PROBLEM SOLVERS

Students team up, take on the future

Science instigator Elizabeth Connell’s students at the Episcopal School of Baton Rouge are learning skills to solve future problems in their lives, their communities or maybe even the world.

Connell, who has a doctorate in gifted and creative education from the University of Georgia, last year coached seven Episcopal teams, grades 4-6, in the Future Problem Solving Program International.

Students in the program work in teams of three or four to solve problems in six stages. “The students sit at a table, open a sealed envelope, read a future scene and identify the challenges,” Connell said.

They follow a process of selecting an underlying problem, presenting solution ideas, developing criteria for a possible solution, applying criteria and writing an action plan.

“This really helps build critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills,” Connell said.

The students were put in their teams after an exercise in creating pictures from 16 circles. “Dr. Connell graded us on what we were best at of creativity, fluency, flexibility and originality,” said Celia Kiesel, 11.

“We tried to make a team with all four people good at different things,” Laura Kurtz, 11, said.

Flexibility is one of the important skills the program stresses. “Flexibility is one of the behaviors we don’t encourage in the classroom,” Connell said. “When you are not flexible, you may not be able to solve problems outside the box.”

Her teams won first, second, fourth and fifth place in state competition that included teams in Lafayette and New Orleans.

Connell took the Bright Knights, the first-place team of Adam Reid, 11, Emily Zartman and Charlie Roth, both 10, and Celia Kiesel to the program’s international conference June 6-9 at Indiana University in Bloomington. Charlie was an alternate on the team replacing Tanner Bodron, who could not make the trip.

Isabella “Izzy” Goel, 11, and Laura Kurtz also served as alternates and participated in the Multi Affiliate Global Issues competition with team members from other states or countries, students they had never met.

“They were given 10 minutes to bond,” Connell said.

The four-day event began with a mixer for which the students brought mementos from Baton Rouge and Louisiana to exchange with the other participants. The students set up booths around a huge fountain or walked around with large bags trading their items. “This was a real eye-opener,” Connell said. “It was so exciting because at this age children rarely have the opportunity to meet kids from Korea or Australia.”

At the opening event, the 3,000 participants sat by state or country. When they announced Louisiana, Charlie carried the state flag to the stage. “The youngest of the state always carries the flag,” he said.

For the international competition, the topic was women’s global issues.

“Our scenario that we needed to solve was to make the world a fairer or better place for women,” Emily said.

“We had to find out how women were being abused and how to help them improve,” Adam said. “We had to pick how we could solve this problem by 2045.”

Robots, a topic well on the minds of 10- and 11-year-olds, was the solution the group developed.

“The robot would be planted in the ground,” Charlie said. “When women were being abused, a red light would flash and the United Nations could come.”

“The red light would go off and the United Nations would drop fake dust bombs to distract the people abusing the women and they would go away,” Adam said. The idea of the robots was his.

These problems would then be presented to the government under which the women lived, and the government would help improve the situation for the women.

Farfetched?

Not to the Bright Knights, especially by 2045.

“The lesson from this,” Connell said, “is that no matter what language, no matter where kids come from, 11-year-olds are 11-year-olds.”