Do you think that problem solving, critical thinking, and creative thinking are synonymous?
In order to solve problems effectively and efficiently, you need to use creative thinking and critical thinking. Jonassen (2000) created a typology of problem solving. He identified 11 types of problems: logical problems, algorithms, story problems, rule using problems, decision-making, trouble-shooting, diagnoses solution, strategic performance, case analysis, designs, and dilemmas. He described each type of problem’s resolution process. For example, if a problem presents limited variables that can be controlled through manipulation, then an analyst would know that they have a logical problem by referring to Jonassen’s typology chart. Logical problems are “discovered” in Jonassen’s description of its structuredness, where discovered refers to solutions drawn from logic. Determining the logic model is a type of critical thinking process. Problem solving depends on the type of problem and its structuredness, context, inputs, abstractness, and activities (Jonassen, 2004). Therefore, critically analyze the type of problem and its structuredness.
The overarching strategy for problem analysis involves the steadfast engagement of critical thinking processes. Using a systematic process assists you with adequately thinking though the complexity and multifarious components of problem solving. Some instructional design approaches ask questions in a stepwise process to analyze problems. For example, Harless’ (1974) first question in the process of front-end analysis asks: “Do we have a problem?” Learners must use critical thinking to avoid making assumptions about a situation. Is it a problem or an opportunity? Dick, Carey, and Carey (2009) suggested that novice instructional designers develop their critical thinking skills to become effective performance analysts. They urged analysts to be open-minded and view problems from multiple perspectives. Critical thinking processes include synthesis of a problem statement, front-end analysis (FEA), triangulation of data collection, root cause analysis, active listening, system-wide checks and balances, and reflective thinking. For example, thinking critically will help you avoid various FEA pitfalls such as Groupthink.
Addressing a problem strategically takes some creative thinking. For example, there are timesaving strategies and models for problem analysis such as Jonassen’s idea of keeping a fault database. When I read about this, I thought of how simple, yet, creative this strategy was. Have you heard of Toyoda’s Why Tree? It’s a creative and simple technique for getting to the root cause of a problem. He first used the method in the Toyota manufacturing process in 1958. It consists of 5 why-questions that represent deeper levels of understanding the problem. For each answer, you ask why until you uncover the true root cause. Responses are mapped out according to different leads/reasons. There are 3 benefits to using this process. First, the different branches/reasons that stem from a problem statement can lead to more than one root cause and various interventions. Second, it creates a mental map for synthesis of a presenting problem. Third, it will aid novice analysts in digging deeper to uncover the real root causes and avoid superficial conclusions. This creative process utilizes deductive reasoning, which is a type of critical thinking. Therefore, critical thinking, creative thinking, and problem solving are interrelated processes but not interchangeable terms.
Note: This anecdote was written several years ago when I was teaching school in California.
I’d just pulled up to school in East Los Angeles when I heard the radio announcement about the attack on the World Trade Center. Within seconds, I realized my nephew who worked there might have lost his life. I went to sign in and ended up crying in the office. The assistant principal pulled me into her office and explained that her daughter was at the Pentagon and that it’d been hit as well. She appeared calm and professional as always. She told me to make a decision on whether to go home or stay and teach. I don’t have a family of my own, so I decided to stay and teach my first grade students.
There was a rumor around school that more planes were headed to Los Angeles. The planes that hit the World Trade Center were outbound flights for Los Angeles International Airport. Our large inner city school was located directly below the heavy incoming flight plans for LAX. In fact, when the government cleared the skies of all planes, walking across the schoolyard became surreal. In times of natural disasters or emergencies, teachers become the wards for the students until their parents can pick them up. I went to teach class and defend my students and school from harm.
The rumor was so strong that our principal went missing and was later reported to have locked herself in a closet. School functioned without her. A few parents came to pick up their children. I remember starting the day off by showing a map of the United States to my class. I wanted them to understand how far away the attacks were to help them feel less anxious. They had many misconceptions of what was going on fueled by the fact that they were limited English speakers. For example, they thought the continuous instant replay on television that morning of the second plane going into the tower was actually many planes not just one. Being fluent in Spanish, I was able to translate the basic information on the attacks.
Students were allowed outside for recess, and I headed to the teacher break room to make a few calls to learn about my nephew’s whereabouts. Someone had pulled a TV into the break room, and teachers were watching the latest news about the attacks. I learned that my nephew was alive because he went to work late. He was just getting out of a cab when the first plane hit. He fled Manhattan on foot along with the mass exodus. My nephew escaped physical harm, but he bears the burden of witnessing a heinous crime against humanity.
In the classroom, we discussed what was going on in New York. Unfortunately, some of my students had seen graphic images of people jumping to their deaths on the Spanish news channel that morning. It was very hard not to cry in front of them. I had to be strong, so they could feel safe. I didn’t tell the students about the rumors nor explain what an attack of this magnitude would mean to our country and the world. East Los Angeles is a tough neighborhood. Its teachers are prepared for earthquakes, lock downs, and multiple casualties. As a returned Peace Corps Volunteer, I have more survival skills than the average person. However, I didn’t know how to prepare for war. Fortunately, no harm came to us.
The day after 9-11, the Los Angeles Times printed images of people jumping out of the twin towers of World Trade Center. The images on television news coverage kept me in tears for weeks, as more information was given on the attacks. It sent me into a depression for several months. The summer after 9-11, I visited my nephew in Manhattan and saw Ground Zero. The makeshift memorial wall was still up with faded images of the missing. Fresh notes were messages to those who were missed on their birthdays and anniversaries. I photographed the memorial to share with future students in the classroom.
I’ve been wanting to create my own blog for some time now. Currently, I blog for a nonprofit, and I have to follow their mission statement with each thought. I’m excited about talking to other educators about integrating technology into the classroom. My other blog had limited widgets and plugin capability, so I’m thrilled to finally cross over to the wonderful world of WordPress.com and all its technological temptations!
I also look forward to working with my future students on this blog. I’ve envied other teachers’ blogs long enough; it’s time for me to make my own classroom blogspot. At the eve of my new teaching/learning curve, I lift my glass of ginger ale and toast the beginning of blogging for my teaching career. I can only promise that I’ll be consistent in trying to educate and challenge both myself, other teachers, and my students.
—Sandra Annette Rogers