Guest blog post by Richard Trombetta from the Acton Schools in Acton, MA.
The recent edition of Harvard Business Review contained an article by Beth Comstock, Chief Marketing Officer at General Electric simply titled “Figure it Out.” The article focused on some of the key skills people need to have in order to face challenges and develop innovative solutions to address issues. Click here for a link to the entire article.
Ms. Comstock highlights an organization called Neighborhood Centers that provides various services for over 300,000 people in the Gulf Coast area of the United States. The article mentions that at Neighborhood Centers “people to be inventive, capable, and enterprising. Above all, they must be able to improvise—to take whatever they have to work with and make the most of it.”
In my role as a Technology Integration Specialist at an elementary school in Acton, Massachusetts, one of my responsibilities is to work with teachers to align technology initiatives with the overall curriculum. What we are finding is that rather than focus on domain and subject knowledge, the real benefits are coming from approaches that emphasize skills such as problem solving, collaboration, decision making, and, as the Harvard Business Review article discusses, “figuring things out.”
For example, we recently created an exercise for second grade students using SAM Animation where the goal was to have students solve a problem. Working in groups of four, they were asked to come up to a solution to the following:
- You can only use the materials given to you: two small plastic animals (a lion, a tiger, etc.), a piece of 8 1/2 x 14 paper, and a pencil
- There must be a start and finish line on both ends of the length of the paper
- Both animals must cross the finish line (drawn on) at the same time
- Only one animal can move first; the second animal can’t move until the first animal is half way to the finish line
- Once the second animal starts to move BOTH animals must always be moving
- The movie must be 60 second with a setting of 10 frames per second (e.g. 600 clicks)
- No pictures of hands allowed in the movie
Five of the six groups went down the typical path of moving the animals a little bit at a time, taking a picture after each tiny movement. In the corner of my eye I saw one group coming up with an amazing solution. Instead of moving the animals in small increments, they moved one animal in short movements to the half way point, moved the other into the scene (from the starting line), and then moved the paper the animals were on back and forth and just kept clicking. They spun the paper and said, “look, the animals are dancing!” They then had the animals sync up and cross the line at the same time. In other words, “they figured it out.” While the other groups were struggling to figure out how to move the animals, take a picture, and repeat the process 600 times, this group instead realized that taking that approach would not enable them to meet the challenge.
SAM Animation is a very powerful tool for story telling and expressing thoughts, ideas, and knowledge. It is also an extremely effective approach for teaching students a concept that cuts across all subject matters – figuring things out. And, due to the hands on component of SAM, our school has found that it resonates with students much more than word problems or those simply using paper and pencil.
There is a lot of talk around having children be “college and career ready.” While domain knowledge is important, I would argue that people like Ms. Comstock, as the Chief Marketing Officer of a $147 billion dollar company, may be more concerned with the skills that SAM helps teach in order to have her employees FIO – Figure It Out.