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Super Problem Solvers! Cooperative Peer Problem Solving! have spent huge parts of my academic day solving the case of the missing brown crayon, the girl who accidentally stepped on another students toe, or a child who cut in line.  I began to realize that these students were depending solely on me to solve any problem they came across, no matter how small. I decided that it was time to think outside the box, to empower my students to become problem solvers. I figured if I could teach them how to read, solve multistep math problems, work collaboratively in pairs… that I could certainly teach them to solve problems with their peers. This sort of independence helps me to get through the day, but also empowers students to develop social skills and relationships they can manage. For the most part, they shouldn’t need an adult to solve the kinds of problems that first graders are having.

My solution… I developed a peer problem solving “system” in my classroom called “Super Problem Solvers”. I used a similar instructional approach to the one that I would with any lesson I teach, modeling with explicit instruction, guided practice, independent practice.  I made sure to explain the difference between situations that are appropriate for teacher help, as well as “first grade problems”.  We also role played problem solving, and brainstorm appropriate responses.

I then set up a  “Super Problem Solving Area” in my classroom.  I use a big poster sized cutout of a gumball machine and the cheap circle labeling stickers in my room. Above the gumball poster are “Say” and “Do” directions to support my students in problem solving.  The students go to this area to solve their problem with a peer. When they have solved the problem, they stick a “gumball” sticker on the chart.

Were there many more “first grade problems” the first couple of days? Yes!

Did some students, who had rarely had any issues in the past, suddenly have several “problems” in one day? Yes!

To me this was all evidence that the students were getting used to the problem solving process we were using in our classroom.

For the first few days my students would often still come to me. Before they began “tattling” I asked “Is this a first grade problem?” The students usually answered “Yes” and met a friend in the problem solving area.

We have been using this system for about two months now, and I have noticed that there are less and less “problems” to begin with. My students have gotten so good at problem solving, that sometimes they solve problems seamlessly.

Super Problem Solvers! Cooperative peer problem solving.

Problem solving display.

 Super Problem Solvers! Cooperative Peer Problem Solving!