The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Problem Solving

We had a pretty serious storm last night, with lots of lightning and thunder. As teachers were arriving early this morning, some of them noticed that one of the trees in the back of the building had been struck by lightning! There was a long strip of bark that had been blasted off and one of the limbs had a large crack in it. Our custodian noticed it and mentioned it to me this morning while we were working together at the student drop-off area. He also suggested I take my class to look at it in case the the district grounds personnel decide to have the tree removed.

I decided to take it one step further. I brought my class outside and had them look at the tree and figure out what the problem was. It took them a few minutes of discussion, but they eventually saw what our custodian saw: the tree had been hit by lightning and one of the limbs was broken. I then asked them to come up with a possible solution to the problem as we walked back to the classroom.

In the room, I had the students work in their groups of four to come up with a solution and write it as a letter to the custodian. Their letters had to have similar components: address the custodian, tell him what they saw, explain their solution, and thank him for his time. I also emphasised that the handwriting had to be clear so that others could read it. They worked on the letters for half an hour. As they finished, they turned them in so Ms. Schultz and I could read through them. We were very impressed with the suggestions!

Several said that he should use a chainsaw to cut the branch down. Others said that they needed to provide a support to hold the tree and the branch up so it wouldn’t fall down. One group even went so far as to suggest cutting the entire tree down and slicing the trunk into stools for students to sit on around the playground! All of the groups expressed concern about the branch falling and hitting buses or teachers’ cars.

I gave the six letters to the custodian who read them and said he would be talking to the grounds department about the need to assess the situation. I will let the class know tomorrow about his reaction so they will know that their voices can be heard and that they really can have a hand in solving problems in the classroom, in the school, in the community, and even in the nation!

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