Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Future Problem Solving Program International comes to Ireland

Frazzled and I have been friends for nearly two years now, although in many ways it feels as if we’ve known each other forever! We have discovered much common ground and a mutual passion for advocating for gifted education issues in Ireland. Over this time we have found examples of many programmes in place abroad which serve the needs of gifted students and have bemoaned the lack of availability of such initiatives here. Apart from CTYI , there is little specific provision for gifted learners.

Future Problem Solving Program International (FPSPI) was one such programme which caught our eye. This programme is of huge interest to us because it addresses what we see as one of the main deficits in Irish schools today, namely, the lack of opportunity to develop problem solving skills in a team environment... a key component of the 21st Century skills needed for success in the workplace.

The programme is part of a now global effort to acquaint students with “thinking skills via an adaptation of the creative problem solving process”. Teams of four students apply the six-step process to find solutions to problems in an imagined future. Elements of political, ecological, economic, scientific, social or technological issues are presented in three different problems during the school year. Teams tackle each future scene separately throughout the school year and use critical thinking methods to develop solutions to pertinent issues. They choose one problem among those they have identified and work on an action plan to address it. They evaluate their own plan as they work on it under the guidance of trained coaches. The first two problems are practise ones, the third is known as a qualifying problem and through it, teams have the chance to compare themselves against other local teams in competition. All of their work is passed on to trained evaluators who give feedback and scoring as the basis for further improvement of these key skills.

Seeing an opportunity to introduce this programme to Irish students, we got in touch last year with FPSPI Board of Trustees member Deb Woythal who started us on our way with our fledgling team of four. She, along with a colleague in the UK, are mentoring our efforts to establish a working programme of FPSPI with Irish students. Their help, support and enthusiasm were invaluable and we are very grateful that they have allowed us bring FPSPI to Ireland. Last year, in between sports matches, music lessons, exams and homework, our team succeeded in producing some fine work for a first attempt. This year, we are expanding the programme in our local area with secondary students. As the programme also works for primary-age pupils, we are planning some involvement for that age-group soon. If you are interested in talking to us about the programme or how to include your school in our pilot project please do not hesitate to get in touch.

In Ireland we hear government and business leaders talking about preparing our workforce to be flexible and innovative, to use creativity and cooperation in problem-solving, to use communications technology effectively, and yet, we continue to educate both our children and their teachers in an out-moded content-based learning model. Bringing a programme such as FPSPI to Ireland is our effort to address this gap.


  1. Congratulations! FPSP is a wonderful opportunity for gifted children to work together. It's a proven program that's been around a long time - I competed in the US at the secondary level.

    Are you familiar with Destination ImagiNation ( or Odyssey of the Mind ( They are also team competitions that are well suited for gifted kids. They are creative problems-solving competitions that require highly creative solutions and some dramatic skills.

  2. Thank you atxteacher! We are really looking forward to bringing FPSPI to Irish students. We feel it is a programme of huge potential here because it can be introduced with a minimum of resources, apart from enthusiastic coaches and pen and paper! I was not familiar with Destination ImagiNation, that you for the link. It looks like a very interesting programme. We had also looked at the Odyssey of the Mind, but we thought that accessing and providing materials and equipment for it might prove more challenging for us. Thanks again for your encouragement!

  3. One of the main reasons that the majority if children aren't deemed gifted is that they are educated in an outdated and ignorant system in a society that believes that giftedness is rare and special, usualy upperclass - privilaged special.
    thoose of you who set yourselves appart as 'special' also reflect this ignorance!!!!

  4. Anonymous, thank you for your comment. I think if you read our blog thoroughly you will find that we do not think Exceptionally Able children are special or somehow superior but rather that they are different. Just like children who have for example dyslexia or impaired vision, gifted children learn in a different way than most others and need a different approach for them to reach their goals and realise their own individual potential. We do not subscribe to the notion that these are the "future leaders of the world" and should be treated with kid gloves. However, we have experienced the different needs of these learners first-hand and, like any parents of children with a learning difference, are concerned that they get the educational and academic support they need.

    Gifted children are in every socio-economic group, in every gender, colour, creed and race. We in the Irish Gifted Education Blog make it one of our missions to ensure that every teacher and parent in Ireland can access information and support when they need it for their Exceptionally Able child or pupil. It is not the goal of this blog or anyone we associate with to restrict support to "upperclass" or "privileged" kids. A quick read of our posts would demonstrate this clearly.

    As regards the Future Problem Solving Programme, a major attraction is that it is a low-cost way of helping students acquire the skills of problem-solving and teamwork. Both of these have been identified by the NCCA as being among the Key 21st Century Skills needed by all our children in the future. This programme benefits all children and is not restricted to Exceptionally Able students. The modest cost it takes to run ensures that it can be accessed by schools and students across the socio-economic spectrum which I am sure you will agree is a positive in our current financial climate.
    I do hope you will continue to read our blog Anonymous, and feel free to contact us in you have any questions.