17 April, 2012

Problem Solving like MacGyver

Remember this guy?

If you do then you, like me, were most likely a child born in the 1970's who enjoyed watching television in the 1980's - including MacGyver.  If you didn't happen to watch this show, suffice it to say, MacGyver could get out of almost any situation using whatever everyday objects he had on hand.  

This past week, my students were little MacGyvers, solving problems using their creativity and their wits!  

It all started the day when we began listening to The Twizzlecaps story.  My students were really enjoying listening, and couldn't seem to wait until the next chapter.  

Please, can we just hear one more?  

We were listening to a few chapters about a baby owl who had fallen from his nest and broken his wing.  The owl parents and other birds in the forest are beside themselves with worry because they think the sly fox will come along and eat the baby owl.  Mr. and Mrs. Twizzlecap offer to help.  They know the owl parents cannot lift the baby back into the nest or help him with his broken wing because they have such sharp talons.  Mr. and Mrs. Twizzlecap on the other hand, have soft fingers that could be good for helping and healing - if only they could find a way to get the baby back into the nest!

I paused the story there, but later during lunch the children and I discussed how they thought the Twizzlecaps would try to get the baby owl back into the nest.  I reminded them the Twizzlecaps could not buy any supplies for their rescue attempt, but rather had to use only materials they could find in the forest.  The children had many good and very interesting ideas so the next day I asked them to draw their solutions.  I took dictation, and wrote down their explanations. 

They should build a big see saw, put the baby owl on one end and jump on the other end.  Then the baby owl would be "whisked" (he made a whooshing noise that I cannot replicate with words)  right back into the nest! 

Mr. and Mrs. Twizzlecap should jump on the fox and distract him.  Then the fairies can use a rope to pull up the baby owl.  (See the fox in the bottom right corner?)

They should use a big piece of bark and make a long ramp.  Then the baby owl can walk right up the tree. 

They should build an elevator, and just pull him up!

The Twizzlecaps  should put something sticky on his [the baby owl's] feet, like some tree sap maybe, and then let him walk right up the trunk of the tree!

We headed outside to try out some of the children's MacGyver-like solutions.  Please note I do not have an owl toy in the classroom so we had to use a little blue jay instead.  The children didn't seem to mind.

Using a "rope"

Building a ramp

Making an elevator

Building a see saw type contraption

"Whizzzzzzzz!"  See the "owl" flying right back into his nest?!?!  See the little fox in the lower right corner of the picture?  The baby owl flew right over his head!  Well, almost.  

By letting the students solve the problem of how to rescue the baby owl and return him to his nest, the students became not only more engaged and involved with the characters and the outcome of the audio story, but also used their imaginations to come up with creative and innovative solutions to a problem.  And did you notice, they also snuck in some learning about simple machines!  

Watch out, MacGyver.  I think you've got some competition!


  1. What can I say? Another absolutely brilliant lesson!!!! I think my kiddies would be too small for it but I would love to get the book and maybe try with my own 5 yer old son!!! Actually I would bet anything that his sisters would LOVE figuring this out too!!! I hope parents at you school realise how lucky they are to have you teaching their kids Karen!!!! Fantastic!!!

  2. Hi Karen. I was admiring your classroom again. I just noticed for example that in your writing centre, right as you enter the corner, you have 4 hooks on the side of the shelf below a laminated picture. Is this a way to control how many children can play/work in a corner at a time? Do you use necklaces as a tool and are the children monitored (meaning, do you check how long they spend in a corner?). My mam in France in a Maternelle classroom used to use the necklace system. I wonder if it works....

    1. Yes, you are totally right! I have pictures of the wooden people we use and I would be happy to show you how we did it - if that would be helpful. Give me a few days though. Late night ballet and soccer practices are keeping us hoppin' until late in the evenings - at least late for me! : ) I can't wait to see the pictures of your new room too!!!!!!!!!


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