April 25, 2018
How to Succeed at Solving Any Problem Using Solution Fluency
The children of today will be the leaders and architects of tomorrow. That's why they will need a process they can internalize to face challenges and problems that haven’t even been realized yet. We've come to know this as the 6Ds of Solution Fluency and you've seen it before. However, this time we're taking a much more detailed look at how this bulletproof problem-solving process works. If you've ever had any questions about using Solution Fluency, then this will answer many of them.
In the sections that follow, we’ll really shine a spotlight on the mechanics and thought processes behind each stage of the 6Ds. It will give you a better roadmap to give to your learners (and yourself) for using Solution Fluency. Here's to all the learning adventures you'll take them on—and all the life adventures they'll experience after they've graduated.
A Breakdown of Using Solution Fluency
The 6Ds of Solution Fluency are an essential system for building problem-solving prowess and strong critical thinking capacity. These 6Ds are Define, Discover, Dream, Design, Deliver, and Debrief.
We'll begin by looking at the prerequisites for each stage. Next we'll offer some key questions for when you're using Solution Fluency in your classroom. As an added bonus, we'll also conclude each section with some expected outcomes for that stage. Use it as a template to gauge how successful your learners have been with applying each stage.
Remember, using Solution Fluency is a cyclical journey in learning and growing. Learners will be revisiting and revising things every step of the way. Consider the outcomes as a helpful guideline for constant improvement and reflection.
This is about defining the problem or challenge. In this beginning stage, the teacher introduces the task and guides the learners toward obtaining some key information:
- What is the purpose of the activity or task?
- Who is the audience for the product or solution?
Today's modern learners thrive on real problems provided within a realistic context. Being able to link the activity and its purpose to the world they live in makes learning more engaging and relevant.
The teacher has a clear understanding of the intended goals and outcomes of the activity and has identified the curricular links and any timetabling or scheduling elements. The assessment elements are also identified, including:
- how the aspect will be assessed
- the assessment's value
- the mode of assessment
- What are your learners' areas of knowledge and understanding? Most projects start with prior knowledge or experience. Get an idea of what the students know or need to know before undertaking the task. Remember also that knowledge can be lost or forgotten over time. The development stage that the students are at impacts what they have retained and what has been discarded.
- What is the purpose? Things will work better if your learners have a realistic and clearly defined sense of purpose for why the problem must be solved or the challenge met. Without one, they are far less likely to be engaged.
- What are the outcomes and solutions? Will this task be directed to a particular solution, or will the students be able to consider and select a solution that suits their purpose?
- What is the time frame for the process? Many of the problems our learners will face beyond school will be under specific time constraints regarding the development of a viable solution. Giving the task a deadline provides a great exercise in effective time management.
- Is it an individual or collaborative activity? Our modern learners are collaborative and enjoy working in teams. Depending on the activity you have in mind, decide if they can use an individual or collaborative approach.
- Does the learning activity have a practical context? The more contextual and real-world the task or problem is, the more likely you are to get engagement from the learners.
- Who is the audience? The intended audience for whom the solution is intended has a huge influence on how it's designed. It influences the style, type, and complexity of the language used, and also color schemes, image selection, layout, fonts, and other graphic design elements.
Students can clearly define the task they are about to undertake. They have key information regarding:
- the purpose of the activity, task, or problem
- the target audience
- the required outcomes
- the timeframe for the task
- the mode of the task (collaborative or individual)
In this stage, the learners investigate and research the background of the problem. They should consider the Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How of the background. Asking good questions is the starting point, but equally critical is authenticating and validating collected and collated information.
The students must have a clear and concise definition of the problem or task and should be able to define the task to you clearly and easily.
- Why is the problem significant? Any problem that requires our learners' attention will have a certain scope and significance that defines it. What makes this challenge worthy of taking on? Why is it important to the person, the community, or the globe that a solution is produced and applied? In short, why should we care about this problem in the first place?
- What is the background or history of the problem? What has lead to this problem occurring? Has this problem occurred before and, if so, where and when? Who worked on this problem in the past? What were the solutions they developed? Did they succeed or fail? What lessons can learners take from this?
- Who are the stakeholders in this problem and how are they affected?
- Do I have a clear understanding of the problem? If not, start again. Every part of Solution Fluency is cyclical—it is not a failure to not understand the background completely. We must always be reflective and evaluative in order to identify weaknesses and correct them.
- Have I applied the basics of Information Fluency? The 5As of Information Fluency will lead learners through the process of locating, validating, and suitably citing the information they need.
Students have a clear understanding of the problem and its background. They understand the underlying processes and concepts and are able and ready to consider and design a solution in the next stages.
This phase of the 6Ds is the creative aspect where learners are challenged individually or collaboratively to consider the problem and develop a solution to it. We must be sure to cultivate this skill in our learners along with a capacity to judge whether or not a task or solution is feasible. For a task or activity to be feasible, we must consider each of the following:
- Is it suitable for the audience?
- Is it suitable for the purpose?
- Is it achievable with the available technology?
- Is it achievable within the time frame?
- Is it achievable within the existing skill set or with the skills that can be developed within the available time frame?
- Is it achievable with the existing budget?
To produce a feasible solution to a problem you must first understand the problem. It is important that the learners research and develop an understanding of the problem, who is affected, and why it is significant.
- What do we want to achieve in terms of a solution? This is an excellent starting point. Using brainstorming, the students can quickly outline their base knowledge, the development process, possible solutions, and feasibility. What might work? What has been tried before, and was it successful? What lessons can be learned from this? Can these lessons be used here?
- How will we outline our solution? Ask the six key questions again: Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How?
- How will we challenge our idea? Is it feasible in terms of time, cost, skills, and technology? Does it suit the purpose? Does it suit the audience?
- Is this a SMART Solution? The term SMART is usually associated with goals and objectives, but also applies to the solution for our learning. SMART solutions are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely.
- What's our best idea for a solution? Here the students should examine the feasibility of the solutions and then make a selection based on this. A solution should be evaluated and considered, refined, challenged, and reconsidered.
A solution is visualized and agreed upon that is feasible and SMART. The solution is within the abilities and constraints for the learners to develop and demonstrate.
Now the learners begin to hammer out the initial framework for the solution they are developing to apply to the initial challenge. The starting points for this stage are our two key focal points again: the audience and the purpose. From there they can:
- develop a suitable plan to achieve a goal
- identify milestones they will work toward
- establish checkpoints by breaking their design process into small manageable steps
- reflect on the solutions (suitability for purpose and audience, feasibility, practicality)
- identify the critical information components
How learners present their solution frameworks is another consideration. Some common and popular methods are:
- an essay or report
- bulleted list
- concept sketches
- mind maps
Moving forward requires learners to have established a clear and feasible concept for a solution.
- What are the sequence and timeline? What are the key points or milestones on the journey towards the solution? What has to be done and when must it be done? For many learners, only stating the end point of a task makes it look unachievable. Breaking the task down into smaller manageable components makes the project more viable.
- What are the project components? This includes consideration of the following:
- Design components—Suitability for the audience and purpose, readability, legibility, use of colour, repetition, consistency, pattern and contrast, etc.
- Information components—What information do the students need to complete this task? What sources do they access to get this information? If research is an aspect of the task, how are the students addressing:
- How are we assessing this stage? Formative assessment by the teacher is critical at this point. If your learners don't get accurate and timely feedback, they may attempt solutions that are inappropriate or unachievable. However, there is also value in allowing the students to make mistakes and develop alternative solutions from this.
The learners develop a feasible design for a solution to suit the purpose and audience. They also have a clear and achievable plan as to how to develop this solution.
Learners can enter into the Deliver phase—the actual development stage of the task—once they have a clear plan and design. The development of any solution will go through numerous phases before reaching its final state. This is a great time for students to practice peer review.
Peer review can work on projects as simple as researching and developing a wiki or as complex as developing a website to solve a real-world problem. Ensure learners have clear guidelines about what is acceptable behavior and what are appropriate comments to make in peer reviewing. Consistent moderation of the feedback by the teacher is also crucial.
The design of a feasible solution that will suit the purpose and audience, and a clear and achievable plan as to how to develop the solution.
- What is the information component? You could say we're living in a “cut and paste” society since technology makes it easy to copy information. As a result, the information component of development is vital. Your learners need to be able to ask good questions and structure/refine searches to obtain the best results. The key aspects of this are:
- What will the production process look like? Production is a process of developing, reflecting, and refining. Development should be in small manageable steps or stages. The setting of milestones makes this easier to achieve. With increased achievement, the students are better motivated and engaged. More formal projects will often consist of informal testing followed up with three or more stages of formal testing:
- Technical testing—Does the product or solution work?
- Information testing—Is the information accurate, readable and complete?
- End user testing—This is tested by the people or person that the solution is being developed for. Is it suitable for the target audience and purpose?
- How will reflection on the production process occur? The students can use a blog to reflect and comment on their progress day-by-day. Blogs allow the teacher to maintain a level of monitoring, as well as offering comments and suggestions as the project progresses.
The learners produce and apply a suitable solution to the problem. Sometimes it may not work, and this can be a powerful learning experience involving useful failure.
This is the final destination of any learning journey, an opportunity to reflect and learn. Both the learner and teacher should reflect on what is being learned, how it has been learned, and the relevance of the content, processes, skills or techniques. Timely and appropriate feedback is one of the most powerful learning tools we have. Provide constructive and actionable feedback throughout the project process. This is particularly relevant in projects stretching beyond one to two classes.
Depending on the age and maturity of the students, the teacher may be able to encourage and facilitate peer feedback. However, this is a decision that each teacher must make based on the composition of the class, and the maturity of the students. A degree of conflict between members of any group is to be expected. Building a solid base of expectations and guidelines, as well as modeling and monitoring of behavior, will make this process safe and appropriate.
The learners have demonstrated the application of a suitable and appropriate solution to the initial challenge.
- What was the problem-solving process like overall? This part of debriefing reflects on the task undertaken, the design that was developed, the solution it produced, how the process was refined throughout, the challenges faced and the discoveries made, and the experiences of self- and peer-engagement.
- Did the solution suit the purpose and the audience? Here the learners consider the end results of those all-important two questions we keep asking throughout the process. If not, what could they have done differently?
- Was the project suitable for the learning outcomes? Did it achieve knowledge outcomes, process outcomes, skills outcomes, curriculum objectives, and engagement objectives?
The debrief reflection leads to personal growth, and process/product refinement.
Build Some Solution Fluency Muscle
There's no way we can see the future, but we know what it will be like all the same. We know it will be just as unstable and ever-changing as the present is. In order for our learners to thrive in this future, they need problem-solving skills that help them overcome any challenge, no matter how great or how small. The best place to begin is with the Solution Fluency Companion, your one-stop inclusive guide for understanding, teaching with, and assessing this invaluable set of skills.
As a teacher, you have a clear understanding of what you want to achieve, when you need to do it, and how you would like to do it. The 6D approach of using Solution Fluency is the essential composite of a learner's experience with any kind of learning.