So I Innocently Write Up a Lesson Plan...

This year I was given the task of creating new lesson plans that my coaches might use to assist in teaching their teams, the six-step problem solving process. The first of two workshops was coming up in a month which gave me time, but I was concerned that the demands of school would soon overwhelm me and I needed to get a handle on things quickly. It was a daunting task, but hey, it was still summer time… I could do it.

And so started an 18 hour work session. It began at 1:00 in the afternoon… That’s right. I worked through the night until the following morning. I was in… the… zone.

Now I was prepared to have my colleagues look over the PPT and the lessons, to point out the missing pieces and incoherent ramblings but they were kind and just a few tweaks were needed. (:0) I sincerely hoped that what I had put together for the coaches would be of benefit, and would make sense to them and their teams.

Fast forward to last week, the beginning of October. I selected one of those neat little lessons, which would help my kids to learn how to pay close attention to the “charge”. The charge is usually found at the bottom of a future scene. It is that section of the scene that gives the FPS-ers, their direction for steps #2-#6.

Wait a minute, you’re wondering where step #1 went. This is often an area of confusion for coaches; it was for me, too.

Now in real life, we have problems that we encounter, which require action on our part. We look at all the aspects of the situation and gauge the seriousness of the potential concerns. Then we select the most pressing challenge and address it. In a Future Problem Solving, we simulate a similar situation, that has the potential to impact many different areas of life. This allows the problem solver to use flexible thinking skills to assess all aspects of the problem.

After writing logical statements that reflect 16 different challenges that might result, the teams are asked to select the one challenge that would be the basis for their step #2 Underlying Problem (UP) statement. In order to assist them, FPS artificially creates a “charge”. Without this, the teams would mentally wander about, without purpose or direction and the evaluators would pull their hair out trying to understand all of the meanderings.

Some people, like me, have an initial resistance to this artificiality. We question why it is okay to have 16 challenges that do not all apply to the charge. But in real life, don’t we wish we had that little cue? Well, in order to create a competition for student thinkers, we get to have the clue/the charge. Once we understand that it is purposeful to give the kids directionality, we accept the necessity of the charge, and we begin to value its function.

Now in theory, your team might come up with the required 16 challenges, but only 4 of them might directly relate to the charge. As students approach the idea of selecting the UP, it is the fondest wish of every coach that the kids would revisit the charge, identify the challenges that relate to it and determine which one serves the biggest slice of the pie. They make their selection, and off they go, ready to write a beautiful UP statement.

It’s funny. This little hop between steps isn’t something I ever really focused on before. I intuitively made the leap and expected my students to do the same. SMH… I missed a big piece. Somehow in my 18 hour marathon, it crept in and I addressed it with this little lesson.

I called it, “Selecting the UP”. I know, catchy.

I selected the nursery rhyme, “Little Boy Blue” as my so-called future scene. I did so because we have found that using simple or familiar material prevents unnecessary learning roadblocks when teaching the process.

“Little Boy Blue, come blow your horn.

The sheep’s in the meadow, the cow’s in the corn.

But where’s the boy who looks after the sheep?

He’s under the haystack, fast asleep.

Will you wake him?

No, not I, for if I do, he’s sure to cry.”

Then I wrote the artificial charge...

“Charge: FPSers, Little Boy Blue needs your help to come up with a plan to mind the animals, properly.” Which of the following statements should be used as the basis, to write the UP?

Then I gave 4 sample challenge statements that fictional students might have come up with, after analyzing the scene…

1. Since the sheep’s in the meadow, there may be a challenge with them getting lost. As a result, they’ll never be seen again.

2. Because the cow’s in the corn, there may be a problem with them eating too much. As a result, their stomachs will bloat and they’ll fall over.

3. Due to the fact that Little Boy Blue is sleeping, there may be a challenge with him not being able to sleep at night. Given that, his mom might be upset.

4. Since Little Boy Blue might cry if you wake him up, there may be a problem with him being overly sensitive. As such, he might not have many friends.

Now, the students must select the statement that best matches the charge, right? You hope they’ll read the charge and zero in on the “mind the animals, properly” part. I was sure that students would immediately see the obviousness of #1 being the most clearly aligned with the charge, and that the big thinking would come as they wrote their reasoning on the lines I had provided at the bottom of the paper. Remember, opinions without criteria are a waste of time to everyone. We must have criteria!

Shockingly, my kids were split on #1 & #2. (Whaaaat?) After my initial surprise, which I tried to conceal, I asked for their reasoning and listened as they discussed their concern over the pain that the cows were experiencing, which could be treated with some immediacy. The other kids were advocates for finding the sheep, because if you don’t have sheep, then you don’t have animals to mind. Back and forth they went… kids who were often quiet, were speaking up on both sides of the discussion.

One sweet girl, Maggie, would listen and compliment someone else on their thinking and would then very respectfully add her opposing opinion. This led to Logan joining in and identifying his points of agreement before sharing differing reasoning. Back and forth, forth and back amongst almost all of the 18 kids, until finally they took a vote and the sheep prevailed. My initial 25 minute estimation had come and gone and I had two more scenes to go.

Rich, deep, engaging discussion with diverse viewpoints… aaahhh. So worth it.

Now here is one little interesting add-on. After thanking them for their thoughtful reasoning; for displaying intellectual empathy and courage, and for their engagement in the discussion, I told them that the evaluators would also be looking at #1 as the best challenge statement to use to create the UP. And the kids mulled… and absorbed the fact. A calm settled on the room. It was as if I had given them a secret cheat and now they were “in the know”.

Then it was time to flip the page over and take on Old Mother Hubbard. “Why doesn’t she have food?” “Hey, bone doesn’t rhyme with none!” “Now the dog is laughing? A coffin? What’s going on here?” They were off once more…

An innocent little lesson plan had turned into a goldmine. Who knew?

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