Angie Manzanares
Eastwood Elementary teacher Jennifer Flitton, back row left, stands with five of her sixth-grade students, from left, Kate Lowry, Erin Carrigan, Abby Mietchen, Tajia Killinger and Emerson Foster, who won the state problem-solving competition and will be traveling to Indiana in June to compete in an international problem-solving competition.

Erin Carrigan, Kate Lowry, Tajia Killinger and Emerson Foster sit quietly around a table in Jennifer Flitton’s sixth grade reading class at Eastwood Elementary in Salt Lake City discussing pharmaceutical technology.

When asked about their discussion, the girls bow their heads and avoid eye contact.

But don’t let their silence fool you. The group can be deadly with pen, paper and research tools in hand. The squad’s abilities led it all the way to the top at the state Future Problem Solvers Competition.

The group was asked to draft solutions to trade-barrier issues concerning free trade. Within hours, it had drafted an action plan that outlined a solution – one that netted the team the state championship.

“The looks on their faces when they were announced as winners was pretty awesome,” Flitton said. “They just walked up there quietly to get the trophy. They’d prefer not to be in the limelight. But they are such hard workers. It was perfect that they won.”

Founded by creativity pioneer E. Paul Torrance, Future Problem Solving Program International stimulates creative thinking skills, encourages students to develop a vision for the future and helps prepare students for leadership roles.

Eastwood Elementary School’s group will move on to the international competition this June in Indiana, where it will face off against students from Australia, Ohio, Singapore and New Zealand.

The team has been given a topic in which a scenario will be produced at the competition later this year. The girls are working to familiarize themselves with pharmaceutical technology.

Upon arrival at the competition, the group will be given a futuristic scenario that it must solve using six different steps.

First, the team must identify 16 problems or challenges within the scenario. Next, the top problem must be identified and solutions to the problem will be proposed.

Each solution will be judged based on the group’s specifically designed criteria and a final solution will be adopted. An action plan will be drafted and the solution and a team member will write down all the group’s information before it is formatted near the end of the round and presented to the judges.

The group can also produce a skit explaining its action plan. All team members admitted that they didn’t necessarily enjoy this part of the competition as they prefer to stick to the writing portion of the competition.

“I’m fine toward the middle of the competition, but I get nervous about time near the end,” said Tajia Killinger.

The group is currently working to raise money through bake sales and individual fundraisers to pay for traveling to the competition.

Angie Manzanares is a former teacher and journalist. She currently works for the Granite School District as a public relations specialist. Her hobbies include photography, graphic design, dancing and screaming at Jazz games.