Examining the Osborn-Parnes model of Creative Problem Solving

Creative Problem Solving (CPS) is a method developed over 50 years ago, and yet can still be applied to classrooms today.

Pioneered by Alex Osborn and elaborated upon by Sidney Parnes, there are six steps involved in this method of problem solving. The idea is to find many ways of solving a single problem, and drawing conclusions from these different ways. When it comes to motivating students to learn, utilising CPS has many advantages.

One contributing factor to the achievement gap in education is a lack of confidence, which can mean students are afraid of making mistakes or getting things “wrong”. By encouraging creative problem solving, you can demonstrate that there are a number of ways to tackle a problem, which can serve as motivation for students.

The six steps involving in this method are as follows:

Smart student

Mess-finding (Objective Finding) – This is where pupils find the challenge that needs to be solved, and establish goals they would like to achieve. Rather than just presenting pupils with a problem to solve, ask them questions to help them engage with it and think about why it needs to be solved, such as:

  • Why do we need to look at this?
  • What would you like to see change?
  • What do you wish for?

Fact-finding – In this stage, pupils do research to find out what they can about the challenge or problem at hand. You can help prompt this by using the 5Ws

(Who, What, When, Where and Why) along with How, and get students to write their answers to questions such as these out:

  • What is currently happening?
  • When does this happen?
  • How does this occur?

Problem-Finding – In this stage, students can use the information gleaned from in the previous steps to determine what specifically is problematic about the challenge, and how they can rectify this.

Idea-finding – Also known as brainstorming (which is again a product of Alex Osborn), in this stage, students come up with ways to tackle the aforementioned problem. Here, the sky is the limit! Stress to your students that there is no such thing as a silly answer or idea. Encourage creativity, and arm students with access to markers and whiteboards or paper to jot down ideas. Some questions you could ask to encourage creative thinking:

  • How would you solve this if you could time travel?
  • If (Einstein, Picasso, Da Vinci or other prominent artist or genius) were alive today, how might they approach this?
  • Could you solve this problem with money? With more time? With more people?

Solution finding (Idea evaluation) – In this step, students can evaluate the ideas put forth in the previous session. Here, it’s important that this evaluation is positive and conducted with constructive criticism, so as not to make students feel embarrassed or upset about their contributions.

Acceptance-finding (Idea implementation) – Once the pupils have agreed upon an idea, in this stage, they flesh out an action plan and come up with ways to implement their chosen strategy.

Variations of this model can be used for students across all ages, and can play a big part in adapting the way they approach a problem or challenge. Teaching it therefore can be a great way for you as an educator to play an active role in motivating students to think creatively and “outside the box”.