Identifying ideas . . .
Aug 18th, 2013 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I am preparing for a workshop tomorrow and will include a session to teach how to correct/comment on papers electronically.  Looking for a sample of student work, I came across Jon Morrow’s post “Seven Bad Writing Habits You Learned in School”  Jon has hit the nail on the head with #2 when he talks about PROBLEM FINDING.  There it is in a different domain, identified, as I often do as a necessary process that is often avoided in education.  Cheers to you, Jon!

2. Expecting someone to hand you a writing prompt

Looking through the eyes of an educator, I can see why telling students what to write about would be useful. You have a bunch of students who couldn’t care less about your curriculum, and making them write a paper about the assigned readings is a great way to force them to read the material.

Makes sense . . . but it doesn’t make it any less damaging.

One of the biggest challenges of writing is figuring out what to write. Whether you’re writing a memo, an article, or a letter to your mother, the process is always the same: you start out with a blank page, and you decide what to put on it.

Sure, that involves considering what your audience will want to read, but no one but you makes the final decision of what to put on the page. That act of deciding is what writing is all about.

A Crash Course on Creativity
Jun 2nd, 2013 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I am just completing my first MOOC (Massively Online Open Course) entitled “Crash Course in Creativity” offered by Tina Seelig at Stanford University.  It’s been a pretty amazing experience taking a course with 15,000 others – probably about 5,000 active students in the process.

To me, I’ve had two great experiences:

  1. Taking a course on creativity.  Although I’ve only been able to dedicate limited time to the course – and that’s allowable. I’ve come to realize that time and dedication to a project is necessary for maximum results.  I think I’ve been able to think about creativity and also how to get others to think about it in a meaningful way.  To me, that’s the big take away that makes me happy.  I’m less happy realizing that if I had and/or made more time to participate in the course, I would certainly had a more robust experience. But isn’t that what I’ve written about on this blog for years?  Creativity and problem finding take time.  If you don’t dedicate the time to the creative process, you won’t come up with your best ideas.  Incubation takes time and if you don’t make the time to do it, you won’t generate enough ideas for prioritized selection. I guess in that sense, it’s very self validating
  2. Taking a MOOC.  There’s been a lot of buzz around open courses lately, and professionally, I’m glad I could experience the process.  I really like the way the platform is flexible and the way the professor designed the learning challenges.  I really want to figure out a way to engage Connecticut students from across the state in a MOOC environment.  I have a few ideas about content and think there is incredible potential for breaking down barriers when students can be allowed to collaborate across school and district boundaries.  Learning can truly be anywhere, anytime.
Jul 30th, 2012 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

We’ve just completed our TEDxLitchfieldED videos and they are now available on YouTube.  Check my talk out if you have a chance!

Other TEDxLitchfieldED talks:

Jun 18th, 2012 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I am curating and will be speaking at the TEDxLitchfieldED event on June 28 at the IBM Conference Center in Southbury.  (Seats still available, click HERE).  I was just asked to provide my title and brief description, so here it is!

The Problem Finding – Problem Solving Conundrum

Problem solving has long been valued in education. Students are often challenged to use a variety of inquiry strategies to identify problems and their implications, develop action plans, utilize a variety of relevant sources, information, and data to address problems, and formulate solutions. Problem solving is typically a logical, analytical process. This, however, leads to a critical question:  Where do the ideas for problems come from?  In education, we rarely talk about the process of problem finding: the development of a unique and engaging idea for study.  Problem finding is the ability to define or identify a problem and involves the consideration of alternative views or definitions of a problem that are generated.  Problem finding requires setting objectives, defining purposes, deciding what is interesting, and ultimately deciding what to study.  Therefore, problem finding is an inherently creative process that complements the logical/analytical aspects of problem solving.

The Changing Role of Education
Nov 17th, 2010 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I recently came across a great YouTube video featuring Ken Robinson speaking about education and I find it thought provoking.  Although I think there are a few generalizations that are a bit over the top – his connections are very important.  His talk was overlayed with an interesting video “sketch.”  My favorite part is at time index: 7:42 where he talks about creativity.  I always wonder how much authority teachers are willing to “give up” to allow students to be truly independent and self-directed.  I certainly see strong examples in problem solving, but I think education, in general, is still weak in creativity.  As I continue to struggle with an operational definition for creativity, I like what Ken has to say about creativity:

I define creativity as the process of having original ideas that have value.

I am much more comfortable with my problem finding definition, which of course is a little longer:

Problem finding is the creative ability to define or identify a problem. The process involves consideration of alternative views or definitions of a problem that are generated and selected for further consideration. Problem finding requires individuals to set objectives, define purposes, decide what is interesting, and ultimately decide what they want to study.

If you have a little over 10 minutes, it’s well worth the watch:

Success with a camping air mattress
Aug 13th, 2010 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I recently spend part of a week at Raystown Lakecamping with my family.  My children enjoyed spending time with their cousins cliff jumping, swimming, and boating.  We did “tent it,” which always leads to some levels of uncomfort.  In order to mitigate the lack of sleeping amenities we did the traditional thing:  use an air mattress. 

 I don’t know about you, but I’ve had traditionally bad experiences with air mattresses.  Night one is usually fine, but then there seems to be a problem with air leaking, which just progressively gets worse.  The mattress gets pumped up at night, starts off firm, but by morning, various body parts are clinging to the hard ground.  Ugg. 

Thinking about this, I realized that temperatures change during the day – at night, when the mattress is full, it is cool, but during the day, the heat build up. In an air mattress, that means the molecular motion of the confined air increases, causing additional inflation and higher pressure during the day.  This then puts additional stress on the matress, which potentially creates microleaks. 

So I thought that if the pressure was relieved, this would prevent the additional pressure from building up.  Sure enough, with a partial deflation, I went back to the mattress in the afternoon to find that it felt fully inflated.  This, of course, died down during early evening, when I re-pumped the mattress before bed. 

Interesting  . . .

When I evaluate my thinking, I see this as a problem solving situation – which in my past definitions is a logical/analytical process.  However, I am forced to think that there was some creativity involved.  So I am at this cognitive dissonance trying to decide whether (or how) problem solving is a creative process.  I have traditionally distinguished problem finding and problem solving as different cognitive processes – but there may be some blurring that I need to think about more.

The sliced bread story continues . . .
Jun 10th, 2010 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I am constantly amazed by the reality, that I am sitting in my kitchen, hooked up to nothing, and writing, which seamlessly travels through the air to parts unknown.  Today, I virtually spoke with my brother-in-law, the impetus to the sliced bread story and got the following link:


I like how we are using 21st-century skills (collaboration, written communication, problem solving) and tools (IT) to make the process almost effortless. We are such consumers of information – the real challenge is to become better producers.

I think I need to follow up with this senator and see if I can conduct a recorded phone interview to get some more perspective on this interesting story which just oozes problem finding/problem solving in such a different type of context.

I’m sure there is more to come . . .

Problem finding as a special case of problem solving theory
Dec 12th, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.
from: MS Clip Art

from: MS Clip Art

I have had the good fortune to both participate in and read my good friend Dr. Krista Ritchie’s Ph.D. dissertation.  In the document she argues that problem finding is a special case of problem solving (information processing) theory.  It was an intriguing argument to me, so I decided to go right to the source, which was Newell, A., & Simon, H.A. (1972). Human Problem Solving. Prentice-Hall: Englewood Cliffs, NJ. The book is much denser than anticipated, especially at 920 pages.  But, my attention was caught on page 6:

As it will become clear, a theory of the psychology of problem solving requires not only good task analyses but also an inventory of possible problem solving mechanisms from which one can surmise what actual mechanisms are being used by humans. 

This struck me as interesting, because I have long argued that good problem finding requires expertise – knowing which bags of tricks you can utilize to better understand what makes a creative and exciting problem to study.  This is also extremely situated (e.g., Brown,  Collins, Duguid) in nature because there is an authentic framework that justifies making problem finding and solving appropriate and relevant.

Research indicates that problem finding elicits negative responses from students
Jul 28th, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.
from: www.bath.ac.uk

from: www.bath.ac.uk

My good friend and colleague, Krista Ritchie, recently defended her dissertation at McGill University.  I was able to attend via distance using Skype.  During her defense, I had the opportunty to hear about her research on problem finding.  She conducted her study longitudinally, observing students over the course of a year from various Connecticut high school science sites.  Each site she studied had students in a “traditional” course (e.g., biology, chemistry, physics) and an applied science research course. Both the traditional and research courses were taught by the same teacher at each site.

As she was presenting her data, one thing stood out to me as a practitioner.  She discussed the negative responses often associated with problem finding: anxiety, nervousness, fear.  These responses, she discussed, were often not found in the traditional science education classes, yet were prevalent in the applied research class.  This immediately got me thinking.

Of course, the proximate interpretation is for an applied science teacher to know that there is anxiety assocaited with the problem finding phase of research, and he or she should do whatever is in his or her power to support the students.  Yet, I wonder – what is the necessity of the anxiety to push the student forward to facing and conquering the challenges associated with creative problem finding?

For more of a holistic view of the educational enterprise, I am thinking more about the place of problem finding within educational structures.  While I am an advocate of problem finding, I am not so Pollyanna as to realize that creative behaviors like problem finding are often stifled and supressed in education.  As much as teachers say they want their students to be creative producers – so many really don’t.  I can hear the voices now . . . “Just do what I say.”    Or from the students, “Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.”  There is TOO much culture of lock-step-do-as-the-teacher-says-and-don’t-push-the-creative-envelope culture prevalent in education.  I don’t even claim this to be a one-way street.  Teachers and students just want to do as told:  solve/teach well-known questions that have well-known answers.  I am often disgruntled about how few teachers and students are willing to take a risk and work with ill-defined problems.  I think that’s where really powerful learning takes place. My challenge as an instructional leader is to bring more students, parents, teachers, administrators – all the constituents – to this place.

A place where we transcend the logical and analytical processes of problem solving and challenge students to engage in creative problem finding behaviors.    And I’m not anxious about saying that one bit!

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