Monday, June 23, 2014

The Pirating of Future Problem Solving

     From June 12-15, I had the wonderful opportunity to chaperone four of my Future Problem Solving team to Iowa State University for the International Competition. For those who don't know what Future Problem Solving (FPS) is, here's a short description, taken from

Founded by creativity pioneer, Dr. E. Paul Torrance, Future Problem Solving Program International (FPSPI) stimulates critical and creative thinking skills, encourages students to develop a vision for the future, and prepares students for leadership roles.  Future Problem Solving Program International involves thousands of students annually from Australia, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Portugal, Singapore, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the United States.
FPSPI Mission: To develop the ability of young people globally to design and promote positive futures using critical, creative thinking. 

Students are given a topic ahead of time so they can conduct research and brainstorm possible challenges and solutions. Then, on competition day, they read a one-page future (30+ years in the future) scene that's filled with detail and topic-specific vocabulary. The scene ends with a charge statement, which directs the focus of the students' work.  For exactly two hours, the team (four members) works their way through six steps with only a dictionary, pens/pencils, and scratch paper.

The six steps are:
  1. brainstorming 16 challenges (written in correct format)
  2. deciding on one underlying problem (UP) and including all components
  3. brainstorming 16 solutions (written in correct format)
  4. deciding on five criteria (written in correct format)
  5. using a grid to rank order their top eight solutions according to the five criteria, in order to discover their best solution
  6. writing a 3-4 paragraph action plan, incorporating the 5 Ws and H, that details how their best solution to the future scene would be implemented

Since I recently adopted the pirate philosophy, shared by teacher/author Dave Burgess, I realized how closely the FPS experience mirrors the six TLAP components.

P (passion)
     Each level of FPS competition (from qualifying all the way to internationals, or IC) encourages students and coaches to bring passion to their research. However, in his book, Teach Like a Pirate, Dave asserts that teachers aren't always passionate about what they teach. The same can be said about students and their learning. Our topics this year included surveillance society, land transportation, and space.  Although the first one generated the most interest, I'd say the last two were not as exciting to my kids. Although we learned so much about all three topics, my two girls had to fake their passion for our IC topic: space.
     FPS competitions consist of their written booklet and their skit, where teams act out their action plan. As their coach, I decided to generate passion for the IC performance by using some meeting time to share and listen to space-related songs (Rocket Man, The Final Countdown, Supermassive Black Hole) and watch space-related movie trailers (Star wars, Apollo 13, Gravity, E.T.). Of course we researched as much as we could about space in general, but focusing on the skit helped my girls find their personal passion since they enjoy performing. *The result of this passion was a 3rd place finish in the skit portion. Only the top two teams moved on to the finals, but we were pleased with out ranking.

I (immersion)
In order to do well at FPS competitions, teams can't simply focus on their assigned topic; they need to be immersed in it! Not only did we immerse ourselves in space research while we were in our meetings, but I encouraged the students to spend time each day immersing themselves in the vocabulary, the visuals, and the wonder of space. Turning the lights off when we watched trailers, music videos, images of moon landings and solar eclipses helped us tune out the hustle and bustle around us.

At the competition, we couldn't help but be immersed in this topic. Everything was space. We even had an opportunity to listen to a former astronaut talk about his trips to the International Space Station, accompanied by incredible video and images.

R (rapport)
Since this group has been with me for two years, we've had ample time to develop a strong rapport. I started with 31-5th graders last year (which was overwhelming for just one coach). This year, 11 of those students (now 6th graders) took on the challenge. Of the 11, eight continued on to the State Competition. As I mentioned, a lucky four won 1st place at State, qualifying for IC.

We all got to know each other very well during weekly meetings and brainstorming sessions. In the months from State to IC, we met more often and cemented our bond. One of our fundraisers was "duct tape an FPSer to the Wall." Let's say that one helped us "stick" together even more.

The beauty of a 3-day competition out of state is the opportunity it presents to truly get to know each other on a more personal level. We shared experiences, like sleeping down the hall from each other in the dorm, eating all meals in the ISU cafeteria, and walking around the campus on a scavenger hunt (with their moms). It was sad to say goodbye on the final day.

A (ask & analyze)
These two are built into the six steps of FPS. However, the "six word" story that Dave shares on pages 38-42 helped me as a coach give my students full credit for their hard work researching and learning the FPS process. They didn't make it to IC because they are "so smart." They made it because they worked their tails off. In addition, they learned lots from the feedback the judges provided at each stage. Last year, only three of these students made it to State (and none to IC). However, they all learned so much from comments on their written booklets and used that feedback to improve their work and make it farther in the competition this year. I'm overjoyed that all want to continue with FPS in some form, despite the fact that they are too old for the junior division, which I coach. They don't feel like they are "done" with FPS yet.

T (transformation)
No, my FPS students didn't "have" to be there. They all willingly signed up for this before-school (some Saturdays) experience. In addition, 11 of them signed up again, knowing all of the hard work that goes into this activity. Some students enjoyed the research, others enjoyed the skits, while others enjoyed the camaraderie with their classmates and the competitions themselves. A few even joined this group because they weren't in my classroom and wanted to have me as a teacher for something. (I was honored.) When I shared the opportunity with all 5th graders back in the fall of 2012, I included all of these aspects in the hopes that at least one of them would stick with different students. Like Dave stated, I reframed the content, value and relevancy to my students' lives.

E (enthusiasm)
This is my portion. My enthusiasm for FPS is what encouraged kids to sign up, what kept them coming to each meeting, and what drove many of them to sign up for a second year. My enthusiasm is what inspired the final four students to desire more FPS. They don't want their experience to just end. These students asked if they could continue with scenario writing or community problem solving (also under the FPS umbrella) because they are thirsty to learn more. They are even willing to help coach my new students instead, if that's a way to continue with the program.

I'm proud to call these students pirates. They have passion, they immerse themselves in learning, they have developed rapport with their teammates, they know how to ask & analyze, they have transformed their learning, and they have oodles of enthusiasm, Who knows where our paths will lead us, but I would love to be their coach/captain for the remainder of their journey. They are a phenomenal group of kids!

1 comment:

  1. You put your FPS experience and your ideas from TLAP so well! I enjoyed reading about what the group is all about and how your students took your enthusiasm and made it into their own mission. Congrats on helping them to do their best and move forward to the next step!