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Native Pathways to Education
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Lessons Taught, Lessons Learned Vol. II

Reaching the Gifted Student Via the Regular Classroom

 

by Patricia S. Caldwell
University of Alaska Fairbanks

 

One of the greatest challenges facing education today is to effectively provide an opportunity for every child to learn at his/her own pace and to develop his/her potential to the fullest. Far too frequently the gifted and talented students pass through the educational system without achieving their intellectual and creative potential. Education must take note of the vital roles gifted students may play in our society and provide the educational experiences necessary to successfully fulfill these roles for the betterment of all.

A basic premise of gifted education is that the gifted student needs a differentiated program in order to develop his/her full potential. Ideally, provisions should be made so that the student has an opportunity to interact with peers of comparable abilities as well as time to function independently as an individual. It is also considered important that the gifted student be a member of a regular classroom group composed to students with a broad spectrum of learning abilities.

For many gifted students, specific programs are structured to incorporate each of these basic elements. The student spends a portion of his/her school time with other gifted students, usually in a pull-out program, and the remainder of the time is spent within a regular classroom. Depending on the philosophy of the school system, the curriculum may be either for enrichment purposes or for acceleration.

The curriculum for gifted students is designed to incorporate both group and individual-centered strategies. Creative approaches permeate all areas of the curriculum as stimulants to nurture imaginative thinking. Because the majority of gifted students are intensely curious, programs usually strive to see that students have the necessary skills to explore a wide range of topics to the degree their needs or interests allow. Utilizing the independent research method, students develop organizational and research skills and learn to critically analyze, synthesize, and evaluate data.

Values-building strategies figure prominently in many areas of the gifted curriculum as an attempt to help gifted students face problems, and to build personal value systems in order to better understand themselves and others. It does not strive to instill any particular set of values. Instead, the student develops an awareness of the beliefs and behaviors that s/he prizes and would be willing to stand up for both in and out of the classroom.

Methods and strategies used within most gifted programs emphasize the belief that the gifted students must be active participants in their own learning. The teacher is trained to function as a facilitator, guide, moderator and confidant. Furthermore, such programs encourage the acquisition and development of processes and skills that students can use in their life-long pursuit of knowledge.

For fifteen years, I was actively involved in gifted education serving as a teacher/facilitator, supervisor and trainer of teachers, and as a program coordinator. One of the tasks I undertook during this time was to gather the data necessary to validate a large urban gifted program for the state of Tennessee. (Creative Learning in a Unique Environment, Memphis City Schools, Memphis, Tennessee.) An analysis of the data indicated the most important attributes of a successful program were the teacher and the teaching strategies employed to teach higher-level thinking skills.

In analyzing the type of teacher needed, it was obvious that an authoritative dispenser of knowledge would not be able to meet the many cognitive demands made by the gifted students. Instead, a person who has an understanding of the developmental stages of children will more likely be able to provide meaningful experiences that will help them develop to their fullest potential, both cognitively and effectively.

Highly intelligent children have indicated that teachers who work with them should have many of the following characteristics: sense of humor, flexibility, patience and warmth, consistent behavior, personal magnetism, cooperative and democratic attitude, sensitivity to others, curiosity and desire for additional knowledge, wide interests, and knowledge in several fields. The teacher should be able to accept the non-conforming ideas that characterize exceptional intellectual ability. The instructor who is threatened by a sense of inferiority and feels a sense of competition with these bright learners will not do well in gifted education.

Statements have often been made that many students cannot think for themselves, and that they are incapable of comprehending and analyzing ideas, concepts and situations. The secondary teachers blame the elementary teachers, and the elementary teachers either blame the teachers of the prior grade, or rationalize by saying that the caliber of students they are getting are inferior. This circular road has been traveled many times before. Mere rhetoric or the "passing of the buck" approach does not provide a solution to the problem of underdeveloped thinking skills. One logical approach to this problem is to teach for thinking. This may require a refocusing of our teaching to deal with the development of learning experiences which will force the students to think. To achieve this end, the curriculum should be geared to activities involving the students in experiences such as: interpreting data, summarizing information, stimulating the imagination, decision-making, problem-solving, making discoveries, formulating hypotheses, analyzing propaganda techniques and developing logical thinking.

With the preceding background, I enrolled in the Rural Alaska Instructional Improvement Academy and selected two workshops which appeared to most aptly address the issue of teaching strategies for use with gifted students. Although neither the "Enhancing Motivation, Thinking and Achievement through Teaching Strategies" workshop, nor the "Hands-on Experiential Science" workshop were offered as a workshop specifically for gifted education, the information presented was quite appropriate. At one time, critics of gifted education excused the need for special programs by saying that what was good for the gifted was good for everybody. It is encouraging to see that many of the same teaching strategies are now being employed with all students.

During the course of the week, I became much more aware of the necessity for the "regular" classroom teacher in Rural Alaska to also be well versed in gifted education. Each school, regardless of its remoteness, includes the potential for one or many gifted students. Logistics and funding do not provide for such luxuries as daily contact with a "teacher of the gifted" for every gifted student.

Cultural diversity can also function as a barrier to meeting the needs of the intellectually gifted and talented student. While I worked with the Memphis City Schools it became evident that many Black students were not being identified for gifted services because the criteria being utilized were oriented to the white, middle-class population. In order to rectify this exclusion, I developed a program to train regular classroom teachers in grades 4 through 9 to conduct gifted seminars within their own buildings. Students were identified through a multi-faceted process and included both peer and teacher nominations.

Preparing Teachers for Gifted Students in Their Classroom

Because of my interest in gifted education and because I repeatedly see the regular classroom teacher as the person who spends the most time with the gifted student, I have chosen to address teacher preparedness for teaching gifted students within the regular classroom. The specific areas of preparation should include the following:

1. Characteristics and needs of the gifted, including identification processes for both majority and minority cultures

2. Methods and strategies

a. group dynamics

b. creativity

c. group research

d. individual research

e. critical thinking

f. effective domain development

g. leadership development

3. Curriculum and materials development

4. Methods of counseling the gifted

5. Educational theories in gifted education

The preparation should require participatory involvement, as it models the desired behavior of the students and teachers. The workshops that I attended were excellent examples of learning through participation.

Once the teacher is prepared to work with the specific needs of the gifted population, adjustments can be made in the classroom teaching methodology. Of particular concern are the methods and strategies to encourage critical thinking, so following are some techniques intended for that purpose. These techniques may be used within the regular classroom with special emphasis placed upon motivating each child to perform at or above his/her expected level. In an age where knowledge far exceeds the ability of the individual to keep abreast of it, much less to retain it, we as educators must place a new premium on the ability to process information and extract ideas from it, rather than simply store it. The Scollon's "Axe Handle Academy," with a strong emphasis upon preparation for an unknown future, outlines a kind of education designed to produce students capable of confidently participating in a global society.

Our school objectives often include the need to teach students to think critically and yet, we rarely provide the opportunity for them to do so. Since we all learn differently, and even as individuals use different strategies in the development of different concepts, we need to use many strategies in teaching students to think.

Brainstorming is a technique that provides the opportunity for generating ideas. Classical brainstorming as a group method for problem solving was first introduced by Alex Osborn in the 1930's. His concept of ways to enhance creative thought consisted of four basic rules:

1. Criticism is ruled out

2. Free-wheeling is welcomed

3. Quantity is wanted

4. Combining and improving are sought

There are many variations of brainstorming that are very usable in the classroom. One example is "Brainwriting," which relies upon the silent production of ideas on paper by group members. An extension of this is to form a "Brainwriting Pool," where members list four ideas on paper and then exchange with other members of the group and continue to add ideas.

Pam Robbins demonstrated a form of brainstorming during her workshop presentation in the Academy. She referred to it as "Carousel Brainstorming." Questions were written on poster paper and taped to the walls. Small groups generated ideas for each question during a specified time and then moved to the next. At the conclusion, groups studied the compiled lists.

"Mind Mapping" is another approach to brainstorming. A problem is written on the center portion of a piece of paper. Use webbing strategies to branch out from the problem with lines, arrows, and words within spheres. In the article written by Corwin, et.al., the curriculum web developed around a spider illustrates the unforeseen results and productive outcomes of such an activity. This is particularly helpful to the visual learner, since viewing ideas in both a semantic and figural sense can extend and stimulate associations. By using different colored markers on the webbing, classification or categorization of concepts is promoted.

Methods of brainstorming should vary because of the differences in modes of thinking and perceiving. They can be applied in any classroom and across any learning discipline. It is just as important to address a past problem as it is to address contemporary problems. Arthur B. VanGundy's book Techniques of Structured Problem Solvin2 (1981) and Idea Power: Time Tested Methods to Stimulate Your Imagination, by Morris 0. Edwards (1986) are sources of additional variations.

Problem statements should be structured to begin with, "In what ways might we (or I).....," or "How might we (or I).....?" Some examples to use within the classroom could be:

  • How might we celebrate Valentine's Day (or some other holiday)?
  • In what ways might we measure the size of our school building?
  • In what ways might we come to school each morning?
  • In what ways might we generate money for a class field trip?
  • In what ways might we communicate with a class in another village?
  • How might we learn the states and their capitals?
  • How might we generate light without electricity?
  • Our principal received ten cases of clothes-hangers by mistake. How might we use them?
  • Suppose the population of bears increased by one hundredfold. How might this affect life in Alaska?
  • In what ways might we describe the Northern Lights to someone from another planet?
  • In what ways might the author of a particular story have changed the story to provide a different ending? 

Because brainstorming can be utilized as a means of cooperative learning, each child, regardless of his/her ability level can participate. Ideas can be judged according to student-determined criteria as a follow-up activity. The gifted student may choose to implement the idea either independently or with his/her classmates.

Logic is also an excellent means of teaching thinking skills. Through logic, students learn to recognize valid inferences and to avoid making hasty generalizations and thinking in stereotypes. This can be introduced to the very youngest through symbolic logic and later through sentence logic.

Often students are presented with material both in school and out that, if not handled logically, can present problems. If a student is too quick in forming an opinion, s/he can reach an invalid and illogical conclusion. On the other hand, if the student carefully eliminates fact from innuendo, then we might say that s/he has reached some maturity in his/her thinking process. Other parallels might be made in areas such as math, essay writing, objective tests, classroom discussions and science. In each of these areas the student can be confronted with a problem for which s/he must seek a solution, and then makes hypotheses which must be tested and retested, and if proven wrong, eliminated. Thus, through the process of elimination, s/he is able to arrive at a logical conclusion.

Sources for ideas include scores of books, many of which are inexpensive paperbacks. Once the format for logical thinking is established, the gifted child can create original problems. They can often be based on a current topic of study such as geographical locations, careers, science topics, etc..

Hypothesizing requires the application of previous knowledge to a new situation in attempting to arrive at logical conclusions. Reasoning skills are developed as the student analyzes the problem, arrives at many possible solutions and through the process of elimination arrives at an acceptable conclusion. Consider such questions as: Why is the water in the ocean salty? Why doesn't an igloo melt inside? Why do we walk in circles when we are lost?

The preceding are ordinary questions which we all take for granted. However, they can serve a very useful purpose if innovation is used. Questions such as those listed not only can serve as a means for getting students to think through forming hypotheses, but will often lead to the development of an interest in the subject being hypothesized, resulting in more in-depth research. Dr. Rockcastle's "Hands-on Experiential Science" workshop in the Academy effectively demonstrated the application of hypothesizing with students across the curriculum. The hypothesizing strategy should not be relegated solely to the study of science, nor should it be reserved for the secondary schools.

The following example is another type problem which can be used to develop hypothesizing. It allows the students to consider many alternatives, as there is not one correct answer. Any answer which is logical can be accepted.

A bird fell into a 30" deep hole in the cement block of a building under construction. The hole was only 4" by 1 1/2" and the workmen were stumped as to how to rescue the robin. A ten year old boy walking by came up with a simple solution. How did he do it?

Experience in hypothesizing can also be provided with concrete materials. Students can form hypotheses concerning the use of an unfamiliar object or an artifact from prehistoric times. If the object is a familiar one it can be concealed in a box. Students ask questions in order to eliminate erroneous conclusions until the item is identified. Variations can include, "Who Am I?" or "What Am I?" where the name of the person or object is taped to the back of a student.

Lateral Thinking activities employ the strategy requiring one to go beyond the ordinary and to break down self-imposed bafflers. Edward de Bono in his book, Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step (1973), presents the rationale for providing students practice in overcoming structured thinking. For example, "What is the center of gravity?" Most of the answers will probably be science-oriented, but the solution here is the letter "v." The majority of students restrict their own thinking - they limit themselves without exploring all possibilities in seeking a solution.

Another example is to ask the students to name the ten states whose names can be spelled with four letters. No abbreviations are acceptable. Utah, Ohio, and Iowa easily adhere to the requirements. By removing one's "blinders" the following seven states can be added: Alaska, Alabama, Hawaii, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee.

Synectics is a technique created by William J.J. Gordon in which innovative solutions to problems are sought through reversing things. Because most classrooms contain students who learn at different rates, teachers need ways to educate all levels of learners without boring the gifted students and without overwhelming the slower students. The basic tools of learning are analogies which serve as connectors between the new and the familiar. These enable students to connect facts from their experiences with the facts to be learned. These skills can be applied to a wide range of learning abilities and thus enhance creative fluency as well as learning effectiveness.

In developing this model, Gordon made the following assumptions: 1) Creativity is not a mysterious process. The steps can be identified and taught; 2) Creativity is necessary to many tasks and fields, including science, writing, the arts, learning and everyday life; and 3) group work and cooperation advances the acquisition and use of creative skills.

Analogies may open windows of new understandings, glimpses of different relationships and the extension of creative thought. Examples of direct analogies might include: Which has more stretch - forgetfulness or helplessness? Which is more lasting - lost or found? Why? Which is louder - sunrise or sunset? Why? Students can be asked to look for visual analogies from paintings or for conceptual analogies within a given subject area, or to listen for analogies in musical compositions.

Symbolic analogies or oxymorons are combinations of two incongruous terms like "mournful optimist" or "controlled excitement." They are extremely useful in setting the general parameters for creative writing. Consider, as a beginning step for written narratives, a class generating or brainstorming a list of direct analogies. The resulting list can be used to establish the conflict that requires resolution in a story.

Metaphorical thinking is the ability to take a concept into different or new contextual settings for the purpose of gaining unique understandings. Variations include questions such as the following: What might my shoes say to me, if they could give me a message? In what ways am I like a tree in a forest of trees? In what ways is a seashell like a galaxy?

Creative Problem Solving is a complex process requiring many skills. The problem solver must be able to sense and to identify a problem, and to formulate it in workable terms. S/he must be able to grasp the essential elements of the problem, to separate the relevant from the irrelevant, to detect gaps and to determine what future information may be needed. Above all else s/he must be able to generate many ideas, and ideas that are uncommon and original. The ideas must be effectively adaptive to the demands of the particular creative task.

One of the most basic skills that can be taught in today's schools is problem solving, especially skills in solving future problems. In fact, the teaching of future problem solving skills may be the key to the successful teaching of the other basics, such as reading, writing and arithmetic. Many children are not motivated to master these basics unless they can see the connection between them and their future lives.

The creative problem solving process lends itself very well to a project-centered, community-based approach to education. The community can serve as the learning laboratory for the origin of problems to be solved. Alex Osborn and Sidney Parnes conduct an extensive training institute each summer at the State University of New York in Buffalo where educators and business people from the United States and Canada come together to develop skills in problem solving. The institutes that I attended were invaluable as they illustrated the enormous diversity of real life situations and problems existing and the potential for integration into the educational curriculum of schools.

Paul E. Torrance, now retired from the University of Georgia, was a forerunner in the field of creativity. He founded the "Future Problem Solving Bowl" in 1976, which continues to involve student teams annually in problem solving competition. Students from Alaska have been winners in the national competition for several recent years. Torrance identifies the following phases for the future problem solving process:

1. Understanding the problem

2. Identifying and stating the underlying problems

3. Producing alternative solutions

4. Developing criteria for judging alternative solutions

5. Evaluating alternative solutions

6. Planning implementation of solution

7. Selling the solution 

An overview of the Osborn-Parnes method of Creative Problem Solving can be found in Creative

Problem Solving: The Basic Course (Isaksen and Treffinger, 1985). In teaching the skills of creative problem solving in classrooms, CPS for Kids and Be a Problem Solver (Eberle and Stanish, 1980 and 1984) provide ideas and suggestions for the classroom teacher.

The information presented in the preceding pages represents only a minuscule number of the ways in which the gifted child, as well as all members of a student population, can be provided daily encounters in thinking. Each strategy is easily adapted to meet the specific needs of both the individual students and the curriculum areas. Because there is some overlapping of ideas, combinations of strategies should also be considered. Regardless of the idea implemented, the cultural diversity of the classroom and the community must serve as the determining factors.

Since the classroom teacher is the person with whom the gifted student spends the majority of his/her time, the student's needs are more often addressed in this setting. If the teacher is aware of and attuned to the characteristics of the gifted learner, then the child is more apt to be challenged. By providing opportunities for all students to excel and to learn from one another, education is improved.

Sample Lessons for Gifted Students

The New Teachers: A lesson in the application of logic.

On the first day of the fall term at Malemute High school there were four teachers. Each teaches a different subject and each came from a different place, either Nome, Barrow, Sitka or Kenai. What subject does each teacher teach and where did each live before?

1. Mr. Arnold did not come from Sitka or Kenai.

2. The social studies teacher came from Sitka.

3. Mr. Bell does not teach algebra or science.

4. The English teacher did not come from Nome or Kenai.

5. Mrs. Clay does not teach science.

6. Neither Mrs. Dunn or Mr. Arnold came from Nome.

  • "Why Doesn't An Igloo Melt Inside?" An exercise in hypothesizing adopted from: The Question and Answer Book of Everyday Science by Ruth A. Sonneborn (Random House, 1961).

    1. Put students into groups of 3-4 or 5-6.

    2. Explain to the students that each group will get a slip of paper with the same question on it.

    3. Give the students a question such as "Why Doesn't An Igloo Melt Inside?"

    4. Ask the group to select one person to record the answers. 

    5. Allow a five minute period for each group to think of as many hypotheses as possible to explain the question given them.

    6. Give the group with the most answers ten points at the end of the first time period. In case of ties, each group will receive ten points. No duplications are allowed, i.e., the same answer cannot be reworded.

    7. Give each group 5 to 6 minutes to review their hypotheses in order to add to the list.

    8. Add five points to the group with the most answers at the end of the second time period.

    9. Redefine the task. Each group is asked to pick from their list the hypothesis they think most closely approximates the correct answer. Ten to twelve minutes should be allotted for this portion of the lesson. Each group will have to decide, as a group, what their answer will be.

    10. Allow each group to read its final answer.

    11. Allow other groups to challenge or ask for clarification.

    12. Give each group the opportunity to discuss the hypotheses presented and choose the one they think the most plausible. The recorder writes down the group's choice.

    13. Read the correct answer, or allow the groups to do research to find the correct answer.

    14. Award the group(s) that chose the hypotheses that were most nearly correct ten points.

    15. Give the group(s) that have correct responses 20 points.

    16. Discuss the reasons for the correct answer.

Answer to the question: Even though other types of houses have replaced the igloo among groups of Canadian Eskimos who did at one time build igloos, they occasionally construct the igloo for special occasions or as an emergency shelter while on a journey. It is quickly built, and it defies any kind of weather.

First a trench is cut about five feet long and 20 inches deep in a newly made snowdrift. Then, from the face of the trench, blocks are cut with a knife. These are shaped so that they lean inward when set on edge.

A circle of these snow blocks is laid and then shaved down so that as the person builds there will be a narrowing spiral. The material is cut from the inside of the house as the man works. Then a keystone, with edges wider above than below, is dropped into the space at the top. All the cracks are then filled with soft snow. A small igloo can be built in this way in a couple of hours.

When the house has been built, the woman usually takes over. She may light her seal oil lamp or other heat source and make it burn as hot as possible. Then she closes the door with a block of ice and makes everything airtight. Now the snow begins to melt. Because the dome's roof is curved, it doesn't drip. Instead, it soaks gradually into the blocks so that they are nearly saturated.

When the blocks are sufficiently wet, she puts out her lamp and opens the door. The intensely cold air rushes in, and in a few minutes, the house is transformed from a fragile building of snow to a dome of ice. It is now so strong that a polar bear can crawl over the roof without breaking it. And because it is so solid and hard, it doesn't melt and provides a snug shelter.

Of course, when the winter ends and the temperature rises, the igloo does begin to melt, and it is usually the roof which caves in first.

Other suggestions: This question could serve as a catalyst for a variety of studies such as a the reasons different building materials and different styles of housing are used in different environments. A class could discuss the influence of technology upon housing. An experiential activity in the North, would be to actually construct an igloo.

  • "What if People Lived as Long as Trees?" A lesson in creative problem solving adopted from: Encounters with the Future: Forecast of Life in the 21st Century, by Catron and O'Toole (McGraw-Hill, 1982).

Doctors like to say that 99 percent of all discoveries in the history of medical science have been made in the 20th Century, a claim that is probably true. Run down a list of diseases cured in the 20th Century and you have an index to illnesses that routinely devastated the human race - yellow fever, scurvy, diphtheria, polio, tuberculosis, smallpox, etc.

In 1940, infection caused 25 percent of all deaths. Today, because of penicillin, it's less than three percent. Another point: the human life span was 48 years at the start of the 20th Century. Today it's more than 72 years.

The fast pace will be stepped up so rapidly that children born today can expect to live an average of 83 years, 10 years more than their parents, 20 years more than their grandparents and 30 years more than their great-grandparents.

There will be new drugs that lessen the need for radical surgery, and artificial body parts that prolong life itself. People will not only live longer, they will be able to enjoy their old age. There will be drugs that improve and even restore memory. Non-addictive painkillers stronger than morphine will appear.

Medical chemists are already experimenting with drugs that will dissolve blood clots, treat asthma, reduce high blood pressure, cure blindness, do away with fears and phobias, splice genes, etc., and the first true diet pill may be on its way.

These breakthroughs will enable medical researchers to crack the code that determines how the human body ages. Then a drug will be devised to slow down the aging process. The first anti-aging drug may raise life spans to 150 years; improvements on the first drug will lift life spans to 200 years. That's as long a life as trees have on earth. WHAT IF PEOPLE LIVED AS LONG AS TREES?

Nobody knows what this anti-aging drug will be or when it will become available, only that it is on its way. Already a cadre of precursor drugs are being tested on animals, so it's only a matter of time before the right drug pops out of the test tube. With such a life-extending drug available, four generations of families will be living at the same time.

Given the problem outlined above, students can be organized into problem solving teams and asked to tackle the issue using the phases of creative problem solving as defined by Torrance in the Handbook for Training Future Problem Solving Teams (1980).

Understanding the Problem

Discuss the situation with the all the students first and try to pinpoint facts and questions. Students should look up any unfamiliar words, obtain facts from references, etc.. Fantasy, wild ideas, irrelevant and trivial ideas should be relegated to the "back burner." The questions to be explored to clarify the situation should include Who? What? When? Where? How? and Why? Before tackling the situation, research should be encouraged to acquire greater knowledge. Be sure to differentiate between fact and opinion.

Record on the board verbal information contributed by the students. Students can decide if a statement is fact or opinion or whether they need to explore further. Divide the students into groups of four and, using the facts presented have the groups brainstorm for problems this situation would produce. Be sure rules for brainstorming are followed. Allow approximately ten minutes for this. The teacher may need to prod groups by suggesting areas of problem finding - recreation, schools, businesses, energy, food, nature, etc.

Identifying and Stating the Underlying Problem

Ask the students to look for the "real" problem the one that, if solved, would clear up many of the other smaller problems listed. Encourage them to discuss the many sub-problems that have surfaced in order to agree on one basic problem.

Once the problem has been identified, it should be stated for creative attack. "In what ways might we...?," or "How might we...?" Avoid using "can," as this limits the possibilities. Allow them to experiment with several different ways of stating the problem. For example: "In what ways might we conserve energy resources?" is different from "In what ways might we increase our energy resources?" Do not shortchange this step. 

Producing Alternative Solutions

Have the students brainstorm for solutions to the "real" problem. When a team appears stuck, try the SCAMPER questions. Could something be:

S - substituted

C - combined

A - added, adapted

R - reversed, rearranged

M - magnified, minified, multiplied

P - put to other uses

E - eliminated, divided

 

If a group stays with one type of idea too long, you might ask a question leading to another idea. Groups may also become fixated with a humorous idea that disrupts production. Listen and determine if there is a practical side to the joke that you can pick up and elaborate.

Developing Criteria for Judging Solutions

Each group should decide upon the ten best solutions from their list. This permits them to develop criteria suitable to the solutions chosen. Have the students work together to determine the criteria (or yardsticks) for judging the solutions. These criteria may include factors such as: safety, equipment need, time involved, energy required, cost, etc.. When using cost, urge students to place it at least third. The criteria need to be both applicable and relevant to the specific problem. There are three characteristics of a good criterion:

  1. Single dimension - "Which solution is the most practical and feasible?" These two criteria should be divided.
  2. Measure of degree - Instead of "Is it too costly?" ask "Which solution would be the less costly?"
  3. Indicates a desirable direction - Single terms like "time required" and "side effects" do not give direction. More effective would be "Which solution would be the quickest to implement?" or "Which solution would have the fewest adverse side effects?"

A team should select at least three criteria. Five are considered optimal in most cases. They are easier to work with if they all are either negative or positive. (Poorest or best, smallest or largest.) The ten best alternative solutions should be listed on the left side of a grid and the criteria across the top.

Evaluating Alternative Solutions

Once the criteria have been selected, each group should then discuss and decide what they consider to be their ten best solutions from their list of brainstormed solutions. These ten solutions should be listed on the left side of a grid.

The team discusses and together determines the value of each solution relative to all other solutions according to the first criterion. The solution which the group deems to be the most effective receives a one (1). It is sometimes easier to determine the most effective solution, then the least effective, then the second most effective, then the second least effective, and so on. 

While it might be faster to have individual team members rank order the solutions and average the results, to do so would negate two of the purposes of the program, those of developing communication and team work skills. The exchange of ideas and the defense of views are also invaluable properties of the problem solving process.

Starting with the first criterion in the first column, all the alternative solutions are assigned a rank order. After the first column is completed, then the second criterion is applied and so on. Therefore, moving from left to right, each criterion is applied to every idea; the group should never go across the grid evaluating one alternative solution, and then the other.

At some point a group is sure to say that they cannot rank one alternative solution above or below another. The evaluation process is an exercise in discrimination, so often a group must do some digging to determine the better of two ideas. Encourage them to seek this discriminatory state. If they still find the choice difficult, ask them to examine their criteria or the wording of the specific criterion to see if they have written a clear criterion. Perhaps they need to work on a better criterion. If the problem still persists, then average the numbers and give the same rank to each. For example, if the group feels that two ideas are the same and they cannot assign them ranks 3 and 4, they can assign them both ranks of 3.5.

Once each criterion has been applied, the numbers are added up across the grid to give one total number to each alternative solution being judged. The solution or solutions scoring highest have been judged the best according to the criteria and the group's assignment of that criteria. The chosen solution should be marked.

Now you have selected by evaluation the best idea or ideas for a solution. If it is possible to combine two or more solutions, do so at this time. Examine the relevance of this solution to the original problem. If the solution does not respond to the problem statement, steps three to five of the process should be repeated.

Planning Implementation of Solution (Partial Planning Only)

Have the groups brainstorm for the different things that might be done to carry out their solution. Allow ten minutes. With each idea ask three questions and mark each accordingly.

1. Is this idea an acceptable one? Mark A

2. Is this idea a realistic one for your group? Mark R

3. Is this idea a practical one which shows a vision of the future? Mark F 

When groups have ten or more ARF solutions, they are ready to place the ideas in one of ten listed categories.

1. Teaching people something new.

2. Obtaining funding.

3. Attracting people to work on the project.

4. Developing procedures or processes to help consumers to begin to use the service.

5. Finding a building or location to house the idea.

6. Gaining support of powerful people to support the idea.

7. Informing the general public about the idea.

8. Building (or developing) procedures, methods, or courses by which services will be rendered.

9. Distributing and updating information to all persons involved.

10. Establishing policies which guide implementation, changes, or alterations. 

Have each group decide upon the category for which they will prepare a "selling plan." (In real life, they will have to devise plans for all categories.) Students are now ready to develop criteria for evaluating their selling plan. Look at all the ARF ideas and ask what bases exist for judging them. What are the important ways in which they differ? The grid is used again in the same way as before. If cost figures in, put it third. The group should be encouraged to consider the people, community, state, national, and international impacts. If more than one plan ranks high, consider a combination of the high ranking ones to form an even better idea.

Selling the Plan

Now that the best plan has been selected, it must be further developed. Each group is to examine the ways by which their plan might be implemented in order to best gain acceptance from everyone concerned. How might any objections be overcome? Answer the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How questions.

Have the students design their persuasive presentations to appeal to the general public, since in our democratic form of government and capitalistic form of economy, it is the general public who wield the power. Give each group a five minute block of time to persuade other students that their solution is a good one. This presentation may range from a humorous skit to a serious speech. You may wish to judge the presentation according to the following criteria:

1. Concept of Presentation
a. Relationship to solution (possible 7 points)

b. Cleverness and originality (possible 7 points)

2. Delivery of Presentation

a. Creative use of space (possible 7 points)

b. Projection of ideas (possible 7 points)

c. Involvement of team members (possible 7 points)

3. Overall Persuasiveness of Presentation (7 points) Total possible - 42 points.

 

References and Additional Readings

de Bono, Edward. Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step. New York: Harper & Row, 1973.

Eberle, Bob. Scamper: Games for Imagination Development. Buffalo, New York: D.O.K. Publishers, Inc., 1971.

Eberle, Bob, and Stanish, Bob. CPS for Kids: A Resource Book for Teaching Creative Problem Solving to Children. Buffalo, New York: D.O.K. Publishers, Inc., 1980.

Edwards, Morris 0. Idea Power: Time Tested Methods to Stimulate Your Imagination. Buffalo, New York: Bearly Limited, 1986.

Gallagher, James, J. Teaching the Gifted Child. Boston, Massachusetts: Allyn and Bacon, Inc., 1975. Gordon, W.J.J., and Poze, Tony. Strange and Familiar. Cambridge, Massachusetts: SES Associates, 1972.

Gordon, W.J.J. Svnectics. New York: Harper & Row, 1961.

Gowan, John C., and Torrance, E. Paul. Educating the Ablest. Itaska, Illinois: F.E. Peacock Publishers, Inc., 1971.

Guilford, J.P. Way Beyond the 1.0. Buffalo, New York: The Creative Education Foundation, 1977. Isaksen, Scott G., and Treffinger, Donald J. Creative Problem-Solving: The Basic Course. Buffalo, New York: Bearly Limited, 1985.

Torrance, E. Paul. Guiding Creative Talent. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1962.

VanGundy, Arthur B, Jr. Techniques of Structured Problem Solving. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1981.

Williams, Frank E. Classroom Ideas for Encouraging Thinking and Feeling. Buffalo, New York: D.O.K. Publishers, Inc., 1970.

 Caribou Block Print

Foreword

Ray Barnhardt

Part I * Rural School Ideals

"My Goodness, People Come and Go So Quickly Around Here"
Lance C. Blackwood

Parental Involvement in a Cross-Cultural Environment
Monte Boston

Teachers and Administrators for Rural Alaska
Claudia Caffee

The Mentor Teacher Program
Judy Charles

Building Networks
Helen Eckelman

Ideal Curriculum and Teaching Approaches for a School in Rural Alaska
Teresa McConnell

Some Observations Concerning Excellent Rural Alaskan Schools
Bob Moore

The Ideal Rural Alaska Village School
Samuel Moses

From Then To Now: The Value of Experiential Learning
Clara Carol Potterville

The Ideal School
Jane Seaton

Toward an Integrated, Nonlinear, Community-Oriented Curriculum Unit
Mary Short

A Letter from Idealogak, Alaska
Timothy Stathis

Preparing Rural Students for the Future
Michael Stockburger

The Ideal Rural School
Dawn Weyiouanna

Alternative Approaches to the High School Curriculum
Mark J. Zintek

Part II * Rural Curriculum Ideas

"Masking" the Curriculum
Irene Bowie

On Punks and Culture
Louise J. Britton

Literature to Meet the Needs of Rural Students
Debra Buchanan

Reaching the Gifted Student Via the Regular Classroom
Patricia S. Caldwell

Early Childhood Special Education in Rural Alaska
Colleen Chinn
 

Technically Speaking
Wayne Day

Process Learning Through the School Newspaper 
Marilyn Harmon

Glacier Bay History: A Unit in Cultural Education
David Jaynes

Principals of Technology
Brian Marsh

Here's Looking at You and Whole Language
Susan Nugent

Inside, Outside and all-Around: Learning to Read and Write
Mary L. Olsen

Science Across the Curriculum
Alice Porter

Here's Looking at You 2000 Workshop
Cheryl Severns

School-Based Enterprises
Gerald Sheehan

King Island Christmas: A Language Arts Unit
Christine Pearsall Villano

Using Student-Produced Dialogues
Michael A. Wilson

We-Search and Curriculum Integration in the Community
Sally Young

Artist's Credits

 

 

Go to University of AlaskaThe University of Alaska Fairbanks is an affirmative action/equal opportunity employer and educational institution and is a part of the University of Alaska system.

 


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Last modified August 18, 2006