Students learn problem solving at summer school

By Justin Boron

A group of sixth and seventh graders huddled at their desks recently trying to devise a plan that would transform some flimsy pipe cleaner, paper, and straws into a structure that could hold as many as 300 pennies.

It wasn't an easy task, several of the students said.

"It's kind of hard not using tape," said Melvin Elder, 12, of College Park.

But the Clayton County Public Schools' summer enrichment program isn't intended to let its students off the hook easy. Instead, the two-week supplement forces them to develop their problem solving skills, said Margaret Rezek, the director of the enrichment program and one of the school system's gifted teachers.

Enrichment submits about 200 students from middle schools across the county to hands-on brainteasers and projects designed for interactive learning without grades.

The projects and activities help them circumvent the road blocks in problem solving with creative, sometimes outlandish thinking.

"When you have a problem you have to brainstorm," Rezek said.

Fellow teacher Tammy Hyder-Williams said, "Sometimes it's the far out idea that works."

Another example of the kind of task enrichment students face is the development of an original theme park.

Students are tasked with blueprinting and designing a three-dimensional model of their park.

Patrick Cantu, 12, said his group developed a park called "World Rides."

In it, he said his group planned to have rides themed with regions from Antarctica to the Far East.

How the group came up with the idea was kind of a mistake. But it nonetheless exemplified the consequences of brainstorming for the group.

Winston Williams, 13, of College Park said he heard his fellow group member wrong on a name suggestion.

"I thought he said 'World Rides' and he said 'World Wide,'" Williams said.

While driving critical thinking, the team effort also develops interpersonal skills, said Shadiyat Ajao,12, of Jonesboro.

"Before I didn't really like working in a group."

Having been through enrichment for two weeks, she said she realized "the more people you have in a group, the more ideas you can get."