Investigating Coastal and Marine
A Process for Addressing Environmental Issues
Five Step Process for Problem SolvingMost complex problems are solved with the same basic steps. Once learners have selected an issue for focus (Step 1) they must define the problem if they are to understand it fully (Step 2). When they have in-depth understanding of the nature of the problem and different viewpoints, they can consider a variety of solutions (Step 3). They need to analyse and evaluate those options (Step 4); this sometimes creates an interplay between creating solutions, evaluating them and recreating them. The final step, Step 5, is to put that idea into practice to contribute to some type of actual change.
These steps are shown in OHT 7.
Teachers need not start at the beginning of the process and stop at the end. Good programs and solid educational opportunities may involve fewer than five steps or may jump and skip among them. The following examples illustrate this flexibility:
Using the entire five-step process can also be appropriate to current trends in education reform, which emphasise problem solving and critical thinking. This emphasis reflects the growing awareness that students need to be able to assess and manage information to more creatively handle and solve actual problems they will encounter. These skills are built into the five-step model.
Step 1: Choosing the IssueThe first step in addressing an issue is choosing an appropriate one to investigate. Students often need guidance on how to best choose an issue to investigate. The list below offers some options.
Generating Ideas to Pursue
Choosing an Issue
Issues often present themselves, as well. For example, three students
from one primary class may have seen a television show on the depletion
of the dugong. They shared their concerns with their teacher, and that
issue become the focus of a group project. In another case, a teacher
who was teaching a class on environmental issues learned about an upcoming
plan to limit highrise development on the foreshore. She offered the topic
as a possibility for the class to study. Together, they discussed the
reasons for and against choosing that issue and identified what it would
take to study the issue in depth. The students voted to go ahead, and
they ended up making presentations. Even though the teacher presented
the idea, the decision was left up to the students.
The process for deciding upon an issue can set the tone for the entire experience. If the teacher selects the issue, students might not be very interested in it unless it is relevant to them or they see why it is important. When students pick the issue, the teacher needs to help them choose one they can take on with some measure of success: one that coincides with their capabilities and resources. In either case, students need to make an investment in their problem. Ultimately, they will realise insights to contribute to addressing the problem.
Step 2: Defining the ProblemAlthough the ultimate aim of problem solving is coming up with a solution, the problem-definition phase is extremely important; good solutions require a solid understanding of the problem. Until students have experience, they may have trouble focusing on the problem definition. Instead, they will want to get to work on a solution. They may find it frustrating not knowing what to do next and being told "Don't worry about solutions, yet!" in order to pursue a more systematic analysis. Stress that this step is necessary and should not be slighted for the more glamorous steps of choosing a solution and taking action.
Teachers will know the problem is well-defined and understood if the students can:
The process of defining the problem will ultimately require gathering information from several resources, clarifying biases, challenging assumptions and thinking critically about the consequences.
Step 3: Searching for SolutionsSearching for solutions involves understanding alternative views and the range of alternative solutions. It requires time to understand the scope of a problem and to experiment with several solutions. It means encouraging great creativity and then going back to the definition stage to learn more about what that solution might entail. This often happens by giving examples and exchanging ideas.
Additional Criteria Teachers May Want to Consider
We often become 'stuck' when we cannot see other solutions. Examples,
analogies, and practice can help build the skills for creative thinking.
Teachers may encourage students to move from searching to defining several
times as more information leads students to consider new potential solutions.
Students may also develop a personal vision of how the issue can be resolved
and negotiate a consensus view of the future with classmates. This provides
students with an opportunity to imagine what kind of future they would
like with regard to this issue, and how they can work toward it. This
can also be a powerful way to work at the problem definition.
Searching for solutions can occur at two levels: identifying broad solutions to an issue (such as international agreements to protect whales and identifying solutions to which the class can contribute (publicising brand that are 'dolphin friendly' way. In both cases, students can gather and generate ideas from things they have read, people they have talked with, and their own good thinking.
Step 4: Evaluating OptionsOnce students identify a range of solutions, teachers can help them consider the constraints and possibilities of each and the values and interests they serve. Here are some questions you can use to direct this process.
At this point the role of the teacher is to support students in the evaluation process. One method is to provide a structure for evaluating the options. For instance, the teacher's questions can guide written work, small group discussions, and oral reports. Another form of support is encouragement. Answering these questions can be hard work even many adults have not learned how to evaluate solutions well, Imagery through examples is also helpful. Finally, teachers should give students adequate time and explain that it takes practice to learn to evaluate solutions.
Step 5: Taking Action
Taking action has to do with understanding what types of changes are possible to resolve the problem, how one can contribute to these changes, and, if appropriate, doing so. The five steps each involve different skills. For instance, the problem-definition step requires critical reflection and analysis; identifying and evaluating solutions involves looking at possible outcomes; taking action involves students in bringing certain possibilities to life.
Teachers and students can be involved in the action-taking step in personal, educational, or political ways. You can increase students' understanding of the breadth of possibilities by using these examples to give them some imagery:
The following guidelines are especially useful for teachers involved in community-based action projects.
What if the personal, educational or direct-action approaches do not seem appropriate for a particular group? The teacher can still use other strategies: providing imagery about how students could take action, sharing information about adult and youth groups, that have taken action to effect change, or having the class offer support to established groups working to effect change.
However teachers choose to accomplish it, the action step is a powerful way to move students' feelings about critical environmental issues from hopelessness to despair to hope and possibility. Young people can be influenced by simply knowing there are adults and other youth working to solve problems and create positive change. Teaching have a responsibility not to leave young people in despair about their future. The action step also lends itself to the ultimate goal of environmental education: learning how to participate in resolving environmental issues.