Leadership · Curriculum · STEM


Navigating Conflict: 5 Simple Questions

I’m super concerned for our kids today. And you can’t help but feel for them. They’re growing up in a world changing faster than ever–and accelerating all the more as we speak. At no time in history have we been so bombarded with so many stimuli, technologies, communications, and outright noise.

It’s no wonder why we see–and experience–so many seemingly fight-or-flight moments. Conflict grips us like a vice. It can feel like there’s no way out. With no other options on the horizon, anxiety ensues. Panic follows. Acts of desperation grow imminent.

Sometimes it’s all we can do to keep it together. Conflict forces us to think and choose between shutting down and quitting, asking for help, or taking an unforeseen route. None of those may sound appealing.

What do we do when this happens in our own learning spaces?

How do we help kids address conflict?

How can we empower learners to become problem solvers?

Here are five, very simple questions that have helped my STEM learners navigate conflict and grow their problem-solving skills.

1–Student: I’m confused about what to do.

1–Teacher: What problem are you trying to solve?

Sometimes all that’s needed is to restate the goal. Purpose-driven learning is all about knowing what, why, and how, and being open to the journey thereof. Paraphrasing the big picture refocuses the telescope from the galaxy to the planet. It’s hard to take one small step for man until you know why you’re taking one giant leap for mankind.

2–Student: I can’t do this!

2–Teacher: What have you tried?

Encouraging students to simply try a few potential solutions before giving in or giving up is crucial in growing a community of problem solvers. It’s amazing how a momentary pause and a few more attempts can eventually lead one out of despair.

3–Student: I don’t know how to do this.

3–Teacher: Who else have you asked for help?

You just got done explaining and demonstrating exactly what to do, and some students were zoned out, for many a potential reason, and you don’t feel like repeating yourself? No–this is not what I’m talking about here. In fact, that’s why I love video so much–especially #GridPlans–and things like the flipped classroom model, because students can play, pause, replay, and self-pace the exact directions as given the first time.

Here, I’m referring to collaboration. It’s not just kids working together in a group. This is targeted and specific. It’s not just that the learner wants an answer. The learner literally can’t move on unless this immediate problem is solved. A small win is needed. Therefore, the learner must approach others to have a conversation in solving the problem, together. Ideally, it’s not just one student giving the answer to another, but rather demonstrating the what, why, and how.

I’ve heard of the strategy “Ask 3 Before Me!” Personally, I don’t use that because I think it focuses on quantity and not quality. I’ve seen students race to their three besties who weren’t well-versed in collaboration (at the time), for example.

4–Student: I tried this and it didn’t work.

4–Teacher: What other choices do you have right now?

In the Age of Instant Gratification, one way should be the only way. In fact, one of the biggest obstacles in making a decision is being able to define all the options available. While situational awareness usually informs appropriate consequences, the process isn’t always so clear. It requires critical thinking, and that takes effort and energy.

Also in the Era of Snapchat, the one preferred platform, app, or tool should be the only way. But what if the server’s down, the app won’t load, you can’t log in, the tool’s broken, or there’s no access to technology? Surely that would never happen in your classroom.

The reason why this question has the potential to be so powerful is because it requires learners to analyze the tools most appropriate for solving the problem. That may or may not require devices.

5–Student: I’ve done this and I’ve done that. Now what do I do?

5–Teacher: What are your next steps?

Coding applies and extends way beyond one hour. Computational thinking is sequencing with a purpose. While it’s obvious that you put your socks on before your shoes, it may not be initially clear how to smash several steps in different devices, platforms, or tasks. Add collaboration with a diverse group to solve a problem in an isolated block of time, and the process starts to resemble skills in lifelong learning.

Why These Questions Matter

What I love most about these questions is that it takes the attention, meaning, and ownership off the teacher and redirects them back to the students.

Literally, the teacher transforms from the content expert to the facilitator of learning experiences.

How do you create a community of problem solvers?

What has worked for you?

What are your thoughts? Comment here!

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