Inspiring students to become global problem solvers

When you push students out of their comfort zone while mirroring their own passion, the imagination cultivated is nothing short of remarkable

Last year, my district—Roosevelt (AZ) School District—was asked by Arizona State University’s (ASU) department of innovation and entrepreneurship to pilot a new educational program for middle school students. I was initially skeptical but curious to learn about this new type of learning experience, especially given the tagline: Global Problem Solvers.

Words like “inspire,” “global,” and “problem solver” make every teacher’s ears perk up. Not only are educators obsessed with getting kids to think critically and tackle real-world problems, we also want projects that motivate all students, because we know that some students don’t show interest in conventional assignments.

The road to creating agents of change
In the summer of 2017, ASU held a week-long professional development (PD) program for Cisco’s Global Problem Solvers (GPS) program with teachers from five schools in the Phoenix metro area to familiarize us with the intent and implementation of the program. I teach social studies, and our middle school’s math and science teachers joined me.

The GPS program is built on design thinking, a framework for creating new products and becoming social entrepreneurs. These projects allow mid-childhood, pre-teen, and early teenage learners to create viable business products, and the process encourages them to address problems within their community and the public at-large.

Upon returning to our school, our heads were full of rich possibilities: Would we engage in a school-wide GPS competition, could we develop cross-curricular connections, or even create higher taxonomy outputs? We decided to be ambitious. We reworked our fall schedule and added 35 minutes to the end of the school day Mondays through Thursdays to include all 85 eighth-graders in the GPS program.

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