When I was a kid I was in Gifted, which was a class where all the people with too much energy and disruptive behavior went to hone their manipulative skills. When not causing troubles (i.e. short circuiting the electrical systems), we would engage in activities meant to challenge our ability to think critically and creatively. My favorite activity every year in Gifted was participating in the Future Problem Solvers of America (FPS). FPS was an annual competition where groups of kids worked through an imagined future concern and came up with the best solution to resolve this crisis. The format went something like this:
You’re given a problem in the future like, “In 2050, homelessness is rampant in the world. It’s become an epidemic. Plus they’re all on bath salts and are eating people’s faces, and even worse they don’t show you gratitude for giving them a dollar like just 6 days ago.”
Next, as a group, you identify like 10 or 20 issues in the scenario. Of course mine was abbreviated, so I’ll just pick like 3 issues. One, too many homeless people. Two, everybody seems to have access to bath salts, and Three, the homeless don’t show any gratitude.
Once you’ve identified a bunch of issues, you come up with questions to basically rank the issues in order of severity. The questions you form are supposed to highlight what is really the most severe issue. So you might ask, What is the most immediate concern? What is the deadliest issue? What will get fox news the most riled up?
So now you’ve ranked the most pressing issue, so your team spends times coming up with solutions to that issue. This is the best part, because you’re allowed to go as buck wild with it as you want. There is no limit to your creativity here. So if we picked the problem of everybody having bath salts, then you might come up with solutions like, “introduce a bath salt placebo to reduce the dependency over time” or “ship em all to Mars!” ß That last one was a real solution I wrote in an FPS scenario. Did not go over well….
Once you’ve come up with a bunch of solutions, you go back and develop more criteria to rank the solutions. This time you’re looking for the most positive solution, so you might come up with questions like, “Which solution has the least cost impact to the world?” or “Which solution will be the most easily implemented?” or “Which solution will not get us kicked out of the competition for suggesting we ship homeless people to a desolate planet?”
After you’ve scored and come up with the best solution, your group writes up an action plan on how the plan would be implemented. The plan would be detailed with costs, timelines, operational details, and finally the overall impact of the plan on the underlying problem identified previously. My favorite part came after this step, where we usually developed a skit to act out the whole plan. This is usually where things got weird for whatever group I was in. For example, if our ultimate solution was something like, “replace bath salts with aspirin, thereby ending the cannibalism and helping with chronic headaches!”, then we might do an entire skit about roaming packs of homeless people who now no longer want to eat people and instead talk about how they don’t get the 3 PM pounding migraines anymore. Crisis Averted!
I encourage all of you with children to get involved if your local school has anything like this program. It’s the one thing I remember from middle school, and let’s be honest, from all my years of education that I actually liked. It’s an enriching program that teaches children to think outside the box. And the box is not somewhere you want to be thinking…..cos that’s where the homeless guy which you refused to ship to Mars lives! And he’s on bath salts! And doesn’t remember the $1 you gave him like 6 days ago! AND HE’S POOPING RIGHT NOW!!!
Anyways, here’s a link to the FPS international website, with links to your local state’s programs. Check it: