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The North Bend Eagle


Fifth graders working on solving future problems

by Mary Le Arneal
Published 4/6/11

Melissa Cody, Title II instructor at North Bend Elementary School, has a long history with the Future Problem Solving Program (FPS). She started as a fifth grader herself and did it all through high school.

“I have held just about every role: participant, evaluator, Nebraska affiliate director, and now coach,” Cody said. “I wanted to bring the program to North Bend because, as I think back on my own experience, I know FPS gave me so many positive opportunities. I learned skills of teamwork, research, creativity, problem solving, and communication. Those are the skills we want for our students, that employers look for and that make a well-rounded graduate.”

This year Cody, with the input of fifth grade teachers, invited eight fifth graders to make up a team. They have met two afternoons a week after school for an hour since November. Cody and fifth/sixth grade teacher Becky Streff are the coaches.

Each week the students are divided into teams and given roles to play in their group: task manager, proofreader, questioner, and time keeper. They are also given different writing responsibilities each week.

They have a meeting agenda, beginning each meeting with brainstorming. Last week they brainstormed on things that are associated with the word “check.”

They record their ideas in a book and then share the one they think is the most creative or unique. Some of their responses were “doctor’s office,” “Czechoslovokia,” “Prague, Nebraska,” and “account.”

After brainstorming they read about a topic. Now they are studying genetic testing. They cover three to four topics a year. This year they have also studied healthy living and air transportation.

Emma Kavan said air transportaion was her favorite area of study.

“We got to take a field trip to the Fremont Airport, and we even got to sit in a plane,” she said.

Michael Mensik also enjoyed the air transportation unit. He said he learned that in 2061 people may use ‘aircars’ instead of modern-day vehicles.

Everything is done as a team of four. They have to interact as they discuss different aspects of genetic testing and later, come up with solutions.

The topics come from the national FPS office. The students are taught a six-step process to solve problems. First research with (I) brainstorming and (II) identifying potential problems and selecting one for creative attack, (III) brainstorm and focus solutions, and then come up with a plan of attact by (IV) selecting criteria to evaluate solutions, (V) applying criteria to possible solutions and (VI) develop ing an action plan for the best solutions.

“My personal favorite is the action plan,” Ella Endorf said, “because it requires quite a bit of creativity and it is the most complex and challenging of all the things you do.”

As sixth graders next year, these students will participate in competitions, with four competitions over the Internet and then the final competition at a site they will travel to.

“Competitive problem solving is a timed (2 hour) event, in which students must use and apply their research and knowledge to an unknown ‘future scene,’” Cody said.
The students are enjoying FPS.

“The best part of FPS is learning new things and thinking about how life might be in the future,” Justin Mensik said. “There is a lot of homework, but it is fun.”

Caitlyn Wiebold said working together is key.

“I have learned a lot from FPS,” she said, “but I think the most important thing would have to be that if you don’t work as a team you won’t get done what you need to get done.”

Many of the students say they enjoy the camaraderie of the group.

“Although we’ve had only about thirty meetings, it feels like I’ve been apart of it for much longer,” Kylie Allgood said. “You really become close friends with your teammates and coaches. While learning about what may happen in the future, we learn how to write challenges, the things that are challenging, solutions, ways to overcome the challenges, and much more.”

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