ERIC Identifier: ED355040
Publication Date: 1993-00-00
Author: Britz, Joan
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
Problem Solving in Early Childhood Classrooms. ERIC Digest.
Problem solving is the foundation of a young child's learning. It must be valued, promoted, provided for, and sustained in the early childhood classroom. Opportunities for problem solving occur in the everyday context of a child's life. By observing the child closely, teachers can use the child's social, cognitive, movement, and emotional experiences to facilitate problem solving and promote strategies useful in the lifelong process of learning.
LEARNING THROUGH PROBLEM SOLVING
THE TEACHER'S ROLE
The teacher must be willing to become a learner, too. By being curious, observing, listening, and questioning, the teacher shares and models the qualities that are valued and promoted by the problem-solving process.
PLANNING FOR PROBLEM SOLVING
For example, a second grade investigation of waste materials from a classroom led one group of young children to explore the topic in an integrated way. Reading, writing, counting, measuring, interviews of community people, and science experiments were planned, initiated, and reported. Solutions to many problems posed during the investigation were tried out and some were found to be successful. Through group work, individuals were able to participate and communicate as cognitive and social needs were met. Each child, at individual levels and in individual ways, was successful within the group experience. Problem solving empowers children.
PROVIDING FOR PROBLEM SOLVING
1. Time: Teachers can provide for problem solving by enlarging blocks of learning time during the school day. Because making choices, discussing decisions, and evaluating mistakes takes time, large time blocks best suit the problem-solving process. It is important that children know they have time to identify and solve problems.
2. Space: Projects and group meetings may require an assessment of classroom space. Moving desks and tables together facilitates communication and cooperation in the classroom. Once the teacher has observed the patterns of traffic in the classroom, equipment can be moved or eliminated to promote problem solving.
3. Materials: The open-ended materials that are needed for the construction and concrete solving of problems should be safe, durable, and varied. Well-marked storage units should be easily accessible to children, and materials should be available for ongoing exploration and manipulation. Access to a variety of materials encourages children to use materials in new and diverse ways. This freedom promotes problem solving.
THE PROBLEM-SOLVING MODEL
1. Identifying the problem,
2. Brainstorming a variety of solutions,
3. Choosing one solution and trying it out, and
4. Evaluating what has happened.
Often the most difficult of these steps is identifying the problem. If Bill cries, "Alice is hitting me," the problem to be solved is not the hitting but, rather, THE REASON WHY Alice is hitting Bill. Therefore, the investigation of solutions must relate to the cause of the problem instead of its effect. Brainstorming gives children practice in communication, negotiation, and cooperation skills. Learning to express individual ideas in a diverse society is important. By choosing and trying out a solution, learners develop empathy, come to consensus, and share the responsibility of the decision. These are valued learnings in a democratic society. Finally, by evaluating the problem-solving process, children assess their choices and mistakes and learn to be independent evaluators of their work.
The process of problem solving--making choices and learning from them--is facilitated by teachers who observe, listen, and ask open-ended questions that further the process: questions such as, "What will happen if...?" and "What other ways can you think of...?" Problem solving becomes a cycle of learning when mistakes are made and different solutions have to be tried. This discovery process allows children to construct their own learnings. Most problems have more than one solution; some problems cannot be solved. Experiences with these sorts of problems promote learning in young children.
CHOOSING GOOD PROBLEMS
1. Is the problem meaningful and interesting?
2. Can the problem be solved at a variety of levels?
3. Must a new decision be made?
4. Can the actions be evaluated?
Problem solving is a way to make sense of the environment and, in fact, control it. The process allows children in an increasingly diverse world to be active participants and to implement changes. By including problem solving in the early childhood classroom, we equip children with a life-long skill that is useful in all areas of learning.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Bredekamp, S., ed. DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE PRACTICE. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1986. ED 283 587.
Britz, J., and Richard, N. PROBLEM SOLVING IN THE EARLY CHILDHOOD CLASSROOM. Washington, DC: National Education Association, 1992.
Goffin, S., and Tull, C. "Problem Solving. Encouraging Active Learning." YOUNG CHILDREN 40 (1985): 28-32. EJ 314 275.
Katz, L., and Chard, S. ENGAGING CHILDREN'S MINDS: THE PROJECT APPROACH. Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 1989.
Piaget, J. THE ORIGINS OF INTELLIGENCE IN CHILDREN. New York: W.W. Norton, 1963.