Cows and floating islands

| April 6, 2011 | 0 Comments

By Sue Soulsby

What, you may ask, do cows have in common with motorised, futuristic floating islands?

‘Not much’ is the average response – unless you happen to be one of the boys attending the Futurists’ Society at our school. Then your answer would be creative, noisily achieved and off the wall.As a school, we have joined a group called Future Problem Solving Programme International (FPSPI). The primary aim of the group is to foster thinking. This is something we all do, with varying measures of success, every waking minute of the day. But how often are these thoughts creative and new? The programme teaches students to apply wonderful, dissociative processes to arrive at new solutions to challenges.

Students, scenarios and Synectics
Students are given a scenario set in the future – for example, a description of man-made islands that move around deep areas in the ocean, mining precious minerals from the seabed. The boys extract facts from the given scenario. After heated discussion and democratic processes, potential problems are fleshed out and sorted from most pressing to least important. The students then use one of several techniques to force new ideas to solve the most pressing problem at hand.
One technique is Synectics (defined as the art of making new connections), where attributes of unrelated objects are forced into new connections – in this case, attributes of an animal with one of the problems related to the island. On being presented with the man-made island scenario, one group chose a cow as their animal and then used the idea of repeated digestion through multiple stomachs as a means of processing and extracting useful by-products from the waste matter on the island.

Another technique is Deliberate Escape, where some critical aspect of the original scenario is removed. Our boys cut their teeth on this technique, imagining a restaurant with some critical aspect removed: lights, waiters or crockery and cutlery, or a kitchen, or even food! They are yet to learn a further technique called Scamper, using the strategies substitute, combine, adapt, modify, put to other uses, eliminate, reverse or rearrange from weird to workable.

Next stop: the Gold Coast
The FPSPI dictates a six-step process for each scenario. Groups develop their response to these steps through guided completion of three practice booklets, submitted electronically to the coaches in Australia, who are our mentors. If we match up to standards, we will be invited to Australia’s Gold Coast this year to enter a team or two in their national competition in October. Teams may comprise as few as four or as many as eight or even nine members. Should we succeed in Australia and achieve first or second in the division we enter, the team/s will be invited to the USA International Final Competition in March or April 2012 in Minnesota.

Who knows how far we can go! Once we have progressed through the initial stages, we will refine the composition of each team, mixing and changing them frequently. Teams will be grouped by age and school grade to facilitate entry into either the Intermediary or Senior levels of the competition. Ideally, each team will include students to cover a variety of abilities: mathematical, linguistic, artistic, pragmatic, scientific and so on. The coach should know the boys’ areas of interest and expertise to make the best combination within a group. Our success will depend on the quality of each boy included in the teams.

Sue Soulsby is the Academic Enrichment Coordinator at St David’s Marist Inanda.

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Category: Autumn 2011

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