Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence

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Problem-Solving across Many Disciplines

Having shared how problem-solving has a central place in Kentucky’s academic standards for science and social studies, I’ll turn today to how a related emphasis appears across our standards for other disciplines that matter for our K-12 students.

Central on mathematical practice

Our mathematics standards are organized around eight practices and a set of standards for mathematical content, and the very first practice is ability to “Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.” The math approach may have the richest sense of the intellectual virtues students need to bring to the work, with attention to understanding what problems mean, trying out approaches and switching strategies when needed, and checking answers both by using a second a method and by asking “does this make sense?” early and often. https://education.ky.gov/curriculum/standards/kyacadstand/Documents/Kentucky_Academic_Standards_Mathematics.pdf

Ample in computer science

Kentucky’s standards for computer science focus on understanding how programming works and actively using that understanding. Within that framework, problem solving comes up repeatedly, including grade by grade expectations for solving programming challenges, reasoning through how to break down major tasks into smaller tasks to allow shared problem solving work, and collaborating effectively online to meet goals and develop solutions. https://education.ky.gov/curriculum/standards/kyacadstand/Documents/Kentucky_Academic_Standards_Computer_Science.pdf

Important in the arts

Kentucky’s standards for visual and performing arts also engage problem-solving work: movement problems in dance, design problems in media arts, innovating approaches to design problems in visual art, solving problems that emerge in rehearsals in theatre. In music alone, the standards do not mention problems and solutions, but even there the attention to rehearsing and refining performances involves the kind iterative process to improving work to meet criteria that is a hallmark of systematic problem-solving work.

Relevant in other subjects

Kentucky’s reading and writing standards call for students analyze needed information and conduct research. For some grades, that work is to be explicitly tied to solving problems, but even when that approach is not named, it’s clear that relevant skills are being built.

Similarly, our technology standards give roughly one-third of their attention to “Research, Inquiry/Problem-Solving, and Innovation” in how students use digital tools to engage their world.

Finally, our physical education standards expect students to be able to make plans for their own health and fitness, starting from individual challenges and health data, while our health standards call for equipping students students to analyze options and take a systematic approach to decisions about healthy and unhealthy behaviors. Those are all recognizable elements of identifying problems and developing solutions.

For these disciplines, the problem-solving approach has a smaller presence, but it still matters. Overall, Kentucky’s standards place very confident value on this mode of learning and reasoning.

Problem solving now and years from now

One more time, let me emphasize the double reason for excitement about these standards.

For current students, these expectations call for lively work right now: digging in on math, creating and performing in the arts, designing programs in computer science, researching and analyzing in ways that use both traditional reading and writing and robust computer skills. For anyone who may have worried about worksheet fatigue or drill-and-kill classrooms, the Kentucky Academic Standards offer a vision of students doing much deeper, much richer, far more engaging work.

For the same students years from now, these capacities are a great start on being ready to make major contributions both in our economy and in our communities. Equipping students to do these things can put them firmly on “the pathway to a larger life” that is the great long-term purpose of our whole education system.