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FETC Roundtable: Strategies to Encourage Creative Problem-Solving

Edtech experts share their top strategies for teaching creativity

In this expert roundtable article, presenters at this week’s Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) share their top recommendations for teachers, in response to the following question:

What is one strategy or classroom activity teachers can try in 2020 to encourage students to engage in creative problem-solving?

Participants also shared their responses to the following bonus question: What is one free tool you’d encourage teachers to check out?

Andrew Arevalo (@Gameboydrew)

Better known as Gameboydrew, Andrew is an educator, game designer, and 2019 CUE Emerging Teacher of the Year from Southern California. He is passionate about leveraging blended learning, the power of play, and design thinking to support and ignite student curiosity. 

You may be familiar with a traditional design sprint, but are you familiar with a “mini” sprint? . . . I didn’t think so! Instead of allocating the typical five-day format to map, sketch, ideate, prototype, and test, combine these aspects into one 20-minute session to get the creative energy flowing with a unique design prompt from Protobot. This platform generates random products with constraints to be considered for development. For instance, students can “Design a skateboard that leaves kind messages for strangers.” During the “mini” sprint, students can sketch out a detailed blueprint of their solution, discuss how it works via Flipgrid, and give feedback to their peers for product improvement. The final product (e.g., the sketch/blueprint) doesn’t necessarily matter as much as engaging in the actual iterative process does. When students get this exposure, it builds their capacity to problem-solve and you can gradually scale up into longer and more complex, cross-curricular sprints. 

Andrew’s bonus recommendation: Protobot

Michelle Moore (@Michelle4EDU)

Michelle is an ELL and STEM Specialist for Hillsborough County Public Schools in Tampa. Before leaving the classroom to grow teachers in their technology integration, she taught High School English, Reading, and Journalism courses. Michelle also supports customer success efforts for Nearpod.

Model Eliciting Activities (MEAs) provide students with an authentic space to not only engage in creative problem-solving through design thinking, but also practice decision-making through the lens of different audiences. MEAs aren’t just for STEM teachers! It’s a multidisciplinary approach to problem-solving. They allow students to practice close reading skills, find evidence from different sources, and ultimately justify their decision-making. What are MEAs? They ask students to solve authentic, real-world problems in groups of three or four students. There is never a ‘right’ solution. Students are given limitations (just like in real life) and have to be creative in their problem-solving and explain their decision-making to peers. They also get to critique other students’ solutions. When students practice using skills from different content areas cohesively, learning makes sense. We don’t problem solve using one skill at a time, we bring our whole toolbox to the table! Students should engage in the same type of creative problem-solving at school.

Michelle’s bonus recommendation: Nearpod

Dr. Jennifer Williams (@JenWilliamsEdu)

Williams is a globally-minded educator that works with classrooms of the world to connect learning and experience through meaningful uses of technology. As an educator and author of the ISTE book, Teach Boldly, she champions teachers to use educational technology for social good. She is a professor at Saint Leo University, co-founder of TeachSDGs, and co-founder of Edcamp Tampa Bay and Edcamp Literacy.

Bringing focus to creative problem-solving in teaching and learning in 2020? A “must try out” activity from my instructional design toolkit is incorporating opportunities for students to request feedback on their plans or work. An intentional feedback process invites students to consider responses to the questions: 1) who to ask, 2) how to ask, 3) how to record feedback, 4) how to develop and grow from feedback, and 5) how to offer appreciation for review and feedback. This past year, I have been working to seek out individuals who offer different perspectives or new ways of approaching ideas based on their experiences and understandings of the world. By prioritizing feedback as a needed component in the human-centered design process — one that is grounded in empathy and iteration — I find that ideas take shape, develop, and move in unexpected and exciting new directions. If you try it out, I’d love to hear how it goes! 

Jennifer’s bonus recommendation: Adobe Spark

Jeff Glade (@GladeJeff)

Jeff is an Instructional Technology Consultant with Heartland AEA.

As we begin the work of facilitating creative problem solving with our students, I feel it is valuable to start small. TEDEd has a fantastic library of short (usually between 3-6 minutes) videos to spark creative problem solving. With most of the videos being brief, they are great for a warmup, but can also be used as practice for small groups of students to strengthen their skills as they engage in conversation, proposing solutions that they can compare to the solutions suggested within the videos. While most of the videos in their “Problem Solving” library are structured as riddles, students can also expand their problem-solving skill set with videos that teach critical thinking skills and give context to real-world problems. The Problem Solving library is just one section of a large database of wonderful videos offered by TEDEd that cover nearly every content area!

Jeff’s bonus recommendation: Arc GIS Story Maps

Monica Burns (@ClassTechTips)

Dr. Monica Burns is a curriculum and educational technology consultant, Apple Distinguished Educator and founder of ClassTechTips.com.

To encourage creative problem-solving this year, ask students to determine an issue in their community and develop a community awareness campaign. They can create public service announcement videos that use images, voice, icons, and music to communicate their message. Students can visit or video conference with a community organization to interview local leaders and conduct research on their topic using online sources. This type of activity asks students to craft a clear call to action and use both informational and persuasive writing techniques.

If students make a public service announcement video, they can send the links to an organization that tackles this issue. Your students might even create a social media campaign with accompanying graphics and copy. When designing this creative problem-solving activity, having a clear audience is key!

Monica’s bonus recommendation: Adobe Spark

Bonus contribution from edCircuit columnist, Dr. Pronita Mehrotra (@pronitam)

Pronita Mehrotra is the founder of MindAntix, a platform to build cognitive creative thinking in students. As an advocate for bringing more creativity to the classroom, she speaks at educational conferences and runs professional development programs for teachers. In addition, she also teaches Project Based Learning programs to elementary and middle school students.

Pronita will not be presenting at FETC 2020, but you can learn much more from her by reading her monthly column.

A simple and effective technique to spur creative and critical thinking is to ask “What if..”, or counterfactual, questions. Asking a “what if” question can shine the spotlight on hidden aspects of a problem which, depending on the context, can open up new sets of ideas or deepen understanding of the problem. Counterfactual thinking has been shown to improve both creative thinking as well as reasoning skills, and is easy to incorporate in what students are learning. For example, if you are reading a novel in class, ask students how the story would change if the main character was different or if an event hadn’t occurred. In history, a counterfactual question like “What if the Boston Tea Party never happened?”, can force students to think critically about the historical conditions, resulting in an improved understanding of the topic.

The 40th anniversary Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) will take place January 14-17, 2020 in Miami, Fla. Registration is now open at Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC)

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