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Problem Solving Skills 2 0f 4


The following example of an evaporating cloud was used to teach the approach to a fourth-grade elementary school class in about 20 min­utes. Since the time available was limited, they were presented with the cloud already developed, as shown in figure 2, rather than have them develop the cloud for themselves.

However, it would probably have been relatively easy for them to develop this cloud, given the subject matter. At first, they were only shown the basic conflict, which they all agreed was very real to them. This conflict was between being allowed to stay up beyond their regular bedtimes rather than going to bed at the regular time. Without seeing any of the cloud beyond the conflict, they were asked for the usual rea­son why they would want to stay up on a school night. The answer, of course, was to watch special TV programs. They had difficulty identify­ing the reason why their parents would want them to go to bed at the regular time instead, but agreed that it would probably not be best to deliberately come to school too tired to have a good day. They also readily accepted the common objective of "feeling good and enjoying life" for both sides of the conflict. The fourth graders were asked to identify each of the reasons (assumptions) behind each of the relationship arrows:

A-B, B-D, A-C, C-E, and D-E. The answers shown in figure 3 are their work as a class, not an adult's thinking. The relationships are expressed in terms of "In order to have [A] I must have [B], because [reason]" in order to state it in the form of a necessary condition. In other words, in order to "feel good and enjoy life," the kids must be able to "watch special TV programs" because the "kids enjoy watching TV." Note that the statement that "kids enjoy watching TV is the reason (assumption) that underlies the relationship. In order to "watch special TV programs," the kids must "stay up beyond regular bedtime" because the "show is on late, and they want to watch it while it's on." Similarly, in order to fulfill another requirement to "feel good and enjoy life," the kids must "get enough sleep to do their best in school," because they "need enough rest to do well in school." In order to "get enough sleep to do their best in school," the kids must "go to bed at their regular bedtime," because they "won't get enough sleep unless they go to bed at the regular time." Keep in mind that these are the answers of the fourth graders, rather than any adult. Also note that they had no trouble at all in identifying these as­sumptions.


After identifying the reasons behind each of the relationship arrows (excluding the conflict arrow, which seemed obvious), the fourth grad­ers in the class were then asked whether they could find an opposite to any of the reasons shown. They had very little hesitation in suggesting the following answers. The first answer was an opposite to B-D: that the "show was on late, and they wanted to watch it while it was on." In this community with videotape recorders in most of the households, an obvious answer was to "videotape the TV show, watch it later." Note that this is a potential solution that would neatly invalidate the assump­tion, and basically resolve the problem. The next suggestion was a somewhat more creative solution to invalidate the same assumption. If you "wait for a rerun" of the program, it is likely to be shown at the same time of day, but during the summer when school is not in session, and the kids would be more likely to get permission to stay up later and watch the show. Another youngster noted that many of these TV shows were movies, and suggested "rent a videotape." About 15 seconds later, someone from a family where this was probably common, suggested "buy the videotape." Note that any of these suggestions would provide an innovative and simple solution that resolves the problem. Probably the most creative solution was suggested as an alternative to relation­ship C-E, that the kids "won't get enough sleep unless they go to bed at the regular time." This creative youngster suggested, "Take a nap ear­lier in the day," which would probably be enough to convince many parents to allow the later bedtime.

To Be Continued

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