Recent Posts



Emphasizing Creative Problem Solving in the Classroom

By Rachel Fuhrman

Many students currently suffer from the banality of traditional schooling. Students sit in classrooms all day, are overloaded with information, and are expected to be able to regurgitate that same information, often in the form of a multiple-choice exam, at some future date. While this has been the approach for years, scrutiny is building as the number of students dropping out of schools is on the rise and many teachers are forced to be more concerned with test scores than students’ genuine understanding of content. In order to address this problem, I believe that schools should emphasize the application of skills and creative approaches to problem solving so that students are not only able to see why the learning is important but are also able to more meaningfully engage with and learn the content.

While creative thinking can type on various forms, it’s benefits consistently address student understanding and retention of content. However, this cannot occur if students do not first possess the knowledge with which to flexibly think (Gregory, 2013). While a shift to focus on creative thinking and problem solving is important, teachers must continue to push the high standards for content knowledge so that students have a solid understanding of the core concepts. From there, teachers can push students to apply this knowledge in new ways so that they are building and internalizing creative problem-solving skills. Creative problem solving occurs when students are applying their previous skills to new situations or solving old problems in new ways. Students benefit from this type of adaptive learning as they are developing new connections to the material and are able to see how it applies to the real world (Hardiman, 2012). Additionally, such creative thinking has been shown to intensify the connections within the brain, making content more memorable and retrievable for students (Hardiman, 2012).

Creative problem solving occurs when students are applying their previous skills to new situations or solving old problems in new ways.

Creative thinking will also support student understanding as students are better able to learn new information when they are not focused solely on test scores and performance but are instead focused on learning for the purpose of acquiring new knowledge (Hardiman, 2013). Students are too commonly motivated only by test scores and they therefore lose motivation when they approach challenging work (Hardiman, 2013). Because of this, it is important that teachers focus on investing students in the content for reasons beyond just passing the unit exam. I believe that teachers can inspire this type of investment in the content by showing students how it can be applied in the real world. Not only are students more invested in content when they see it applied to the outside world, but students then become prepared to actually solve problems they encounter outside of the classroom. As teachers, our goal is to prepare our students to lead productive lives. That means that our students need to be prepared to approach and work through difficult situations. By encouraging them to apply the skills we learn in the classroom to the outside world, we are teaching them to solve these real-world problems.

One form of creative thinking that has been shown to benefit students is that of coming up with multiple solutions to a problem and analyzing the implications of each (Hao, 2016). This approach is immediately applicable to math and science classrooms, two subjects that are often grounded in rote memorization. By shifting from a purely procedural focus to one that emphasizes creative problem solving, students will be learning the metacognitive process of analyzing solutions that they need to be productive in their everyday lives. Not only will they be able to come up with multiple solutions to a given problem, but they will have the skills to choose which solution they should apply based on the situation. A second form of creative thinking that is highly beneficial in the classroom is that of group work. Specifically, students have been shown to benefit from group work when addressing multi-part problems as they discuss each step and the relevant sequence to solve (Gregory, 2016). Aside from improving students’ ability to work through challenging content, group work allows students to practice the communication and collaboration skills they will need when functioning in both higher level educational and career settings.

Rachel is currently a high school special education math teacher in New Orleans, Louisiana. She recently earned her Master of Science in Education Studies from the Johns Hopkins University School of Education. She is passionate about improving educational equity and strives to serve traditionally underserved communities. Additionally, she plans to pursue a Ph.D. in Urban Education in the future in order to further identify avenues through which to support all students in achieving at the highest levels.