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Running Head: Creative Problem Solving


Creative Problem Solving

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Creative Problem Solving Defined

Creative problem solving is the mental process of creating a solution to a problem. It is a unique form of problem solving in which the solution is independently created rather than learned with help. Creative problem solving requires more than just knowledge and thinking.

Creative problem solving always involves creativity. Nevertheless, creativity often does not involve creative problem solving, particularly in fields such as poetry, art etc. Creativity requires innovation or novelty as a characteristic of what is created, however creativity does not essentially involve that what is created has value or is valued by other people.

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To succeed as creative problem solving the solution must either have value, clearly solve the stated problem, or be valued by someone for whom the situation improves.

The situation before the solution does not need to be regarded as a problem. Other labels include a challenge, an opportunity, an improvable situation, or a situation in which there is room for improvement.

Solving school-assigned homework problems does not generally involve creative problem solving since such problems normally have well-known solutions.

If a created solution becomes widely used, the solution becomes an innovation and the word innovation also refers to the process of creating that innovation. A prevalent and long-lived innovation usually becomes a new tradition. "All innovations [begin] as creative solutions, but not all creative solutions become innovations." Some innovations also are eligible as inventions.

Inventing is a special kind of creative problem solving in which the created solution qualifies as an invention since it is a useful new object, substance, process, software, or other kind of viable entity.

Creative Problem Solving in Technology Education: A Case Study

As the significance of a sound technological education for learners in their adolescent years of schooling becomes accepted at an international level, there is growing interest and belief in the need to start this education at an earlier age, possibly as soon as children begin formal schooling or even nursery school or kindergarten. Some teachers have enthusiastically welcomed the challenge of introducing technology education to children at an early age. They have found that it has allowed them to develop new dimensions to work already happening. For others the idea has been received with more caution, for different reasons. Some are perplexed by what technology education would mean for young children. Others are concerned that limited resources would be stretched out too thinly if the younger age group were included and that the primary curriculum is already overloaded. There are also those who think that technology education is simply unsuitable with a younger age group.

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Expanding the technology curriculum to primary schools raises a number of important issues. Any developments should be based on creative educational principles and thinking.

Human beings are born with the potential to develop as technologists. This is, to a certain extent, dependent on an amazing capacity of creating in human "mind's eye" (Archer, 1980) new ideas and new configurations so as to make the world in the way people choose it to be. This capacity is something that sets them apart from other species in much the same way that creative ability to develop and utilize complex linguistic systems does. Observing babies and toddlers as they busy about their world confirms the imaginative, creative and indomitable way that, right from the start of life, people begin to utilize this creative capacity and to develop technological capability.

Yet, as with all aspects of development, creating the right conditions in which the potential can grow is not essentially simple. Technological capability is dependent on the ability to take action, to occur in the made world, and to create new or improved products or systems. The children who are given more support to find out how things work, to make things work, and to create and to express themselves, the better chance there is for their technological capability to flourish. Children in the first years of life will face a wide variety of experiences. For some there will be a plenty of opportunities to develop confidence and skill in those aspects that support technological capability. For others the opportunities will be limited. The range of experiences will be influenced by many economic, social, cultural and philosophical influences and these in turn will impact on the way in which capability develops. There are, for instance, indications of the effect that gender based expectations have on the early technological experiences of girls and boys and the impacts this has for children's development (Browne & Ross, 1991; 1993).

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A major function of formal schooling is to take control over the experiences children have and to attempt to provide some equity in opportunities. If people accept that technology is an essentially important dimension of a child's curriculum (Kimbell, R. A., Stables, K., Green, R., 1996; Jones & Carr, 1993), there is reason to propose that the earlier as educationalists, involve themselves in this aspect of development, the better. Leaving this to chance, or at least until children enter secondary schooling seems a little haphazard if not risky.
Yet introducing technology into the curriculum of young children is also important owing to the tendency of this age group to engage in technological activity with an interest, creativeness and lack of reticence that creates a most positive opportunity for development. Children's downright excitement, wonder and enthusiasm make for an age of fast development. In the pre-school years, the child's lack of concern for external controls allows for a free examination of both their material and conceptual world. Creativeness as to how things work leads to a determination to make things work. Thus, opportunities to develop problem solving skills are provided.

The more young children make use of in technological activity, the more their confidence in their technological abilities may be established. Primary school teachers who have introduced technology into their curriculum often remark that technology activities are an important vehicle for all types of learning. This can include developing basic skills such as shared group working or problem solving, or more definite development of math or science concepts. The technology activity often promotes a strong learning environment for a whole range of learning opportunities, hence providing an added value.

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Giving children a broad based experience of technology at a young age through which the foundations of technological capability can be consolidated and enhanced provides a basis from which to develop in a coherent and continuous way. However in planning technological experiences, teachers need to be aware of a range of factors that will have a bearing on development.

Critical Dimensions For Creative Technological Capability

Ron Ritchie (1995) emphasized three vital features of learning situations that are important for creative technological capability: 1) learning through practical experience; 2) an active learning process that allows children to construct their understanding of the world, and 3) learning within a social context. A discussion of these follows is as follows.

The Importance of a Holistic View

Technology appears in several facades within curriculum documentation and taken, all together, three different formulations are evidently identifiable: courses that concentrate on developing understanding of technology, courses that focus on developing competence in technology and courses that focus on developing capability in technology (Kimbell, Stables & Green, 1996). These latter courses develop a pupil's holistic potential to put ideas into action to develop the made world. Put simply, these courses develop a child's ability to design what they make and to make what they design.

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There is an important place for the development of knowledge and competency. Nevertheless, it is the inclusive, holistic approach to developing capability that is the important focus with children in primary schools. Some might find this wrong tackled. It could be argued that it is better to start with developing awareness in young children and then building from this. Nevertheless this would contradict the important features emphasized by Ron Ritchie (1995), and particularly the priority of learning through practical activity, so important when considering the learning needs of young children.

Integrating Thought and Action

In the second half of the 1980's in the UK a major research project was commissioned by the Assessment of Performance Unit (APU) of the Government Department for Education and Science that sought to evaluate design & technological capability. The research focused on the UK's fifteen year olds and was performed at Goldsmiths University of London under the direction of Richard Kimbell (Kimbell et al, 1991). One of the most important outcomes from this project was an understanding of the iterative nature of the process that people engage in when designing and making and the importance of balancing the need to think about the task that has been undertaken with the need to take action to turn ideas into working realities. This work identified that both aspects are important when considering the development of capability in fifteen year olds. Since then people have had the opportunity to consider this model of activity in relation to younger children (Stables, 1992a; Kimbell, Stables & Green, 1996) and have found that it is equally relevant. This model has received support from elsewhere (Anning, 1993) and the significance of developing 'thought' skills and 'action' skills in primary age children is increasingly recognized as critical in technology (Benson & Raat, 1995).

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The Importance of Play

Play has been seen by many educationalists as an important factor in a child's development and this is mainly so of the development of technological capability. Particularly "making and playing" (Coghill, 1989) can be seen as the early expression of capability, and the very act of being involved in play is important to the creation of this capability. This is mainly as a result of the fact that play allows a child to enter into an imaginary world, through which they can gain personal experience in an unrestrained way. Whilst not dealing directly with technological capability, Bruce (1991) recapitulates precisely the dimensions of play that provide the conditions through which technological capability can flourish, starting with the significance of personal experience.

‘...as we experience, so we struggle, manipulate, explore, discover and practice in order to wallow fully and become proficient....If we can use first hand experience as a means towards wallowing in experiences, and being proficient we have a sense of control over our lives....This sense of control impinges on self-esteem, self confidence, autonomy, intrinsic motivation, the desire to have a go, to take risks and to solve problems, and the ability to make decisions and to choose. (pp 82-83)

Throughout play children develop mastery, confidence and control. Encouraging them to utilize such skills within technological activity allows for further consolidation.

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Building Creative Attitudes

Developing children's skills assists in the creation of positive attitudes such as confidence and motivation and these attitudes in their turn help establish the conditions in which technological capability can prosper. Nevertheless, such attitudes can be both built and destroyed through engagement in technological tasks and so it is important that children work in an atmosphere that is at the same time helpful and challenging. They need opportunities to work on tasks that are within their capability, although that still have the potential to stretch them, where risk taking and failure are not seen as unconstructive or handled destructively. The need to develop just such a learning atmosphere has been stressed by teachers working on a primary technology initiative in the United States "Project Update" (TIES, 1994:21-24). The teachers, who have generally come anew to technology activities, have developed insights both by working through challenging tasks for themselves and by involving pupils in such activities. The resulting view is that the children should be involved in risk taking situations, where failure is seen as a constructive learning experience and that this approach can check the children from placing "false ceilings on what they can learn and accomplish" ("Project UPDATE," 1994:21-24).

Being Aware of Value Positions

Technology is basically a value loaded phenomenon as developments are always driven by the requirements, wants and aspirations of individuals or groups of people. Various needs mean that individuals will often identify the impact of any technological solution in a different way - some may see a solution as good, while for others it is an unmitigating disaster. Since this value laden position is a reality, it is important that children are encouraged to see the issues surrounding any technological decision, and to be involved in the decision making in a meaningful way. For this reason, primary teachers are increasingly involving children in technological tasks where the value positions are clear to the children and are presented in a way to which they can relate, such as the ways in which choice and use of materials impacts the environment.

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Access for All

Developing affirmative attitudes towards their peers and understanding the value of working with others is an important aim of technology education. Within this, the importance of children developing respect for each other, and particularly accepting the rights of all to engage in technological activities is vital in creating a nurturing learning environment. This means that it is important that technological activities happen in an atmosphere where stereotypes are countered and differentiation strategies are used to allow all children to realize their potential. This is particularly so in primary schools as value positions can be implemented at a very young age, and if not challenged by real and positive examples can become intractable. Technology activities are mainly powerful in potential for allowing all children to succeed, hence providing living proof to challenge negative assumptions. Nevertheless, so as to support the development of all children, particular consideration needs to be given to the ways in which young children learn and as a result the range of experiences that teachers need to organize for them.


Anning, A. Learning design and technology in primary schools, 1993, In R. McCormick, P. Murphy, & M. Harrison (Eds.), Teaching and learning technology. Wokingham, UK: Addison Wesley.

Archer, B. The mind's eye, 1980, London, UK: The Designer.

Benson, C. & Raat, J. Technology in primary education: Examples of technology lessons in Europe, 1995, Delft: Technon.

Browne, N. & Ross, C. Girls' stuff, boys' stuff: Young children talking and playing, 1991, In N. Browne (Ed.), Science and technology in the early years. Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.

Browne, N & Ross, C. Girls as constructors in the early years, 1993, Stoke-on-Trent, UK: Trentham Books.

Bruce, T. A time to play in early childhood education, 1991, Sevenoaks, UK: Hodder and Stoughton.

Coghill, V. Making and playing, the other basic skills: design education for the early years, 1989, In Dyson, A. (Ed.), Looking, making and learning: Art and design in the primary school. London, UK: Kogan Page.

Jones, A. & Carr, M. Towards technology education, 1993, Hamilton, NZ: Centre for Science and Mathematics Education Research, University of Waikato.

Kimbell, R. A., Stables, K. Wheeler, A. D., Wozniak, A. V. & Kelly, A. V. The assessment of performance in design & technology, 1991, London UK: Schools Examinations and Assessment Council (SEAC).

Kimbell, R. A., Stables, K. & Green, R. Understanding practice in design and technology, 1996, Buckingham, UK: Open University Press.

Project UPDATE: Design and technology for elementary education, 1994:21-24, May, TIES Magazine.

Ritchie, R. Primary design & technology: A process for learning, 1995, London, UK: David Fulton Publishers.

Stables, K. Assessing technology at key stage 1, 1992a, In C. Gipps (Ed.), Developing assessment for the national curriculum. London, UK: Kogan Page.

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