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.