Stella’s Stunners – Non-Routine Problems for Grades 6-12

One of the prevailing themes at the Ed. Tech Teacher iPad summit that the NGL Tech Coaches had the privilege of attending in November, was the concept of “indispensability”  – that sought-after state of being able to do something that is not only key to being successful in your job, but that also cannot be done by someone (or something) else in a more efficient, less expensive manner.


“Am I indispensable”? – I guess it depends, to whom and in which context I pose the question…and honestly, I’m not sure I’m brave enough to ask it out loud… but it is a question that bears asking in a society on the cusp of another industrial revolution.  We find ourselves in a world where technology allows us to do for ourselves many things that, previously, we would have paid someone else to do for us – pump and pay for gas; scan and pay for groceries; edit and produce video recordings; send files, images, and documents to anyone, anywhere,  in a matter of seconds… the list grows longer as advances in computer technology abound.

In the not too distant future, the best-paying, most secure, most satisfying jobs will be reserved for those who can corner the market on indispensability – that is, who can do things that computers cannot do faster, more efficiently, more accurately and with less expense.

Of course, there are many things that human beings, with their instinct, intellect, emotional intelligence and nuanced communication skills can do, that machines will never be able to do.  One of the many skills that humans have that computers cannot be programmed to mimic, is the ability to solve non-routine problems.  Non routine problems are those that cannot be solved by the application of a set of procedures (an algorithm), but instead require the application of a range and variety of strategies  or “heuristics” that may lead us to a solution… we engage in “non-routine” problem solving when we don’t know what to do, where to begin, or if an answer may even be found.

Non-routine problems “are presented with no hints as to what methods or skills will be needed to solve them. Some may seem to have insufficient given information or even contradictory information. They are not straightforward, and it is not always clear that they even have a solution. Thus they are intended to leave the solver not knowing, at first anyway, what to do. Note that the problems society faces — providing a trustworthy voting process, feeding the world, getting out of Afghanistan, or cleaning up oil spills — reflect exactly this sort of quandary, problems where we do not know, at the outset, how to go about solving them, or whether they can be solved at all.”  (Crawford, Rudd.  What Students Can Gain From Problem Solving.  Retrieved from

Connie Ransberry (Grade 4/5 teacher at Milverton P.S.) recently shared with me an outstanding resource on the topic of non-routine problems.    Check out “Stella’s Stunners”  (link below) – a collection of Non-Routine problems,  with sample solutions,  posted by the Ohio Resource Center :

Stella’s Stunners – Non Routine Problems for Grades 6-12Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 2.17.16 PM

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