lester Prairie’s FPS students have already started thinking about their future careers. Zimprich aspires to be a genetic scientist, Myranda Hentges wants to be a veterinarian, Anna Litzau hopes to be a nurse, and Zach Jackson plans to be a lawyer.
“I want to be a police officer, like both my parents,” Langenfeld added.
“I’ll probably go into management,” Andrew Jackson said.
Schmidt said he’d like to have two careers, working as a professional athlete and as a doggie daycare owner.
No matter which path the students end up choosing, Alexis Langenfeld’s advice for successful problem-solving still applies:
“You just work hard and work with your team.”
LP’s problem solvers
The Lester Prairie School District has seven Future Problem Solvers (FPS) teams in grades four through eight.
Teams are as follows:
*Team 1 - Grade 4
• Noelle Blashack
• Delaney Sebora
• Blake Krienke
Team 2 - Grade 4
• Lane Teubert
• Riley Haas
• Jenna Heimerl
*Team 3 - Grade 5
• Zach Jackson
• Beau Schmidt
• Anna Litzau
*Team 4 - Grade 5
• Alexis Langenfeld
• Maddie Stuedemann
• Jason Zimprich
• Jayden Alsleben
*Team 5 - Grade 6
• Evan Lee
• Jerry Perales
• Myranda Hentges
Team 6 - Grade 6
• Ashley Forcier
• Liam Meyer
• Jack Widmer
*Team 7 - Grade 8
• Arlene Nowak
• Callie Sebora
• Andrew Jackson
• Tallon Schwantes
(*Teams advancing to state.)