News & Press

Problem Solving: An Inherent Part of the Curriculum

Deanne Benson, Head of School at Lesley Ellis SchoolBy Deanne Benson

Head of School

Lesley Ellis School


Lesley Ellis School, serving PK-Grade 8, helps students gain creative problem-solving skills in myriad ways, with teachers reinforcing the skills from one area of study and grade level to another. Following are just a handful of the many ways students engage in creative problem solving.


Math. When solving story problems in math class, students work from guiding principles rather than procedures. They are taught to read the problem, have an emotional reaction (aaah, scary!), then read the problem again. This time, read for “gist.”


What is the problem about? Draw a picture. Describe it to a friend. Act it out! Whatever helps you give meaning to the words. Next, find what the problem is asking and think about what information you would need to answer the question. All of this happens before doing a single calculation, whether examining polygons in sixth grade or moving vehicles (distance, rate and time) in eighth.


Science. Students engage in a science fair project each year. To prepare for this process, students learn how to design and write a procedure to create a fair and reliable experiment. As they design their experiment, students learn that their first try might not always be successful, and that they need to continue to identify areas where eliminating human error will make a more successful project. Throughout the process, students learn how to manage their time, organize their thinking and present their findings in a clear and effective way. For example:


  • One class is working on a unit on the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals, where students will be thinking creatively to design something that solves a problem in the world. 
  • In the science lab, students regularly utilize the Engineering Design Process to design solutions to various problems such as turning saltwater into freshwater using their knowledge of the water cycle.


Anti-bias Work. In Grade 6, students participate in a program called ThinkGive, where students are challenged to make the world a better place. By giving the gift of themselves and their time (through actions), they work to address personal, community and environmental problems. They develop problem-solving skills by identifying injustices and inequities in their communities and then focusing their efforts by narrowing down each idea into small, manageable, meaningful actions. Each student reflects on their “gift” in order to set new goals and to continue this work.


English. Our 7th and 8th grade students have completed an interdisciplinary project after reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon. They needed to create or enhance an existing design to make the city of Boston more accessible to people with various disabilities. It involved research skills, some engineering skills and writing skills when composing a persuasive letter to have their design implemented.