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Teaching Innovation and Problem Solving

Business leaders are calling for workers who can solve problems and innovate solutions, but how can educators teach such abstract skills? After all, isn't every problem unique? Doesn't every solution differ? Yes. But the fundamental tools of problems solving are common to all situations, and they can be taught. The two most important mental tools are critical thinking and creative thinking.

Critical thinking is convergent. It focuses intently on a topic, paying careful attention to logic and rules. Critical thinking breaks a subject into its parts and investigates how the parts relate to each other: categorizing, sequencing, comparing, ranking. It is in-the-box thinking.

Creative thinking is divergent. It sees a topic as a whole and imagines it as an analogy for something else: envisioning, improvising, riffing, wondering. Creative thinking reaches out to explore possibilities and defies convention and rules. It is out-of-the-box thinking.

Teaching Both Types

Just as students can learn specific strategies for convergent, analytical thinking, they can learn specific strategies for divergent, expansive thinking. Once students have gained these specific mental strategies, they can combine their critical and creative thinking to solve problems.

Problem solving starts with critical thinking—analyzing a problem—and then shifts to creative thinking—imagining solutions. To plan a solution requires more critical thinking, while applying the solution is a creative process. By shifting back and forth between the two types of thinking, students eventually arrive at a solution that works.

Problem-Solving Process

Rob King Explains Critical Thinking, Creative Thinking, and Problem Solving

In the following video, Rob King, author of Inquire: A Student Handbook for 21st Century Learning, explains how to teach critical and creative teaching and how to combine them in problem solving.

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