The Power of Problem Solving

Today, in many countries around the globe, it has been documented that the current educational system is stifling children’s ability to think creatively. Palestine is no exception. Contemporary educational practices, which promote standardised testing, memorization and rote learning, are negatively impacting children’s ability to use their minds in order to come up with unique solutions. Add to this the fact that children are often being prepared to answer questions pertaining to what’s on standardised tests rather what will help them later in life, and you have a recipe for a generation which may be unable to solve complex problems effectively in the future. As part of this reality, the work TYO is doing through non-formal education programs becomes even more critical to the development of children and youth. For example, last week our focus in the International Internship classes was on logic and problem solving. Children were asked to use their minds to solve riddles, brainstorm ideas and work through problems together. Though at first the children were hesitant to let their creativity show, by the end of the week they were clamouring to think outside the box and create individualized answers. By using music, drama and sport as vehicles to teach logic and problem solving skills, we are creating an environment where children have fun and feel safe exercising their minds. In this way, TYO is providing a rare outlet for children who might otherwise not have the opportunity to engage their minds in such a creative way. These children represent the future of Palestine, and as such, it is vital that they develop cognitive skills which allow them to problem solve, imagine and innovate.

Students at TYO have spent the past nine weeks overcoming challenges through teamwork and communication. Out last week marks a final test of the students newly cultivated skills: cooperating through problem solving.The challenge of developing problem solving skills with our students this week called upon the capacity of various classroom activities to encourage the development of these particular skills. For the intern classes, this theme draws on the ability of sport, drama, and music to enable problem solving on a macro and micro scale.

If you had asked any of us at the beginning of the session, we would have said the challenges issued to our students in this final week were insurmountable. Tasks that should have been easy, like getting students to line-up or wash their hands, were complicated by a number of barriers in the beginning of the session. Performing a play in Drama class or playing an orderly football match in Sports class were challenges for students who often relied on cheating or forcing a solution to be successful. In order to manage frustrations, we suggested that students brainstorm. We watched as students struggled time and time again to learn how to communicate with and respect one another.  Each student has individual challenges to overcome. In Drama, some were anxious to perform in front of an audience or lack confidence in reading ability. In Sports, others did not know how to control their frustrations or take turns. Reinforcing supportive communication gave students the skills necessary to build a foundation from which to branch out from in all our classes.

Children and Volunteers work together to put on a class play as part of TYO’s logic and problem solving week

The accomplishments that accompanied overcoming these challenges demonstrated greater success than we could have imagined during our final week. In Drama, students worked to put on a play of one of their favorite stories, Stone Soup. Learning their lines, creating their character’s props, and rehearsing as a class, was an immense challenge that required students to communicate in unfamiliar ways. Some skills were taught while others emerged all on their own. Students were shown ways to support each other by sharing supplies and respecting others’ time on stage. Without guidance, students began helping each other with lines and stage cues. Evident through students’ ability to overcome this week’s challenges through teamwork, respect and appreciation for others are values students have begun to internalize.

In sports this week, we revisited an old favorite that had been a challenge in the past: football. As an internationally shared passion, sport is something that brings people together in ways that almost nothing else can. Examples of how sport can transcend problems and differences of all types are in abundance, from the famous football friendly that happened on Christmas Day during World War I between German and British soldiers on the frontlines, to the influx of tourists from around the world who, in 2022, will undoubtedly flock to see the World Cup being held in Qatar.

For our classes, however, football was often a problem at the beginning of the session, as students refused to play as a team, ignored rules, and couldn’t handle the frustration of losing. As the session wore on and we began to see our students developing respect for the rules and for their classmates and learning about effectively handling frustration, we were impressed enough to try football again, as well as other challenging team games. When organizing our games this week, we were able to place our students in situations in which they needed to work together, brainstorm and strategize about ways to win the game as a team. In stark contrast to the beginning of the session, our kids were able to patiently listen to the rules and follow them. They organized themselves and planned together, respecting everyone’s opinion. And when they lost or a teammate missed a point, they handled their frustration with dignity. As a TYO intern it is always one of the most rewarding feelings to see the students you teach begin to develop these skills, and take the initiative to use them of their own accord.

- Cynthia, Noah, Rachel and Rosie

Cynthia, Noah, Rachel and Rosie are Fall 2013 interns at TYO in Nablus