Problem Solving Tools: Let’s Be Creative!

No matter what subject matter you are working on, problem solving and critical thinking are both important skills for everyone.

Inspiring new product design

Inspiring new product design

Problem solving is woven throughout our daily lives as we engineer better methods of overcoming obstacles in our pursuit of better living conditions.

Across the curriculum, educators can nurture strong product design skills in their students by enabling short sessions of experience. Here, students develop the creativity and communication skills required in the classroom. But more importantly, their long term application of these employable skills is carried beyond the classroom and into the world of product design.

During the U.S. Naval Academy’s Set Sail STEM workshop on location in Seminole County Public School District in Central Florida, Dr. Angie Moran introduced us to the activity “Speed Design”.  It is an example of a quick activity to initiate critical thinking and requires the team skills used in product design.

By using activities like SPEED DESIGN, problem solvers are engaged in creating solutions with an engineering focus in designing their product. As a facilitator for this activity, you may choose to use this as a model building project with a buffet of materials or you may select a paper-concept approach in completing the task.


By using this activity in your trainer tool box, students will be able to experience the communication dynamics included in the design process.

What does it mean to design?

According to Dr. Moran (USNA), the design starts with a question in an effort to meet a customer’s need.

For example, the question “How can I design a better tape product?” leads us to research all the types of tapes that are used for a variety of end-user needs. The research exposes the types of tape products that work and do not work in a given situation. Electrical tape, gift wrapping tape, masking tape—they all have a function that works for the end user’s desired outcome.

Dr. Angie Moran highlights the constraints-phase attributes of the design process to narrow the boundaries of the design. Is it a multi-purpose or single purpose function? Does the customer need a tape that holds for ten hours? These are the quantitative, measurable attributes to attach to your question.

Now the designers take the useful research information and come up with the best solutions.  Together the team brainstorms the do-able ideas, transforming the concept into a draft or prototype solution.

Design and redesign are a continuous dynamic in engineering solutions. In the classroom, I see the communication of teams as THE key to reaching the end of the project life cycle. In my interaction with engineers in the field of product design, the “communication is key” dogma rings true across the discipline. Communication norms and practices are vital to the design of the best deliverables.

If we are tackling a long term team project, I provide a skill set mini action session that guides students to define, predict, and reflect on the type of team communicator that students were during the process of building a product.  This working-with-others refresher session is a staple in my tool box when leading a group through cooperative design or cooperative learning activities. Stressors, such as building a product with a budget and a time limit, are included forces-at-work in the design process. All these factors contribute to the solution steps, or stormy setbacks, on the path to creating solutions.

If you are in a career that requires developing critical thinkers in a generation of consumers, hands-on experience builds the confidence and the skills it takes to be engineers of the future. Creativity is a teachable skill. Raising our expectations and increasing creativity mini sessions in your learning labs will offer long lasting rewards for everyone involved.

Let’s be creative!

–Kay Borglum

For more information on attending one of the USNA STEM Teacher workshops go to

USNA STEM Teacher Training

Workshop Trainers: Dr. Angie Moran and Dr. Pat Moran

Sanford Middle School Math Science Technology Magnet, Biotechnology/Environmental Science Lab

October 10, 2014

Sanford, FL

One Response to “Problem Solving Tools: Let’s Be Creative!”

  1. Marietta Hauxwell says:

    Very nice article. I absolutely love this website. Keep writing!

Leave a Reply