This year, as I’ve mentioned previously, has been my most deliberate year.  I now have a repertoire of techniques drawn from inquiry, knowledge building, integrative and design thinking and have been able to strategically move students though a collaborating, thinking and problem-solving journey.  This is new. The results are interesting.  In previous years I’ve been testing ideas with no idea what might result; now I have reached, “If…Then”.   For the first time I feel that I have truly produced a different kind of student. My students -the ones who get it, because of course there are degrees of understanding and I don’t want anyone to believe that all students have reached this point – think differently and I can see it.

A few events stand out to demonstrate this, which I can only describe as spontaneous problem-solving mode.

1. Students are asking for integrative thinking problems to solve. I’ve given a group one that all schools have yet to solve: late arrivals.  Our school has about 25 students per day who arrive late.  Try to imagine getting your troops ready for battle (as in you’ve taught the lesson), the troop is now ready to march forward and then a soldier suddenly arrives asking,”What’s the plan?”   It’s one of those things that makes our job difficult. We have endless discussions about it and no solutions.  I’ve handed the problem to a few students to explore. I don’t know if they’ll solve it, but they are drawing upon their strategies.

2.A discussion about an uncomfortable desk caused a group of students to immediately switch into problem exploration mode where they leveraged each other with yes…and to generate ideas about how to improve the desk.  They ended up with a prototype drawing – including measurements – on the board and were ready to rapid fail their ideas. They weren’t merely brainstorming. They were very deliberately drawing upon the thinking and problem-solving toolkit to work their way through the problem.

Here’s the thing:  I don’t have the resources in my room for where this should have gone next. There’s no workshop with hammers, saws, drills, paint, etc to build and test their ideas.  I feel like I’ve opened Pandora’s Box – but in a good way.  I have students burning with desire to think, problem-solve and create – and no meaningful place for them to go.


  1. carolyn jonaitis

    no meaningful place to go?

    the world is meaningful, and I’m going to presume that they’ll be going there.

    Take them to a dressage show.
    They’ll find out what happens when you show up late.
    60 seconds late for your scheduled start time?


    simple. no argueing, no excuses. just untack your horse, and go home.

    1. Heidi Siwak

      Hi Carolyn,
      Thank you for your comments. I’m not sure if you have read the previous posts to understand the context in which this post is framed. The students have been deeply immersed in complex problem solving. Participating in dressage is not something all families can afford – it’s for the privileged and those who have access. And that’s my point. During the school day, opportunities to solve a problem from the real world where ideas are tested in a meaningful way are limited. We don’t have a workshop equipped with building materials to prototype and test solutions.

  2. Aviva (@avivaloca)

    You make a great point here, Heidi! What would you need to create this area? Is there any way to do so? I wonder if contacting a local high school (with some of these supplies) might work. Is there any way to connect with them? I’m not sure how far the local high school is from your school, but is there a way to go over, work with the students there, and build some prototypes? What about 3-D printing options? I don’t know if 3-D printing a small desk is even possible, but if it is, could it be used for testing? I know that students couldn’t sit in it to see how it feels, but could they identify problems using this model? Again, I’m not sure, but I’d be very curious to see what could be done. I wonder if this becomes almost like a problem of its own for students to help solve. What would they suggest?

    Thanks for always getting me thinking! I’m so inspired by what you do!

    1. Heidi Siwak

      Thank you, as always, for your thoughtful feedback Aviva. It is always appreciated.

      That is the question! What might be created? I have several ideas and have begun conversations to explore possibilities. I will keep you posted as they gain substance!

  3. Allison Kemper

    Hi Heidi,
    I really enjoyed reading your post as it connected with how I’m feeling right now. This is my first year in Knowldege Building & Integrative Thinking and I am running into the same problems too. Luckily WHBallard used to have a wood shop so I’m going to be pulling out the hand tools next week with my Grade 7s to take apart appliances to see how they create/use/conserve heat. Basic tools wouldn’t be too expensive if your school needed to purchase them….or donations of old hand tools from families? Really enjoy reading your post! Thanks for sharing!

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