The Foundation for a Meaningful Life
Kindergarten - Grade 9 in Southborough, MA

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The Most Important Skill

by Erin Ash Sullivan
Research tells us that creative problem solving will be the number-one skill for success in the workplace of the future. Here’s a look at how Fay teaches creative problem solving—and why it matters.
Can you teach a child how to be a creative problem solver? Fay’s teachers think so. The importance of being a creative problem solver continues to increase in a world where ever-present technology can easily tackle rote tasks. According to “The Future of Jobs,” a report written by the World Economic Forum, the most important skill for future workers will be complex problem solving, followed by critical thinking and creativity. The report notes that the “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” which includes developments in artificial intelligence, genetics, and biotechnology, will lead to “an enormous change predicted in the skill sets needed to thrive in the new landscape.”


Unlike the skills of memorization, computation, or spelling, creative problem solving can be challenging to teach. One approach is to teach students the design thinking process. Originally developed at Stanford University’s d.school (the Institute of Design), design thinking offers an empathy-based, solution-oriented approach to solving problems. The process focuses on identifying and understanding the problem, generating and testing solutions, soliciting feedback, and making revisions, in a constant cycle of improvement.

Head of Primary School Katie Knuppel notes that children who learn creative problem solving from the earliest years develop invaluable habits of mind. Students practice good listening, perseverance, communication, and collaboration. They learn how to manage frustration, and through testing their ideas, they come to understand that it’s okay to fail. “If your first idea doesn’t work, you go back, think it through again, fix it, and make it better,” says Katie. “That’s the mindset we want to develop at Fay. We want to develop students who will go out into the world, notice problems, and have the confidence to try to solve them—and 
who, even if they fail the first or the second time, will still feel empowered to persevere.”

At Fay, the locus of much creative problem solving in recent years has been the Innovation Lab, where students enrolled in Creators Class and Advanced 3D Design take on design briefs. These briefs challenge students to conceive, design, and build solutions to problems ranging from building a functional and beautiful tealight holder to designing portable cardboard shelters for people struggling with homelessness.

But creative problem solving at Fay is not limited to the Innovation Lab. Rather, you can see students “doing” design thinking and practicing creative problem solving across grades and disciplines. The stories that follow offer just a few examples of how Fay teachers are broadening the definitions of teaching and learning in order to help students master essential skills and prepare for an unpredictable world.
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