Remember what it was like to be a kid? Remember what it was like to have dreams and a world full of ambition? Remember the first thing you ever built? I sure do. It was a foot stool I made with my grandpa. That thing must have had a hundred nails in it! Back when we didn't have a care or responsibility in the world we all had an insurmountable drive and a load of creativity because we didn't know any better. We only wish we could have that back as we get older.
In the "grown up world" we are so concerned with meeting quotas and producing numbers and "fitting in the system" that we forget the importance of our creativity and ability to solve problems. We can get so entranced that we fail to realize the value of hard work we learned while having fun building our first treehouse, or when we learned to ride a bike. We focus so much on how to fall in line and into a system that sometimes I wonder if we know how to think on our own.
I was a teacher in the TAP System this past school year. For those of you who don't know, that stands for Teacher Advancement Program. To summarize quickly, career teachers are observed and given a score by Mentor teachers, Master teachers, and School administration. Career teachers as well as Mentors and Master teachers are given a score 4 times throughout the school year.
Recently I had an evaluation in which I received a score of 5 in the area of problem solving. The scoring scale ranges from 1-5, with 5 being the highest. I was so happy with the 5 because of he particular area it was in. I teach engineering, so you can imagine the ability to problem solve is a high priority for me. However, problem solving is so much more than that.
To me, problem solving is one of the last areas of creativity left in education. This is an area in which kids are still allowed to come up with their own solutions to problems. My evaluator asked me, "how do you get kids to understand the importance of problem solving?" As I thought about how to answer the question I paused for what seemed like an eternity. I answered with, "because they need to understand the importance of thinking and putting thoughts into actions while learning to take calculated risks and knowing that learning from failure is sometimes acceptable." Thinking further, I should've added that the teacher needs to act more like a guide rather than a critic to setup the successful culture for problem solving.
As I gave my answer not only did I think about my students at school, but also my 5 year old daughter. I began to question if I'm giving the opportunities to think creatively, yet learn something that might make the world a better place at the same time. While I realize that building tree houses and riding bikes aren't worldy contributions; the value of finding innovative and more efficient ways of doing something can create a lifelong learner. I hope I'm able to continue this vision throughout my career and get my mind off of promotions and other distractions. Indeed, these are the kinds of activities our youth and world need . . . not learning how to be a part of the process. After all, we can't hold onto the hands of our youth forever. What future will any of us have without the ability to problem solve?