By Kirby Brooks
Jenny Chen was in fifth grade at Turtleback School in Rancho Bernardo when she met Nancy Myles, and things have never been the same for her. Myles was teaching the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program and plucked Chen from the class to join the Future Problem Solving Program International (FPSPI). Myles continues to coach Chen, who is now in ninth grade at La Jolla’s Bishop’s School, and has watched her flourish within the program over the years. When Chen represents California in the International Conference June 9–12 at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse, Myles will be with her in spirit.
Founded by Dr. E. Paul Torrance, FPSPI seeks to engage students through creative and critical problem solving of real-world problems. Along with students like Chen from the U.S., FPSPI involves students from Canada, Australia, Great Britain, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Portugal, Russia and Singapore.
“Future problem solving is an exciting program that encourages children to learn about the issues occurring in the world,” Myles explained. “The topics chosen by the international organization elevate the children’s awareness of concepts that might not be approached in a regular classroom.”
This year the topics range from Healthy Living and Air Transport to Genetic Testing, Water Quality, and Emergency Planning. There are three divisions: Junior (Grades 4-6), Middle (Chen’s division), and Senior (Grades 10-12). Throughout the school year, individuals complete two practice problems and one qualifying problem. Their work is scored by trained evaluators and returned with feedback (tips for where to improve). Each spring, the top scoring students in the qualifying program (like Chen) compete in affiliate FPSP Bowls and the winners of each advance to the FPSP International Conference.
“It’s a good opportunity for kids because it teaches us how to resolve issues and gives us a chance to express our thoughts,” said Chen, revealing the poise that has allowed her to thrive at the competitions. “In school they tell us what to do and how to solve problems by giving us formulas, but this program lets us form our own ideas about major issues.”
Chen has taken first place in the California Bowls in grades 5, 6, 7 and 9. She first attended the International competition in fifth grade and although she didn’t place, she came back the following year and took home the International prize.
Although Chen has a good chance of securing a win at this year’s International Conference, she says winning isn’t what drives her to compete.
“Future Problem Solving allows me to brainstorm solutions for the future and, in the process, learn about problems that will soon affect our everyday lives,” she said. “It offers me a chance to think outside the box and experience a new perspective on international issues. No matter whether you win or lose, you will definitely learn something new.”
With that said, Chen said she isn’t immune to the thrill of winning. She called it “extremely exciting!” and added, “it gives me the confidence to continue learning and studying. Of course, there is the feeling of accomplishment and that my ideas have been heard.”
Chen said she plans to continue with FPSPI through high school and will “perhaps one day be an evaluator.” The college-bound student said she doesn’t know want she wants to do when she gets out of school because she likes all of her subjects —although history and English are among her favorites.
Her proud parents will be cheering her on in Wisconsin, as her mother Ying pointed out, “We support Jenny participating in Future Problem Solvers because the program opens kids’ minds.”