Spontaneous Problem Basics

Although much of a team’s work throughout the year is focused on their solution to the long-term problem they have selected, they should also be regularly practicing spontaneous problems at team meetings. Not only is it important because it is a major scoring element at the tournament, spontaneous problem solving encourages creative and divergent thinking, risk-taking, and even teamwork in a different way from the long-term problem solution. It’s also fun!

We recommend that coaches build in time during each working session for the team to practice spontaneous. It can be good to get into a routine, such as starting or ending a meeting with spontaneous. It’s also great as a break from long-term problem work and to get the creative juices flowing when the team is stuck. Click here for some examples of spontaneous problems.

Spontaneous problems can fall into three categories:

  • Verbal: These problems require a verbal response from the team. Possible examples include:
    1. One word problems (Name things that are blue; Name things that are tall)
    2. Two-parters (Name a discoverer and what s/he discovered)
    3. Pictures (Give a caption for this picture; what might the person in this picture be saying?)
    4. Procedures (Tell ways to clean up leaves)
    5. Objects (What might this be used for?)
  • Hands-On: These problems require a team to physically manipulate materials to solve the problem. Possible examples include:
    1. Building (Build something that goes across a distance, that will hold weights, that will be scored for height)
    2. Communication (Guide a blindfolded teammate to do a task, or non-verbally communicate directions to do something)
    3. Target (Get objects into a target area)
    4. Pure creations (Make something from materials given)
  • Combination Verbal/Hands-On: These problems involve a combination of verbal responses and hands-on activities. Possible examples include:
    1. Object to be demonstrated and discussed (Make something out of aluminum foil, then tell what it might be)
    2. Sound/visual combined with verbal (Make sound effects and tell a story about them)

These are only a few examples of the types of problems the team my face. The point of spontaneous is for the team to face a problem they have never seen before! These problems could be ANYTHING.

Tips for Spontaneous

  • PRACTICE. Creativity is a skill that can be taught, but it requires practice like any other skill.
  • Take risks in verbal responses and approaches to hands-on problems.
  • Discourage criticism during spontaneous sessions. Crazy answers may be the most creative or more useful in pushing the team’s thinking forward.
  • Have team members score each other to take the perspective of a judge.
  • Listen carefully to directions.
  • If the problem doesn’t say you can’t do something, assume you can. However, team members should ask a question if they think their idea might be counter to the spirit of the problem.
  • Practice saying “Unclear, please repeat,” even if an answer was clear to get the team used to a ‘judge’ asking for an answer to be repeating if they couldn’t hear it.
  • Don’t elaborate on verbal responses unless necessary for the creativity. Keep responses brief to allow for more response time.
  • Use the environment around you to spark ideas.
  • Have teams judge each other to gain new perspectives and allow teams to see others’ solutions.
  • Debrief after each practice session about how it went.
  • Repeat same problem multiple times.
  • Have parents or other known ‘experts’ offer demonstrations about how to use and what you can do with everyday materials.
  • Switch up student roles during practices.
  • Have students assign themselves to focus on different parents of the instructions so that not everyone needs to pay attention to all the details.