a young boy taking a picture with a cameraHow do children learn to solve problems? Research duo Charles Cook and Colin Harrison of the University of Nottingham’s School of Education recently examined how the use of technology can help young people identify solutions to problems they encounter in their own lives. They found that the use of technology can help students devise inventions and encourage creative thinking at a young age.

For the study, elementary school teachers and students were provided with audio and video recording devices. The children were asked to record their everyday environment using the provided equipment. Students then identified problems in their lives and then designed solutions for them.

The researchers noted that the children participated enthusiastically in finding problems and devising solutions. Once the students homed in on issues, the researchers organized the problems into a taxonomy, which included problems based on:

  • Personal irritations like being cold in bed or having allergies.
  • Effort problems like moving the lawn or doing difficult homework assignments.
  • Lack of empowerment like not being able to move fast enough.
  • Other people’s problems like physical discomfort.
  • Artifact repair and refinement like changing light bulbs or keeping too-large birds out of a bird feeder.
  • Environment like a wrong-sized or dirty space.

The children were not expected to understand the taxonomy, but they did seize upon the concept of inventing solutions to the myriad types of problems that they collectively experienced. The students proposed inventions like hover-bikes, household cleaning machines, and spiky shoes to pick up trash.

Although the inventions were largely impractical, the study highlights the fact that educational processes can be used to pique children’s interest in inventing. By using modern technology, educators can fan students’ creative flames and encourage them to find solutions to real-world problems.

“A central aim here was to seed such engagement by raising expectations that something could be invented—that not everything that might be discovered or designed has already been achieved,” explained the researchers.

This research is published in the International Journal of Technology Enhanced Learning.

Previous news in education: