Teaching the power of problem solving to our students

In 1927 Juan Terry Trippe was a pilot who dreamed of creating the world’s first airline company, transporting passengers from one city to the next. By 1928, he had created Pan Am Airlines which flew one route between Key West, Florida and Havana, Cuba. At that time, pilots flew by dead reckoning, using a compass, map, and their eyeballs. At one point that system broke down, the plane veered off course and was lost at sea. How could he fix this to begin his dream of trans-Pacific flights?

Trippe gathered a diverse team to solve the problem using a new technology… radio waves. Pilots would radio their position to operators on the ground. These contacts would decode their position, then radio back directional instructions to the pilot. Trippe’s team next solved the problem of where each planes could stop to refuel to cross the Pacific Ocean, then arranged to build runways on the islands of Hawaii, Midway, Wake, and Guam Islands, completing the transpacific crossing. This was the first step in building the world-wide aviation system we have today.

Computational Thinking (CT) is a problem-solving process that enables students to solve problems, like Trippe’s team faced. A non-profit called Project Tomorrow began building a curriculum to begin teaching students this CT problem-solving process, beginning in kindergarten, in 2020. The Michigan Department of Education (MDE) enacted a pilot program, based on Project Tomorrow’s work, for schools titled Computational Thinking Integration Project (CTIP) in 2022.

The core concepts of computational thinking include:

• Decomposition: breaking problems into simple parts to solve.

• Pattern Recognition: identifying similarities and differences in the data.

• Abstraction: removing data/details you don’t need to solve the problem.

•Algorithm Design: creating steps and rules to solve the problem, then testing the process.

This process develops creativity by allowing students to explore ways to implement successful solutions to problems, helps students work as a team, provides a process all can use to identify errors and discovering solutions, and allows individuals and teams to test their solutions & start the process over if needed. Training is provided to teachers to educate students how they can use this process in each of their courses: math, science, English language arts, STEAM courses, and electives. Students use common terms associated with computational thinking, helping them develop this skill in multiple settings.

The Copper Country Intermediate School District serves as a pilot for MDE’s CTIP initiative. Interventionalists work with teachers to implement teaching this process. At Jeffers high schools their ELA classes identify the meaning of Shakespeare’s poetry (sonnet). At Barkell Elementary in Hancock 4th grade teacher Mrs. Smith identifies patterns in genre, themes, and parts of a story in defining organization of an essay, while Mrs. Carlson’s kindergarten class learns syllables, segment words, and blending words. All participating schools use this process in robotics and coding courses, where the current computational thinking structure was developed.

Teacher professional development is led by Geneveive Nordmark (Hancock), Jennifer Pera & Charles Palosaari (Jeffers), and Steve Kass (CCISD). The continue to offer professional development regularly to expand its implementation across all K-12 grades.

The mission of our education system is to give students gifts of knowledge that keep on giving throughout their whole lives. The power of problem-solving benefits us through the creation of global air flight to fixing a car to programming home cleaning robots of the future. Hats off to our teachers that are part of this pilot, and those joining the initiative, to give our youth tools to help them solve the problems of today and tomorrow!


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