The work we do in schools should prepare students to be positive members of society. It is in every sense the work of a lifetime. Students should be provided opportunities to practice the skills they will need to be successful in our world. Teachers work to inspire students to create, to grow their knowledge, and to be confident problems solvers. The question, what in our curriculums can really push students to aspire to that kind of work? Recently we saw a great opportunity to do this as we continued in our World Communities UoS.
We began by looking at the structure of problem and solution. How could we immerse children in an experience where this would become meaningful to them? From this question grew the idea of putting a modern twist on the “United Nations” theme that is used in so many classrooms. We are taking a gaming approach to this concept because it’s easily understood by children today. This would help foster critical thinking skills, collaboration between classmates, and problem solving that matters; all skills so important in the 21st century classroom.
Noticing Problems Close Reading Using the Five Social Studies Strands:
- Partnerships gathered on the carpet with their resources in hand.
- A grand conversation about what the United Nations is and its purpose begins. There are many possible ways to do this; kid friendly passages, videos, picture galleries.
- Brainstorming problems that may exist within the five strands. We used the history strand in a different way. We used it as a vehicle for cause and effect, our message to students was that we can make summative predictions based on historical events. We look back at history because the power of history is that we can learn from it to gauge how things come to be or what they may become.
- Children get together using texts to research problems, record these problems on index cards, then evaluate and rank problems according to their importance to their country. These problem cards are used later during the mid workshop interruption.
- Partnerships present their problems to the “United Nations” during the mid workshop interruption and we guide the discussion about which problems should take precedent: endangered kiwi bird versus famine. In the end, it is up to the children, it is their work. We are exploring these topics together but they are the ones who have to do the heavy lifting. This is a vehicle for this type of thought process.
- The problems are then recorded for all to see and to think about.
Creative Solutions Synthesis At Work
Understanding world problems and hypothesizing solutions is an exercise in abstract thinking for children. How do we make this relevant for students on a level they can embrace? Gamification. Educators all over are experimenting with the concept of, “gamification” or using game design and mechanics to enhance non-game contexts. Students quickly learn that each nation has different “powers” or resources at their disposal. Just as with games like Minecraft, kids can draw from a bank of resources to come up with creative solutions to real problems nations face. This makes problem solving more concrete, a way to figure out how to use your resources for the greater good. Children are asked to consider all their country has to offer in terms of problem solving. How can their country be helpful to another country? What does their country have that they can share with other countries? They have to take stock and think about how one country’s natural resources, products, knowledge, technology or values may solve another’s problems. They also need to think strategically, if one country helps another, what does that country have to gain?
Our role is to oversee and critique their work asking questions, pushing them to think on multiple levels as they work through problem solving. This makes reading and writing so much more purposeful, children see it as a way to extend their own thinking rather than a task to be completed for us.
Our main purpose is to get students to read, write, and to engage in discussion that propels problem solving and critical thinking. If we take on this work, we also have to embrace their approximations for their learning. So not everything they come up with will be perfection, and that’s because our intention is not to memorize facts about the United Nations or natural resources that France has to offer. We want children to be able to synthesize their thinking and create solutions as a rehearsal for work they will be doing later on in their schooling experiences. The work they do now as third graders is working on a continuum for when they are in fifth grade, middle school, and high school. We want to awaken their curiosity and personal power so that they see themselves as capable learners who have something to say about the world in which we live.