Ability: Strategic Problem Solving

Parent conferences started this week.

I was sitting down with a parent of one of the most academically advanced students in my class. All of her tests looked great, her writing was sound, and her disposition towards academia had solidly placed her on a trajectory towards life-long learning. It was a great conference that celebrated a student whose hard work was easily apparent (there are students who work hard, but whose effort sadly doesn't show up on tests). After I left for the day, I found myself thinking about her conference more than all the others. I realized I wasn't excited about any of the "academic" things I got to show off to her mom, but one project she did that wasn't easily distinguishable as impressive.

A few weeks ago, I told my class that their only homework for the week was to make or learn something, then present it to our class on Friday. No direction and no boundaries aside from making or learning something. I was careful to not attach the label "cool" or "exciting" to it for fear of those words limiting or directing what a student may chose. I was excited though to see what they would come up with.

This student built an iPad in Minecraft. She brought in her iPad, displayed it under the document camera, and took us on a tour. It wasn't just an iPad, but a house. She had made it large enough that the app icons were easily discernible. I was impressed with it.

I was impressed with it because to make that it took a few things. It took foresight, a vision for what she wanted. It also took strategy. She had to plan it out to make it symmetrical, to make it noticeably like an iPad, and to ensure the spacing between apps/the border/the bottom would be uniform. In a way, she was thinking along the same lines as a chess player when setting up their board and choosing a strategy based on their opponents stance. In her case, the opponent wasn't a person, but the requirements of good design. 

I want that ability for all my students--the ability to strategy and systematically pursue a vision or solve a problem. Im calling this strategic problem solving. It combines both the mental piecing together of a problem or project with choice action that sees it carried out or solved. I want that because that seems to be an essential function of healthy adults in society, both in the interest of production and living life. If one wants to remodel their bathroom, provide clean water for children in a third world country, create a new iPhone app--you have to strategically envision and then act. I see that skill leading to my students being able to live well and more effectively in reality.