Assessment Revisited: Unconventional Problem Solving Care Of Some Lunchbox Woes

Today is a PA Day with a focus on assessment and reporting. For many, today is the day that educators write report cards, or in our case, Communications of Learning. My teaching partner, Paula, and I spent a lot of time today talking about our students, reflecting on their learning and growth, and determining their next steps together. Two topics that we returned to often were independence and problem solving.

I couldn’t help but think about an experience from the past couple of weeks. As many of my blog readers know, Paula and I have always supported a flexible eating schedule in our classroom, and while COVID prevents the eating table experiences from years ago, we’ve come up with different ways to safely let kids eat when they’re hungry. Recently, a child was having a snack, when he became upset. What happened? He had a lot of small containers packed perfectly into his lunchbox, and he decided that he really wanted everything to fit back in as it was before. How was he going to do this? When he explained to me his conundrum, I could have responded in different ways, including a few of the ways that I would have in the not-so-distant past:

  • “Try your best. If it doesn’t fit perfectly, don’t worry about it. Your parents will understand.”
  • “Just ask for help. We can do it together.”

I realized though that both options were problematic.

  • He was worried about it, and telling him not to worry wasn’t going to stop that. I know him well enough to realize that he would focus on his lunchbox for the rest of the day, which would detract from his learning and impact on his involvement in play.
  • Doing the packing for him wasn’t going to help him solve the problem in the long run. I might be able to pack his lunchbox, but I’m not the one who needs to pack it.

And so, I needed a different approach. Paula was on her lunch at the time, so I couldn’t talk through the options with her. The iPad in my hand made me think of a possible solution: I offered to take a photograph of the lunchbox. I dropped it to our class iPad, and he used the picture to pack everything back up again. This solved the problem and reduced his stress.

Now what? The next morning when we came in from our outdoor learning time, this student saw Paula. He asked her to “take a photograph of my lunch so that I can pack it up properly.” I had completely forgotten to tell Paula about what happened at lunch the day before, but this photograph request reminded me. She took the photographs — multiple ones to show each layer of the lunchbox — and I dropped them to our class iPad. Done.

The next day, I asked him if he knew how to take photographs on an iPad. He did. So I told him that he could just take the class iPad and be in charge of his own photographs. He has been every day since. He even told me, “I delete the old pictures so that I don’t get confused.”

A Photograph That I Found In The Deleted Folder Today …
A Photograph That I Found In The Deleted Folder Today …

The greatest thing about this is that this child has owned the solution.

  • He gets the iPad when he needs it.
  • He takes his own photographs.
  • He accesses the photographs when he requires them.
  • He deletes the photographs afterwards and plugs the iPad back in to charge.

Not one child has asked him why he has the iPad and they don’t. He hasn’t attempted to use the iPad for anything minus these lunch photographs. This whole process takes minutes out of the day while reducing a lot of stress.

It’s also become an unexpectedly wonderful way for this child to develop his spatial skills and engage in problem solving. The other day, he came to me wondering what happened. He got me to come and have a look at his lunchbox. This student took me through each of the choices he made and how he matched everything up perfectly for the lunchbox to close, but it wouldn’t. I was also stumped. Why not? Then he looked more closely at the lid of the top container. It wasn’t the same one in the photograph. There are two of these plastic containers, and they are slightly different sizes. Who would have realized that this would make such a difference? But when he flipped the containers around, the lunchbox closed. New learning for both of us!

I share this story here, for as we’re thinking about assessment, evaluation, and problem solving, I’m pulled back to this ongoing lunch experience. Sometimes students solve problems in ways that we expect, and sometimes they don’t, but if they can make these unconventional methods work independently, how are we allowing them to do so? You see, it’s the independence piece with problem solving that matters the most to me. If any children are adult dependent, Paula and I want to figure out what else might be possible. Occasionally this means more scaffolding and more time, but sometimes what this takes, is creative problem solving and the willingness to let kids own the solution — even if this solution varies from what might always make us comfortable. I remember my organizational skills from childhood, and I probably would have begged for a larger lunch bag at this point so that I could just throw all of my containers inside. Either that, or I would have lost the majority of the containers. But I love that this child hasn’t let a stressful problem stop him, but instead, has persevered in a unique and independent way. Could we all learn a little something new from this five year old? I just wish that I had his spatial skills, and then maybe my parking would be a lot less stressful. πŸ™‚

2 thoughts on “Assessment Revisited: Unconventional Problem Solving Care Of Some Lunchbox Woes

  1. Thanks for sharing this great story of empowerment! I love the way you let the children ‘take the reins’ and own it, as you say. Sometimes we hold the tools too tightly, instead of giving them the opportunity to use what we have available for them. So many great skills here. πŸ™‚

    • Thanks Monica! This story has me thinking a lot about how I would have responded in the past (maybe not even that long ago), and the value in really questioning if there is only one solution to a problem. If kids come up with a different way — even if their solution makes us uncomfortable at times — does this also make it wrong? I have to think no. I hope that this student continues to exert independence and speak up for what he needs. I kind of love what he’s done here with some photographs. πŸ™‚


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