Future Problem Solvers (FPS) is a student enrichment program begun at Illawarra Christian School in 2015. Often students who are highly capable are ‘enriched’ through competition. This is not a bad thing but it can mean that the students are conditioned to believe they should only use their gifts to compete, to be better than others and to achieve. As Christians we are commanded to love one another, to use our gifts in service of God and others. With these two perspectives in mind, the search was on for an enrichment program that not only engaged and extended students, but also helped them to have an outward, service focus. Future Problem Solvers ticked the bill.
Future Problem Solvers in primary and secondary school
There are multiple divisions of the program. ICS has been involved in two of these: Global Issues Problem Solving (GIPS) and Community Problem Solving (CmPS). We currently run GIPS in primary school (with Year 6 entering a competitive team) and CmPS in high school. GIPS focuses on a given topic and requires students to think critically about the world and a solution to creating a better future. The six step process is based on a design thinking model and is incredibly beneficial to helping students become critical and creative thinkers. CmPS takes this model and applies it to an actual community issue.
Since 2015, ICS’s CmPS teams have tackled the following issues: connecting refugee families to their new communities, helping adolescents to find their worth apart from social media, encouraging students to be physically active so as to prevent stress and depression, and reducing and recycling soft plastics to alleviate the ocean plastic pollution problem.
How does Community Problem Solving work?
There are deadlines, submissions and qualifications throughout the CmPS process. Students work on their project, sequentially following the steps: research, identifying problems, underlying problem, brainstorming solutions, writing criteria, judging solutions and enacting an action plan. We generally begin this process in term 2. In late July, students submit a Qualifying Report to the national office. This report is restricted to 1000 words, requiring succinct explanation of the project, its goals and achievement to date. Based on this report, teams are either invited to a national final—or not. At ICS, all four of the CmPS projects so far undertaken have won us an invitation to the national finals and every year we have had a Year 6 GIPS team make it though too. In 2015 the finals were in Brisbane, in 2016 Melbourne and in 2017, the finals were held at Knox Grammar School in Sydney.
Requirements for the National Championships are enormous. Teams must prepare a six page technical and highly specified report and a six page photographic collage (addendum) of their project. This is submitted to the national office prior to the onsite competition. On the day of competition, teams must present a display of their work, as well as a scrapbook portfolio documenting their journey and a three to five minute audio visual presentation as well. On site, the teams have a 30 minute interview with the judges. This is hugely demanding in terms of time, thought and commitment and all of our teams have competed at a level exceeding their own expectations.
How is 2018 different?
Up until last year, the National Championships were the end of our FPS journey. But in 2017 our Year 7 team, plastICS (Preventing Litter and Stormwater Trash at ICS) placed third nationally in a Year 7-9 division. This earned them an invitation to represent Australia at the International Future Problem Solving Championships at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse from 5th-10th June 2018. This was exciting, nerve-wracking and thrilling! A parent meeting decided that the team should go. We are looking forward this week to writing the next chapter in the plastICS story!