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Teaching TRIZ at School

| On 06, Apr 2009

By Gaetano Cascini, J. Jantschgi, I. Kaikov, Nikolai Khomenko, Ingrida Muraskovska, Alexander Sokol and Fabio Tomasi

Abstract

Enhanced creativity, problem setting and problem solving skills are missing topics in most secondary schools in European countries. The Theory of Problem Solving (TRIZ) courses, seminars and educational materials are mostly tailored for industry or technical universities. They fail to meet the requirements of many different potential readers and learners from general upper-secondary school students and teachers to people interested in human science disciplines.

The TETRIS project, funded by the European community within the Lifelong Learning Program, aims at producing and testing TRIZ educational materials that are suitable for learners from 14 years and older who follow any kind of curriculum. This paper presents the goal and the structure of the project, dedicatingattention to the description of the identified educational requirements and to the approach followed to build the Body of Knowledge of the educational material.

Introduction

Innovation is the main pillar of Europe’s future and it is the main objective of European Union (EU) policies. In order to be effective, innovation requires trained researchers and designers with enhanced creativity, problem setting and problem solving skills. Today, these skills are mainly taught in short professional courses ranging from two to five days. These courses are too short to overcome psychological inertia and typical trial and error practices. These courses are virtually absent in upper-secondary school curriculum.

The Theory of Inventive Problem Solving and its instruments can play a relevant role in pursuing innovation-related EU policies; however, its presence in academic curriculum is limited at the tertiary level and virtually non-existent at lower levels.

Most books on TRIZ and training materials are tailored toward a narrow set of technicians (mostly people from industry with a proper attitude for learning methods supporting product development), but these books fail to address the needs of many other potential readers and learners (such as secondary school students or representatives of human and social sciences).

This is the context that led to the appearance of the European project titled: TETRIS, TEaching TRIZ at School, supported by the European Commission in the framework of the Lifelong Learning Program. The goals of the TETRIS project include:

  • Identifying the educational requirements of upper-secondary schools, universities and industries from different European countries interested in the introduction of TRIZ in curriculum/training programs.
  • Attracting secondary school students to the study of methods and tools by enhancing student creativity and supporting student problem solving skills with systematic means.
  • Defining an educational model suitable for addressing the heterogeneous demands of TRIZ education.
  • Producing educational materials, which are adaptable to a heterogeneous specific situation.
  • Validating the proposed educational model and materials by means of five prototypes including “train the trainer” pilot courses and pilot implementations of courses in three technical high schools (in Austria, Italy and Latvia), two vocational training centers (in Italy and Latvia) and four industrial organizations (in Austria and Germany).

TETRIS General Information

The consortium of the TETRIS project is coordinated by the Science and Technology Research AREA of Trieste (Italy) and involves the following partners:

  • University of Florence (Italy), Carinthia University of Applied Sciences (Austria), Jelgava Regional Adult Education Center (Latvia), European Institute for Energy Research (Germany), Harry Flosser Studios (Germany) for the definition of the educational model and the development of the training materials.
  • Technical Institute for Industry Arturo Malignani (Italy), Higher Technical College of Wolfsberg (Austria) and Jelgava Gymnasium (Latvia) for the implementation of the pilot courses with teachers and students at school.
  • Siemens Automation and Drive Technology (Germany), STENUM Environmental Consultancy and Research (Austria), ACC Appliances-Components-Companies (Austria) for the implementation of the pilot courses in the industry.
  • The project started in January 2008 and was funded for two years with support from the Lifelong Learning Program of the European Commission.

Although there seems to be a common understanding that teaching creativity and problem solving methods should start as early as possible (in kindergarten) the TETRIS project assumes that readers and participants are at least 14 years old.

Identification of Educational Requirements

In order to find out what are the most relevant key factors for step-by-step, constructive TRIZ training, all project partners of TETRIS were asked to fill out a prepared questionnaire and share any experiences with previous TRIZ trainings (either as participants or as teachers).

Since the project partners of TETRIS are both educational institutions (universities, schools, educational authorities) and companies (industry and small and medium-sized enterprises), special attention was paid to the identification of the differences between the procedures in schools and companies. A further question for investigation was the differences in expectations of partner schools as well as various requirements to the new materials caused by the peculiarities of the situation in various countries. A brief summary of the overall outcomes of this activity is reported in the table below.

While no relevant differences were highlighted from the schools due to national regulations, the hardest requirement to fulfill was the limited amount of time schools (as well as small companies) could dedicate to the introduction of TRIZ. A realistic approach was to combine consensus and feasibility as a TRIZ introduction course, where the tools are explained and practiced with prepared exercises, followed by the application of TRIZ tools within real project works (typically implemented at least in any technical or experimental school).

It was recommended to produce a comprehensive map of the TRIZ Body of Knowledge in order to give a clear overview of what TRIZ can offer and what could be studied at the end of the introductory course.

Main Outcomes of the Questionnaires and Experience Reports from Schools and Companies
Topics/QuestionsSchoolsCompanies
What is the goal of the customer (school/company)
when running TRIZ lectures?
Different thinking approach and
creativity method
Problem solving competence
How to increase the interest and motivation of participants
(in an introductory session)?

• Simple examples to demonstrate the application of the theory
• Using multimedia and playing elements

Showing results and outcomes
What should be the content of an introductory TRIZ course?

• The main concepts of TRIZ
• Some easy-to-use tools
• TRIZ tools that can also be applied in other lectures
• Overview about the TRIZ thinking process (ARIZ)

• The main concepts of TRIZ
• Some easy-to-use tools
• TRIZ tools that can be quickly applied for idea generation
• Overview of potential applications of TRIZ
• Overview of the TRIZ thinking process (ARIZ)

What is a good/feasible duration for a TRIZ course?Approximately 30 to 60 hoursApproximately two to three days
What are important educational elements

• Hands-on examples
• Exercises and homework
• Fun (teamwork)

• Hands-on examples
• Templates for easy implementation
• Benefit of cross-company teams

What are the specific restrictions/particular requirements to take into account when organizing TRIZ training?

• No (international) standard handbook for TRIZ trainings is
available at the moment
• Creativity is not a declared school topic

• No (international) standard handbook for TRIZ trainings is available at the moment
• No internationally accepted certification system

Development of the Educational Model

In order to address the complex task of introducing new subjects into the student curriculum as well as taking into account the heterogeneous and strict demands described in the previous section, a specific educational model has to be developed.

The Role of TRIZ in the Knowledge Society

During the 1960s the concept of knowledge society appeared in Europe as a response to the inability of traditional educational systems to meet the needs and the demands of the society. The modern understanding of knowledge society was presented by Dr. Tatjana Kok as the system of people’s social relationships ensuring a high level of innovations in which every personality is able to achieve a high degree of participation getting, using and developing new knowledge independently.

Norman Longworth, honorary professor of Lifelong Learning at the University of Stirling defines the basic skills necessary in the knowledge society as the ability to:

  • Manage oneself
  • Work with information and interpret it
  • Apply new knowledge to practice
  • Use studying skills
  • Communicate sensibly and critically
  • Apply management and communication skills
  • Use thinking skills and creativity
  • Adapt
  • Work in team and lifelong learning.1

Since the existing system of education, with the actual programs and curriculum, does not completely fulfill the task of preparing students to the life in the knowledge society, it is necessary to modify these programs of education according to the skills previously mentioned.

Theory of Problem Solving experts will recognize many skills highlighted by Norman Longworth as those enhanced by the TRIZ way of thinking and supported by TRIZ instruments. A more detailed definition of the skills developed by people practicing TRIZ on a regular basis is published in the New Model and Methodology for Teaching OTSM-TRIZ.2

The introduction of TRIZ to the curriculum can be the possible change of the educational system aimed at fulfilling the new requirements of the knowledge society. The introduction can be achieved in two ways:

  1. TRIZ as a separate subject
  2. TRIZ as content integrated in other subjects

TRIZ in School

The traditional way of planning educational content can be described as follows (Figure 1):

  • A school develops an experimental educational program and defines the necessary list of a subject
  • The state accepts the subject standards
  • Teachers develop subject programs (these include the list of necessary teaching materials). This means that the teacher chooses from the existing sources(course books, literature sources, Internet resources, etc.), that are most suitable for achieving the aim stated in the program while working with the target audience.

Certainly there are cases when there are no course books and the teacher has to develop the teaching materials for the students independently. The teacher does it according to the subject program and on the basis of subject scientific literature.

The schools belonging to the TETRIS consortium as well as any other similar educational institution planning to teach TRIZ to its students, in the beginning, have neither TRIZ skills nor teaching materials. The educational materials, therefore, must be customized to the specific situation. The main difference in comparison with the introduction of more classical subjects is neither programs nor standards are available for TRIZ as a subject.

Figure 1: Traditional Way
of Education Content Planning

The program must be defined in agreement with the system of requirements to be satisfied during the teaching/learning process. Several factors must be taken into consideration while developing the educational program.

Student factors:

  • Human and national values
  • Educational needs
  • Motivation
  • Personal qualities
  • Age peculiarities
  • Cognitive factors: cognitive skills, creative skills
  • Affective factors: sympathy and emotions, character and strength
  • Learning style
  • Quantity and quality of the knowledge possessed
  • Work and problem solving experience
  • Ability to learn
  • Ability to cooperate

Teacher factors:

  • Human and pedagogical values
  • Attitude toward professional activities
  • Personal qualities
  • Personal culture
  • Education
  • Experience
  • Pedagogical beliefs and preferences
  • Professional knowledge
  • Attitude toward students and the style of socializing
  • Creativity

School factors:

  • The aim of activities and the development strategy
  • Educational programs
  • Atmosphere and microclimate
  • Corporate culture
  • Pedagogical traditions
  • Teaching environment
  • Resources: material, human, time

Country factors:

  • National values
  • Social, economic and political development
  • Education policy
  • Education system
  • Education standards

The synthesis of all the mentioned factors allows for the discerning of which information is understandable/not-understandable, interesting/uninteresting for the students. If the students can learn independently, then what tasks are more suitable to a student’s interests and abilities? Based on the grounds of what pedagogical approaches are used the learning is going to be more successful. It becomes possible to develop the materials that will be more suitable for effective application, to teach TRIZ in a specific school or company. It also means that teaching materials for every project participant must be different– at least five to six sets of teaching materials should be developed just in the framework of the TETRIS project. Time and budget resources, however, do not allow for such an extensive approach. Only one set of materials can be developed.

The task clearly shows the conflicting requirements: to develop materials that are suitable for different target audiences and in different situations using only the limited resources available in the project. The contradiction is there must be many sets; there must be one set of teaching materials. It can be solved by separation between the macro- and micro-level. There is one set of teaching material, but it consists of clearly stated structural elements, which can be tailored to different needs.

This solution also coincides with modern tendencies in education where the importance of context for syllabus design and the active role assigned to both the teacher and the learner are widely emphasized.

There is one more requirement to be met by the project participants. These materials will be used by teachers who have never taught TRIZ before. Available resources like the teacher’s knowledge and expertise must be used to the maximum extent. The train-the-trainers courses delivered to the school teachers before the introduction of TRIZ in the classrooms should be organized in order to allow the teachers to recognize examples of TRIZ fundamentals like contradictions and standard solutions within its own subjects.

As a result, the teachers will feel more comfortable with new subjects and a bigger set of examples will be available for the students for understanding TRIZ concepts. Eventually, the applicability of TRIZ instruments in different contexts and disciplines will appear more evident.

Structure of TETRIS Body of Knowledge

In order to follow the directions of the educational model (building educational materials as bricks to be combined and adapted according to each specific situation) the authors have defined a common structure for each item of the Body of Knowledge according toFigure 2. More precisely, knowledge items are organized in cells, belonging to a sort of three-dimensional space, classified according to three main reference axes:

  1. Different levels of detail (vertical axis): topics, sub-topics, sub-sub-topics.
  2. Different types of content (horizontal axis): title, definitions (glossary), theory, instruments (practical directions about how to use the related tools), multimedia, examples, self-assessment resources, references to literature.
  3. Variants of the training content (third dimension of the grey part of the table): mainly examples and self-assessment materials, but sometimes also tool explanations can be presented in different forms in order to leave a wider choice for the teachers.

Figure 2: Structure of the TETRIS Body of Knowledge and Classification of Knowledge Items

Such a cellular structure of the TETRIS Body of Knowledge will allow the construction of customized educational kits for each specific school/training course according to the age and the background of the participants, the duration and the goals of the course and the participant’s attitude and experience with TRIZ teaching.

It is necessary to note that in order to attract young students to the acquisition of TRIZ fundamentals, several knowledge items will be illustrated by animations. Moreover, it is expected that a visual representation of TRIZ concepts will improve a student’s acquisition. Some exemplary previews of these animations are shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Previews of the Animations Developed
Within the TETRIS Project

In order to proceed with a harmonized set of contents, the first step has been the definition of an index and a glossary of the contents. Such a set of contents has been shaped in the form of a network, which is the only structure capable for representing the complexity of TRIZ knowledge elements (Figure 4). The network still keeps the information related to the content classification of Figure 2.

Figure 4: Elements for
Network Representationof
theTETRIS
Body of Knowledge

An excerpt of the index of the TETRIS Body of Knowledge related to the system of standard solutions is shown in Figures 5 and 6.

According to the availability of time resources multiple variants of tool explanations and examples, self-assessment exercises will be developed in the second year of the project. As previously stated, in order to facilitate the role of teachers at school, the training is organized so that one develops examples of each TRIZ concept within the person’s subject/field of expertise. The development of these examples will help an individual check one’s comprehension and will help with the dissemination of TRIZ concepts at school.

Among several original educational choices made in the definition of the TETRIS Body of Knowledge, the most relevant certainly is the introduction of the steps for identifying and resolving contradictions (ARIZ – the Algorithm of Inventive Problems Solving) since the preliminary lectures/sessions say that ARIZ is usually considered as “too complicated for beginners” and “not necessary because just a small percentage of real problems need to be approached by ARIZ.” The authors have focused attention on the development of a learning process so that ARIZ concepts can be taught also to TRIZ newcomers.

The rationale for this decision is that the ARIZ way of thinking underlies all instruments of classical TRIZ – even basic knowledge of ARIZ helps people use those instruments more efficiently. Such a choice reflects the developer of TRIZ, Genrich Altshuller’s, recommendations on the preparation of TRIZ teachers.3 According to Altshuller, the main goal of teaching TRIZ should be the development of the ARIZ way of thinking when facing a problem situation. Although it might be less known by non-Russian speakers, this is also the ultimate goal of ARIZ: the underlying, but important, function of ARIZ is to develop the skills and dispositions for solving inventive problems.

Within this first two-year project just some steps of the algorithm will be treated in detail; similarly, a subset of standard solutions will be included in the first release of the TETRIS Body of Knowledge.

Figure 5: Network Structure of TETRIS Body of Knowledge Items (limited to the system of standard
solutions and exemplary detail)

Figure 6: Network Structure of TETRIS Body of Knowledge Items (limited to the system of
standard solutions and exemplary detail)

Future Development

All the project documentation and training materials will be published on the project Web site in five languages: English, French, German, Italian and Latvian. The use of the educational material will be free by quoting the authors, the TETRIS project and the Lifelong Learning Program. Under the same conditions the educational material could be translated to any other languages. This will allow dissemination and exploitation of the project results also in countries different from those originally involved in the project while giving the project a wider European and worldwide dimension.

As of 2009, the TETRIS educational tool kit will be used and tested by the three schools involved in the project in three different countries (Austria, Italy and Latvia) and by several companies in three countries (Austria, Germany and Italy). A further training course for secondary school teachers is already planned in Friuli Venezia Giulia (Italy) on the basis of an agreement with the regional office of the Italian Ministry of Education. By the end of the project about 70 teachers will be trained. In the following years TETRIS partners will continue to train teachers and those already trained will keep teaching TRIZ at school.

It is expected that the training activities that will be organized by TETRIS partners in the next five years (following the end of the project) will involve about 750 people. The ambitious goal of the TETRIS consortium is to disseminate TRIZ fundamentals to about 10,000 students by the end of 2013.

Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank colleagues and partners of the TETRIS project for their contribution to the development of the research.

References

  1. N. Longworth, Making Lifelong Learning Work. Routledge; 1st edition, ISBN 978-0749427276, 1999.
  2. N.N. Khomenko, A. Sokol, New Model and Methodology for Teaching OTSM-TRIZ–Proceedings of the Annual TRIZ Conference of the Altshuller Institute–TRIZCON 2000.
  3. G.S. Altshuller, I Vertkin, Information on Teaching TRIZ (in Russian), 1988 (translation in English available on the ETRIA Web site.)

This paper was originallypresented at the European TRIZ Association’s TRIZ Future 2008 meeting in Enschede, NL.