Each week, students discuss world issues — water quality and genetic testing to name a couple — and then devise possible problems and solutions. They’ve developed a water purifying system for contaminated river water, and their current focus is emergency planning strategies.
These aren’t college students; they’re all in the sixth grade.
The group of five Maitland Middle School students is involved in Future Problem Solving Program International (FPSPI), a program that encourages students to work on creative and critical thinking skills when posed with world problems to solve.
Courtney Larson, Miriam Scheinblum, Laurel Stride, Robert Van Valkenburgh and alternate team member Colin McCracken just won first place in the Florida Future Problem Solving Global Issues Team Problem Solving Competition. Now the sixth-grade students are headed to Wisconsin for the International Conference to compete against students from all over the world, including Japan, Great Britain and Russia.
“They impress me with their ideas,” said Anita Scheinblum, parent and team coach. “They amaze me.”
Students are encouraged to think to the future, and they can use ideas that aren’t possible with current technology but could one day be a way to solve some big problems. Creativity is one of the most important aspects during the competition.
“It teaches children how to think creatively,” said Patricia Goodkind, the Central Florida region district representative for the Future Problem Solvers Program. “They can really let their minds soar.”
To prepare, the team studies articles related to their current topic, emergency planning. Then they take training, strategies and technology ideas from the articles, and then brainstorm their own solutions. The program challenges the students with complex problems not always encountered by most 12-year-olds, or presented in a typical first-period.
“I think that one thing I appreciate about the program and competition is that while [Robert is] perfectly cooperative in doing homework and schoolwork, this is a learning opportunity he really enjoys,” dad Mark Van Valkenburgh said.
A love of ideas
The students said they love learning about big, real world issues. That’s easy to see as they excitedly discuss their winning state competition idea, furiously jot down notes as their teammates read articles an adult might have trouble following, and come up with ideas about how to save people trapped after a disaster.
It’s also fun, they said.
“[I like] being with friends and being able to do something together we all enjoy,” Miriam Scheinblum said.
And these meetings benefit the other students in their classes, Scheinblum said. They can share their ideas and knowledge in class. It also helps with schoolwork and the dreaded FCAT days when their experience makes time management and working under pressure easy, the students said.
“It’s a skill that they will use for the rest of their lives,” Goodkind said.
Scheinblum sees her students as real, literal future-problem solvers, and likes that this program exposes them to careers they wouldn’t normally consider at their age, for example choosing to be a scientist or engineer. Goodkind agreed, saying that the crazy ideas they think of to solve today’s problems will one day be the innovations of tomorrow, and maybe Maitland Middle’s team will be the ones to create them.
For more information about Future Problem Solving Program International, visit www.fpspi.org. The Maitland Middle School team needs to raise $6,000 for its June 9 trip for the international competition. If you’d like to help them get to Wisconsin, donations can be made at www.foundationforocps.org/donate