PROBLEM SOLVING APPLICATION
A useful tool for analyzing and solving problems in every industry and occupation
PSA Free as a Teaching Aid
PSA Free makes a good teaching aid. Problem solving and decision making are among the most important skills a person can learn for their survival and prosperity. Knowing how to define a problem and the logical steps to arrive at the best solution helps people deal with the real life issues that occur every day.
Problem solving ability underpins all the innovation that has led to a modern, technologically advanced civilization; yet formal problem solving skills are rarely taught in classrooms (other than some universities) and there are very few resources for teaching them.
Math games are a useful and entertaining exercise in problem solving; but they don't teach formal problem solving skills, or how to apply them to everyday problems.
It is not necessary to try to create expert problem solvers of young children; only to familarize students with the technique of the problem solving process; and the benefits of discussing problems and collaborating with others, particularly if it requires specialist expertise.
The application will be of more interest to mature secondary and tertiary students with the intellectual development to absorbe the skills and apply them to their own needs and wants.
Here are some suggestions for using PSA Free in a classroom environment.
Install the application on a computer connected to a projector or interactive whiteboard and invite the class to participate in a problem solving exercise. Invite students to submit problems, real or invented, for group evaluation and solution, or revisit a problem with known solutions.
A teacher might offer any of millions of situations; such as the problem mallee farmers experienced with tree stumps and roots on cleared land before the invention of stump jump ploughs; how to build a cheap house from locally available natural materials; how to build a road that is not rutted by rain water drainage; how clear a blocked drain, or repair a computer; or how to get a manned mission to Mars and back.
A problem is always something that satisfies a need or potential and is thus wanted; which is blocked or threatened for some reason and causes pain, irritation, annoyance, discomfort, frustration, dissatisfaction, unhappiness or some such negative feeling.
Many needs may go unrecognized or may be confused with others, like love and chocolate; thus some people may only be aware of a yearning or sense of unhappiness without knowing what will alleviate or satisfy it. A discussion of problem solving is an opportunity to discuss the range of human needs, wants and potential and how they change with age, over time; and as they are satisfied.
The things blocking the goal are impediments, obstacles or threats. Most problems are first recognized because of the impediments and the negative feelings they create. Defining the desired outcome may be a significant obstacle in itself; because the owner of the problem may not know what a solution looks like.
The impediments always have causes; which may or may not be relevant to overcoming obstacles in order to achieve the goal. The cause of a person's unemployment may be competition by China in manufacturing industries; which in turn is caused by their cheaper labour and regulatory overheads, the need for industries to compete on price and thus the attraction of China as a place to manufacture goods.
There is nothing you or I can do about that; other than encourage fair wages and responsible regulations for low cost competitors; so it is irrelevant to a solution. The solution may be to retrain and provide another service to the community. There may be several possible solutions, some of which are more likely than others to contribute to achieving the desired outcome.
The implentation of solutions almost always requires actions by people and money or other resources. Managing actions and resources is the last step. Complex problems requiring many actions and resources in a particular time frame might require project management software.
Each step of the problem solving process requires evaluation. Evaluation is the act of applying values to each step; deciding what is more or less important, or relevant, or likely to achieve a result. Attaching values to each step is, by the nature of value judgement, a subjective process that depends on personal priorities. The end result often reflects the personal bias involved in the evaluation. Discuss values and bias.
Discussing the pros and cons of alternatives with other people is useful. Involving other people in the evaluation process is more likely to result in well-balanced decisions and achieve a balanced outcome.
Attaching a number from 1 to 10 is as good a measure of importance or priority as anything else. You might float match boxes in a bathtub to represent alternatives and add grains of rice for each time you feel bad about one. The last match box to sink could well be the best solution. When floating alternatives on a computer, attaching numbers make better sense. In some cases it may be possible to attach monetary values, or other objective and quantifiable values to each step.
Discuss the need to define a problem properly in order to be able to resolve it. In a nutshell, the definition of a problem should be what the situation should look like when it is not a problem; which is the the goal or desired outcome. In the case of the need for a stump jump plough, the goal might be a neatly ploughed field that does not involve a jammed or broken plough share and a horse with a shoulder injury.
A demonstration of problem solving is an opportunity to discuss human history and innovation, the major developments in the evolution of civilization, the role of problem solving in those developments and the continuing role of problem solving in every field of human endeavour, from dishwashing to rocket science, genome sequencing and brain surgery.
A discussion of problem solving is an opportunity to discuss the many occupations and industries involved in a modern, technologically advanced civilization and why division of labour and mutual service is necessary to perform all those roles in satisfying the needs of everyone.
A discussion of problem solving is an opportunity to provide relevance and meaningful to education; to explain to children (and often adults) what they need to learn, WHY they need to learn and what the benefits will be.
A discussion of problem solving is an opportunity to discuss why appropriate human conduct is required for a civilization to function and provide its benefits; how attitudes, values and beliefs govern human conduct; and why it is necessry to develop appropriate knowledge, skills, attitudes, values and beliefs to enjoy the benefits of civilization; a sound secular basis for ethics and morality.
A demonstration of the problem solving technique is an opportunity to discuss and convey useful information about almost anything to almost anyone. Use the application. It is free.
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