Play, Creativity, and Problem Solving (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Convergent Problem Solving

Single-solution problems require the ability to engage in what is known as convergent problem solving (Pepler, 1979; Pepler & Ross, 1981), the ability to bring a variety of isolated pieces of information together to come up with the one correct solution. As an example, consider the nature of the problem presented to a group of preschool children by Sylva (1977). The children were seated and told to attempt to obtain an object that was beyond their reach, without standing up or leaving their chairs. Two long sticks were provided, neither long enough to reach the desired object. However (and this was the only solution to the problem), if the sticks were clamped together, the children could attain their goal.

Sylva (1977) divided the preschoolers into three groups. The first were allowed to play freely with the problem-solving materials prior to engaging in the task A second group watched as the experimenter solved the problem before they were asked to do it. Finally, a third group, the control, was given neither the play experience nor the opportunity to observe the problem being solved.

It was found that the children who either played with the materials in advance or watched an adult solve the problem became more successful problem solvers than those in the control group. More interesting was the finding that the play group appeared to be more highly motivated to solve the problem and worked at it more persistently than did the observation group, whose members either solved the problem immediately or simply gave up.

Divergent Problem Solving

Multiple-solution problems require the use of divergent problem-solving skills, the ability to branch out from a starting point and consider a variety of possible solutions. A person might be asked, for example, to list all the possible uses for a paper clip, besides holding pieces of paper together, of course. A child in a classroom might be asked to discuss the feelings George Washington may have had as he crossed the Delaware River, as opposed to simply providing the one correct answer to a question like "Which major battle was he preparing to fight?

Divergent problem solving has often been linked to the processes involved in creativity, whereas convergent problem solving has been related to performance on conventional intelligence and classroom tests, on which there are usually single correct answers (Guilford, 1967). The distinction is not quite so simple, however. Although many studies have found correlations between divergent problem-solving ability and various measures of creativity, many others have not (Kogan, 1983; Wallach, 1985). What is more, convergent problem solving may also be involved in creativity, particularly in the area of the natural sciences; it seems fair to say that both types of problem solving are involved in varying degrees in the creative process (Barron & Harrington, 1981; Hudson, 1966).

It was noted earlier that studies linking play and single-solution, or convergent, problem solving typically examined the impact of prior play experience with the materials used in solving such problems. Research on divergent problem solvving has also examined the role of prior play with objects, but more often it has investigated the impact on divergent problem solving of pretense, or fantasy, play.

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