April 22, 2013

Problem-Solving at its Finest

To say that last week was a difficult one for the residents of the Boston area (and the country at large) would be an understatement, to say the least. For this week’s blog, we wanted to find a way to focus on some of the good that could come out of such a terrible set of circumstances, and at the same time pay a fitting tribute to the admirable work of the heroes involved. Our challenge and goal was to create a bridge between the desire to stick to our blog’s mission of providing you with information about educational issues, and recognizing how we can emulate and learn from the fine work of the many first responders and law enforcement officers and officials who acted so bravely. Their ability to use best practice in problem-solving can be a lesson to us all.

At Engaging Minds, we help our students approach all of their assignments – tests, papers, lab reports – with a guided model for problem-solving. Our model asks students to think about and understand the problem they are trying to solve and to develop plans for how to arrive at a solution. We teach students to organize their materials, their thoughts and the information they have to ensure they’ve got all the tools they need to complete the task successfully. Once a plan is in place and the tools are at the ready, doing the actual work toward solving the problem is the next step. Sometimes the “solve” process requires some adjustments and creative thinking, but we urge students to stick with it and continue with the process. Finally, once complete, we teach students to check their work both for errors and to ensure they solved the problem as effectively and fully as possible. By following this model, our hope is that the students also reached a level of understanding that will potentially be able to be extended to similar problem-solving situations in the future.

This is not dissimilar from what we imagine the first responders, law enforcement officers and elected members of our government went through as they dealt with the events of last week as they unfolded. Patience and level heads were required to address the rapidly changing problems that faced them. They needed to isolate the relevant information while ignoring that which might prove less reliable or productive. As they set goals for their operation, they needed to be both focused and flexible to maximize their chance of success. They needed to adapt their plans as new information and events came into play, and they were required to keep up a level of alertness and focus in order to ensure that they did not miss anything. These brave men and women had to maintain an attitude of “stick-to-it-iveness” in the face of the most stressful circumstances imaginable, but in the end it was all of these things and their unerring tenacity that eventually led to their achieving their desired results.

Obviously the nature of the challenge our law enforcement faced this past week is markedly different from the challenge our students face in addressing their school work. However, adults and students alike can learn a great deal from the work of our local heroes, not only about being brave and true but also about how best practices in problem-solving can be applied to a multitude of very different situations.