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Reflecting on iNACOL 2016: Creating Independent Thinkers and Fostering Problem Solvers

Monday, November 7, 2016 -- Brianna Pyka

As a company of educators, it’s no surprise that the Edmentum team enjoys learning. Last week, over 30 Edmentum team members were lucky to attend the  iNACOL 2016 Blended and Online Learning Symposium. With over 200 sessions, inspiration and excitement on a variety of topics was in no short supply, but one theme caught my eye throughout multiple sessions—problem solving. We know that educators solve dozens of problems on a daily basis. But what about students? A session facilitated by Raise Your Hand Texas on Raising Blended Learners offered some particularly meaningful points on the importance of cultivating an environment to develop learners as problem solvers. Here’s some of the tips I picked up to help educators instill problem solving skills in students.

Be ok with failing 

Embracing failure is much easier said than done. However, to me it’s still an important reminder that leaves a lasting impression each time I hear it said. And, it goes hand-in-hand with the importance of being willing to ask for help when faced with new or challenging situations. Incorporating technology in the classroom is a great example—very likley, the process will not be seamless the first, second, or even tenth time in some situations. At times like this, an understanding of the value in failing and learning from failures is not only important for educators who will continue to grow and develop but also to learners who both hear and see the importance of persistence in action. Failure requires practice, just as much as any other skill in life. It’s simple, but very important.

Get students involved

This was by far my favorite concept when discussing the elements required to foster the development of problem solvers: the need to get students involved. Again, very simple. But this session focused on one innovative school that has put students to work when it comes to solving problems, and in turn made teachers learners. Each day, the school sets aside time for teachers to attend the student-run “genius bar”, where they can ask various tech questions. Because students are often more comfortable with classroom technology than instructors, it’s a valuable opportunity for knowledge-sharing, and students feel excited and empowered to be able to teach their teachers. Sometimes, the concepts taught have been just the basics of how to use a device, while other times bugs have been fixed, or opportunities for larger-scale problem-solving and collaboration have been identified.

Provide independent learning time and flexible learning environments

The last element in building a culture of problem solving is the role of independent learning time and flexible learning environments. This is where personalized learning comes in. As we know, providing opportunities for learners to take a more active role in mapping out their academic journey promotes buy-in and even excitement, since students get to identify and pursue more of what they enjoy. Pushing the normal boundaries of a typical learning environment—desks in straight rows, teacher at the front of the classroom, etc.—can help promote creativity and unlock abstract, critical thinking. This kind of environment helps guide learners toward new experiences and put their interests into practice through projects, internships, and other hands-on experiences.

Critical thinking and problem solving skills are such important abilities in today’s increasingly tech-heavy and ever-changing world. Putting a focus on developing these skills in the classroom, no matter what approach you take, is key. Looking for a few more tips? Check out this blog post on cultivating growth mindset in your classroom!