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Chapter 24     Problem Solving

Problem solving is a very important process that young children have to learn. Starting to teach youngsters in the early childhood classroom about how to solve problems and resolve conflicts is a challenging task - but achievable nevertheless. Situations that require problem solving occur daily. Teachers can be instrumental in guiding the problem solving process as part of their charges' social education and as a valuable inquiry tool to facilitate learning..

A Natural Process

By exploring social relationships, manipulating objects, and interacting with people, children are able to formulate ideas, try these ideas out, and accept or reject what they learn.

Making mistakes is a natural part of learning.  It is part of the process of solving the problem at hand. Children solve problems in the same manner as scientists, through observation, exploration and experimentation.  This makes the learning meaningful and directly relevant to the problem solver . Piaget says that children only understand what they discover or invent themselves (1963). We tend to take the view that what children learn by themselves is learned faster and retained longer than what they are taught by others, including the teacher.  Therefore learning to solve problems for themselves, certainly benefits young learners.

The Teacher as a Guide

Teachers can be active guides and present a series of problems for the students to solve.  Once they discover how to to this, they can apply the same exploration process to any situation.

When teachers present problems and discuss solutions with their young learners, it involves the children in the problem-solving process. It also helps to remind children that there is a process that can be applied to resolving any conflict or problem that they face.  The teacher acts as a role model for the children.

The teacher must first be aware of how the process works and be confident in his/her ability to introduce it to the class. Using a standard problem-solving model is a good way to begin the process. The more the teacher applies the model, the better skilled s/he will become. The teacher must be patient, observant, understanding, trusting, attentive, curious and a good listener.

Steps to Solving Problems

To become proficient at problem resolution, a teacher must be cognizant of and follow several steps:

1. Identify the real problem
2. Explore possible options to resolve it
3. Select the best solution
4. Make sure the solution is acceptable
5. Evaluate the result.

The first step is the key. It is easy to hide a real problem within another one.  If one student is causing problems for another, the teacher needs to determine why it is happening. Without pinning down the cause of the problem, then discussing it with both participants, any solution proposed with either be deemed unacceptable or not abided by.

The teacher may have to 'play detective' to root out the true cause.  Asking each one is a good beginning.  Asking other students for their ideas helps by giving all students a lesson in social acceptability, communication, fairplay, negotiation, and cooperation skills.
It also lets students express their feelings. This is an important outlet. Encouraging students to vent their feelings, talk about their own ideas and participate actively in community discussions makes them active participants in the final decision.  Again, this is a trait that will help them immensely in their future endeavours.

Class involvement

Problem solving is action learning. It involves listing options, choosing what appears to be the best solution, observing what happens and learning from the result. Here the teacher can guide the process by throwing out questions such as:

"What would happen if...?"
"Suppose you ..."
"What do you think about...?"
"Is there another way you think you could...?"

Action learning is a cycle of reflecting-listing-choosing-learning-reflecting and where necessary, applying the same process again until an effective solution is found.  This reflective learning through discovery process allows children to contribute and builkd confidence in their ability to learn through reflection and selection.

In some cases, problems may have more than one solution but usually there is one that is 'best'. On the other hand, not all problems can be resolved. Sometimes the participants are too young to understand, too stubborn to be willing to change or compromise, the problem is too deep-rooted, or the problem involves outside factors that are beyond the control of the teacher and participants.  Nevertheless, learning to handle all sorts of problems are good learning experiences for young children.

Problem solving is what makes the world go around. Solving problems in a constructive way allows children in an increasingly diverse world to be active participants and to implement changes. By iteaching young children how to resolve conflicts and solve problems, teachers provide children with a life-long skill that they will benefit from in all aspects of their life.

Assignment 4
Teaching Young Kids (article)
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