Problem Solving: A Standard for Staples Students

Putting the pictures together in the puzzle. |Photo courtesy of SXC

Putting the pictures together in the puzzle. |Photo courtesy of SXC

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Putting the pictures together in the puzzle. |Photo courtesy of SXC

A student stares at a nonsensical problem on a math test.

He had studied all week, and had participated in class. But once face–to–face with the test itself, he could not solve this one problem.

The method of trying solutions and mentally figuring out what to do with an unknown problem is referred to as problem solving. And it’s one of Staples High School’s academic goals this year.


The Staples student handbook lists problem solving as a standard that must be met by students before their graduation.

“Problem solving is the ability to solve non-routine, real-world problems,” mathematics 6-12 coordinator Frank Corbo said.

“Two times 15 is not a problem. A problem is something you do not know [which requires a student] to analyze strategies on how to approach it,” he added.

Every four years, Staples administrators focus on a specific goal to instill in their students.

The last four-year goal was critical thinking. According to Principal John Dodig, the critical thinking goal was achieved, and the upcoming four-year goal will be problem solving.

“We plan to give students the opportunity to use technology to solve real-world problems and present solutions,” Dodig said.

Although finding a strategy to solving the problem is vital, Dodig feels that presenting the solution to an audience in a persuasive manner is an important part of the problem-solving strategy as well.


By listing problem solving as a graduation requirement, it is clear that Staples administrators wants their students to gain valuable problem solving skills throughout their high school experience.

“[Problem solving] is one of the most important goals for us to attain in our curriculum,” Corbo said. “I would say we are even better than most school in the state and in the country working toward this goal. However, I think our teachers need to be more explicit regarding problem solving in their classes.”

In 2006, Staples participated in the Moody’s Mega Math Challenge, a contest for high school students that requires them to complete a challenging, open-ended, real world question.

The competition focused on the Social Security stalemate, and the Staples team won the Summa Cum Laude prize of $20,000.

Following the victory, Staples wanted to adapt that type of competition to the school, but not limited to mathematics. With financial support from several generous donors, the Staples Student Spectacular Challenge was born.

The Challenge, in which participating students were asked to solve the problem of how Westport could be more environmentally respectful yet still economically efficient, was held last January.

Values and Ethics in Problem Solving

In the real world, the solutions to many problems require more than an intellectual approach – they require an ethical factor.

For example, the Staples Student Spectacular Challenge asked a question involving the “go green” initiative.

While this problem could be solved with many different approaches and with mathematic, lingual, oral and aural skills, it becomes an ethical question.

“It is safe to say that the school does not do enough to teach values, but that [the] sense of problem solving stems more from family values,” Corbo said.

Principal John Dodig agrees that family is a key factor in teaching ethical ways to solve problems, but he feels that religion also plays a valuable role in problem solving.

“Both the family and the church, synagogue or mosque have a responsibility in teaching integrity,” Dodig said. “As a school, we are doing our job, but the responsibility lies more in family and church.”

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