10 ways to teach problem solving (with FREE curriculum!)


Teaching | Sunday, June 28, 2020

10 ways to teach problem solving (with FREE curriculum!)

Engage your students in real-life problem solving with videos, STEM lessons, and long-term projects. Here are 10 ways to use them.

This post is sponsored by Global Problem Solvers: The Series (GPS: The Series), a Cisco Corporate Social Responsibility initiative. It was independently conceived and written by Ditch That Textbook's Matt Miller. 

Students don't have to wait until they're adults to start solving problems -- both big and small in their community and around the world.

Your classroom is one of the best places to start.

Even better, solving those problems can support the curriculum you teach.

With a problem-solving framework in hand, the right questions to ask, and a way to engage students in the process, your students can be deep into this meaningful work in no time.

Global Problem Solvers: The Series (gpstheseries.com) is a FREE animated video series created as part of Cisco's Corporate Social Responsibility program. It features a diverse group of teens from around the globe using their unique skills to positively impact the world. The videos are geared toward students in grades 4 through 8, but the curriculum has been scaled to use with younger and older students as well.

It includes tons of FREE curriculum resources to get teachers and students thinking and working, like ...

  • Detailed teacher guides with storyboards, scripts and teaching summaries
  • Two seasons (seven episodes each) of animated videos
  • Prompts for class discussion
  • Long-term projects to solve student-identified problems
  • Worksheets to help students explore further
  • Bonus video interviews with entrepreneurs
  • Bonus STEM lesson plans

All the resources (videos, guides, etc.) are available in English, Spanish, French, and Hindi.

Trailer for Global Problem Solvers: The Series (view on YouTube)

Mini documentary about how Arizona educators used Global Problem Solvers: The Series at their schools. (view on YouTube)

10 ways to use GPS: The Series for problem solving

Want to empower your students to solve problems? Want to get them thinking about global and local problems that they could take on?

Here are some ways you can use the FREE resources in GPS: The Series to support your students ...

1. Watch the videos with your students.

The GPS: The Series videos feature a diverse group of teens from different backgrounds, each with a unique skill. They rely on each other, exhibiting true teamwork, to get the job done.

Each series features seven videos between three and five minutes long. They're in that sweet spot: just long enough to engage students but not so long that they overtake precious instructional minutes.

Series 1: "Working Well"

In Series 1: "Working Well" the team tackles a big problem in Malawi, Africa: wells that provide drinking water aren't getting fixed.

The team is tasked with not only finding a way to get the wells fixed, but also finding a way to make sure that the wells remain operational.

Series 2: "Storm Force"

In Series 2: "Storm Force" a massive hurricane hits the Gulf Coast of the United States, shutting down schools.

The team is tasked with getting students back to class. Together, they face numerous setbacks, but they learn that a solution can be even better after weathering a storm of challenges.

2. Incorporate the nine steps of social entrepreneurship.

A theme that runs through GPS: The Series is social entrepreneurship: a business dedicated to doing good. The steps that a social entrepreneur uses to identify, validate, and create a business can help guide your students in the problem-solving process.

3. Think about problems that students can solve.

Throughout each season of GPS: The Series, students can embark on a long-term project. They identify a problem and take steps to create a solution. The teacher guides for each season gives teacher guidance for facilitating a long-term project. It helps you lead students through the planning process, provides questions for critical conversations, and empowers your students to share their ideas with the world.

4. Master the core elements of storytelling.

A great idea can't be great if others can't see the value in it. The elements of storytelling help students to convey their ideas to others. They also help students become better communicators overall. In Season 1, the long-term project emphasizes storytelling. It explores the concepts of character development, inciting incidents, metaphor, humor, turning points, and resolution.

10 ways to teach problem solving with FREE GPS: The Series curriculum (View on YouTube)

5. Learn about design thinking.

Design thinking is a type of creative problem-solving that focuses on the users of the solution. Season 2 of GPS: The Series puts an emphasis on using the "discover, define, explore" framework to help students solve problems with the community in mind.

  • Discover: try to understand the world around them and how it's all interconnected
  • Define: identify a specific problem to solve
  • Explore: work through the possible solutions, persevering and learning through complications

6. Infuse into your own curriculum.

GPS: The Series offers lots of ways to integrate the curriculum into your grade level or subject area. The long-term projects from the Teacher's Guides aren't just something else to add to your curriculum for the year. They are another way to help students apply important concepts. This also applies to the videos, discussion questions, worksheets, and other resources in GPS: The Series. For example, ask questions from and focus on concepts from your math and science curriculum while using GPS: The Series resources. Have students practice language arts skills while writing about topics from GPS: The Series. 

7. Facilitate meaningful discussions. 

The driving force behind a meaningful discussion is a great prompt. When you have a great question or hypothetical situation, it engages students and sparks their creative thinking. Within the curriculum for GPS: The Series, you'll find lots of well-written, thoughtful discussion prompts. Each video has a class discussion section in the teacher's guide. Plus, the Teaching Companion worksheets (currently available in English) keep quality discussion questions at a glance while you teach. These discussions can be facilitated through whole class or small group discussion. In a remote learning setting, call on students to answer during a video call or asking them to respond by typing in the chat. Use video or text discussion tools in face-to-face or remote settings to encourage discussion. 

8. Students present solutions.

When students complete a long-term project, they have something to be proud of -- something worth sharing! If their ideas and solutions never leave the classroom, how can students use those solutions to make an impact? And how can they learn that their voice and ideas are important and can make lasting change? To help this sink in, give students opportunities to share their ideas and solutions. Organize a presentation to local decision makers. Set up a video call with an expert in the field. Post images, videos and text to social media accounts. Reach out to local news media. Have students design a website with details about their ideas and solutions, complete with images and video.

9. Add bonus STEM lessons.

Bring the STEM content of GPS: The Series to life with STEM lessons. The Teacher Resources section of the website links to three STEM lesson plans that are integrated with GPS: The Series themes and episodes, including:

10. Connect students with change makers.

Entrepreneurs all over the world are using the processes students use in GPS: The Series. Put your students in touch with them to bring concepts to life. GPS: The Series offers six videos called "The Putri Files", where GPS team leader Putri interviews these entrepreneurs. In addition, you can find entrepreneurs in your local community, state, country or beyond who would meet your students over a video call. Search for entrepreneurs online and reach out to them.

Conclusion: How will you use GPS: The Series resources?

To get started, head to the GPS: The Series "Teacher Resources" page to browse teacher's guides, watch videos, and download resources. Check out their collection of video resources on YouTube. Access the resources in English, Spanish, French, and Hindi

How could you use these resources in our classroom? How have you incorporated the concepts of entrepreneurship into learning? Please share in a comment below!

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  • Anand lingwal says:

    Concept not clear

  • Myria Luz Karlovich Valladares says:

    Wow, such a marvellous project to maintain in time.I will share it with my colleagues.

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