What happens when 2,000 kids from around the world show up in Ames, Iowa to solve world problems? They get solved, and by some of the brightest kid's who are between 10 - 18 years old!
Recently, my husband and I accompanied our 10-year-old granddaughter to the international competition of "Future Problem Solvers Program International" (FPSPI), held at Iowa State University. It was a four-day academic competition that frankly, we had never heard of. As a student at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School in Indianapolis, she participated in the Junior Level (grades 4-6), state competition and although her team came in fifth overall, it was a learning opportunity for her. But the Middle Level (grades 7-8) team from her school took first place and qualified for the international competition.
My granddaughter was asked to be an alternate for the Middle team, and she jumped at it! FPSPI attendees are known as academic stars -- similar to sport stars at their schools. So of course we were happy that our granddaughter was selected to be a participant.
Doing a little research, we discovered that the program was in its 40th year and was started by Dr. E. Paul Torrance, a creative thinker and teacher. It was his idea to create a program that taught youngsters to tackle heavy- duty problems that affect all of us, and ask the students to solve them. His technique, based on a six-step process required them to research issues, analyze and prioritize the material and come up with a solution. This was team building at its best and competing with like youngsters from all over the world added another dimension - a truly cultural and global experience. The problems would be complex, and the solutions could actually be adopted and applied.
Observing the sessions as the kids tackled their assigned problem (2014's problem dealt with space), I started thinking that this planet has a lot of problems. And those of us who are suppose to leave it in better shape than we found it are, well... getting a failing grade. We can't seem to talk with each other about how to solve issues and disputes; we are quick to use guns to resolve petty disagreements and bombs, rockets and terror tactics to make our points and feelings known. No one wants to talk, everyone wants to react, as in shoot first and talk later. Our elected government officials fail to agree on even seemingly nonpartisan, common sense issues like fixing our nations infrastructure. Watching these kids I thought, I bet my 10-year-old granddaughter and her friends can find a solution -- they are trained future problem solvers.
Another problem that needs solving is that girls in many cultures are denied a formal education when they reach puberty, and are then forced into early marriages. Many are kidnapped, (Boko Haram terrorist in Nigeria as an example) and are pressed into being a part of an international human traffic ring.
At the Community FPSPI session (a competition that allows FPSPI students to tackle an issue they are passionate about), I met a 12-year old girl named Claire Curtis from Kentucky, who started a campaign named "Help Haseena Dream", a project to stop human trafficking of girls. A well-defined program with a lot of thought put into how to bring awareness to the problem. Claire is one of my hero's - and she is only 12.
We are charged with teaching our children how to navigate this world and to offer techniques we learned to solve problems. But what I'm seeing -- I watch "Judge Judy" a lot -- is that we are experiencing a problem with large numbers of people who have missed the lesson of how to problem solve. The tendency is to just react with no thought to the consequences. But not my FPSPI kids - they have learned how, in six easy steps to think, process and resolve issues, and then react. I can't help but wish for every kid in our nation to have access to this program!!
We do want our children to be seen and heard and to use their brains. FPSPI is one way but, if your school doesn't have the program (more than half of our 50 states offer FPSPI), the best thing we can do as adults is to take the time to support and encourage our kids to express their opinions. Use these conversations to determine what types of issues they regularly confront, and get them to think about solutions. Look for community projects where they can join others in collaborative activities that benefit others - activities that cause them to consider bigger issues that affect their community, their country and the world.
These are our children, our problem solvers for generations to come. Anyone can learn to use the FPSPI six-step approach. (http://www.fpspi.org/), and you don't have to be a kid. Just maybe by following these steps some of the hurt, death, and out-of-control thinking that humans and leaders in many countries practice, can be altered to help create a safer world.
Talking to my 10-year-old granddaughter about saving the world.
Future Problem Solving Program International charters Affiliate Programs (http://www.fpspi.org/FindAD.html), are throughout Australia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, United Kingdom, and United States. For students in an area without an FPSPI Affiliate Program, FPSPI offers a mentoring program (British Columbia, Hong Kong, India, Israel, Portugal, Shanghai, South Africa, Switzerland, Thailand, and Turkey are currently Mentored Regions).