I first heard about the idea of “Problem-Finders” from Ewan McIntosh, and it always struck me as something we should be focusing on in education:
“Currently, the world’s education systems are crazy about problem-based learning, but they’re obsessed with the wrong bit of it. While everyone looks at how we could help young people become better problem-solvers, we’re not thinking how we could create a generation of problem finders.”
One of the misperceptions with the concept is that “Problem-Finders” and “Problem-Solvers” is an “either/or” scenario. It is that we need to develop both skills but helping students (and educators) find problems that are meaningful to them will lead to better solutions.
How innovative will you be in finding a solution to a problem you have no interest in solving?
In “A More Beautiful Question” by Warren Berger, he talks about how asking great questions is essential for growth and progress in not only the learner but society as a whole:
On some level, we must know—as the business executive knows, as the schoolteacher knows—that questions are important and that we should be paying more attention to them, especially the meaningful ones. The great thinkers have been telling us this since the time of Socrates. The poets have waxed on the subject: E. E. Cummings, from whom I borrowed this book’s title, wrote, Always the beautiful answer / who asks a more beautiful question. Artists from Picasso to Chuck Close have spoken of questioning’s inspirational power.
…Scientists, meanwhile, have been great proponents of questioning, with Einstein among the most vocal champions. He was asking smart questions from age four (when he wondered why the compass pointed north), and throughout his life Einstein saw curiosity as something “holy.” Though he wondered about a great many things, Einstein was deliberate in choosing which questions to tackle: In one of his more well-traveled quotes—which he may or may not have actually said—he reckoned that if he had an hour to solve a problem and his life depended on it, he’d spend the first fifty-five minutes making sure he was answering the right question.
I thought about this when I was recently asked how we can “teach the curriculum but still develop problem-finders within our system?” I referred to this tweet by Wendy Johnson who shares an incredible example of how a little shift in thinking can make a huge difference in our classrooms:
I wrote my dissertation on curiosity in science classrooms and found that focusing on questions rather than answers changes everything. Every lesson I teach is driven by my students’ questions. My role is to support students in asking questions & in figuring out the answers. pic.twitter.com/yoIz5L9jxI
— Wendy Johnson (@WendyJohnsonMI) September 3, 2018
Now a student might hate the content being taught but at least giving them the opportunity to develop questions is a skill that is essential to inspire and develop in all learners. But with limited time in a school day, starting with figuring out great questions as opposed to regurgitating memorized answers and solutions (as Wendy above suggests) will lead to more profound learning way beyond a student’s time in the classroom.
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