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The REAPS model, as its name implies, is a way to engage students in solving real-world problems of interest to them using four evidence-based teaching models that have problem solving as a common element: Problem Based Learning (PBL), Thinking Actively in a Social Context (TASC), DISCOVER, and the Prism of Learning. The combined models are important ways to develop 21st Century skills of creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication. Students follow an 8-step structured, recursive process (TASC) when solving problems: gather and organize information, identify the problem from a stakeholder’s perspective, generate ideas for solving the problem, decide which solution(s) to implement, implement the solution(s), evaluate the implementation, communicate the solution to an audience, and reflect on their learning. When teachers implement REAPS, they address all the content, process, content, and learning environment principles recommended for gifted students. REAPS has been implemented since 2008 with students from Kindergarten to high school, in several countries, and in different cultural contexts.
In one REAPS project, the education research team worked closely with science teachers in a school on the Navajo Nation to design a summer program for students who had either failed a science class or wanted to improve their grades. The research team, which included an ecologist, selected a problem that was causing interruptions to the students’ way of life and could integrate major concepts from all the science courses students had failed or wanted to improve grades. Desertification, the problem selected, is defined as the degradation of dryland ecosystems caused by variations in climate and human activities. It was affecting their lives in many ways. Some homes, for instance, were being overcome by large sand dunes over time as the wind moved the sand; often large piles of sand needed to be removed from the roads so the school busses could pick up students. Other problems included difficulties growing crops and feeding animals.
Students solved the problem from the perspective of one of the stakeholder groups: (a) farmers, ranchers, and sheepherders; (b) the grazing committee; (c) local residents; and (d) the Environmental Protection Agency. Following the TASC process with the guidance of their teachers, students created solutions, made posters and displayed them in the school, designed flyers to invite parents and community members to their presentations, and presented their solutions to a real audience. They then discussed the solutions from all perspectives in an attempt to reach consensus on the best way to meet the needs of all stakeholders as they solved the problem.
In one classroom (grade 6) on the Navajo Nation, students listed problems in their community they thought were important to solve. Then, they decided together which problem to solve and the teacher outlined a case study making it a real-world situation without identifying the people involved. She organized data-gathering and field work to help students gather information and develop skills they needed to think of innovative solutions. They presented their solutions to parents, community groups, and other students.
In New Zealand, teachers in two schools implemented REAPS in a project with the goal of increasing engagement of Māori and Pasifika boys and adapting the REAPS model (if needed) so it fit the community context. In one school in New Zealand, it was implemented in all beginning science classes at the school (Grade 9), and in the other school, it was implemented with identified gifted students in Grades 8 and 9. Recently, in cooperation with faculty at the United Arab Emirates University and teachers in the local area, we taught an on-line course to 50 high school students on REAPS as part of the Global Cooperative Synergy Group (https://www.globalcooperativesynergygroup.org/). The online format offers an alternative to in-person teaching and can be a way to involve students from different countries and contexts in solving problems with international impacts.
Research on REAPS
In several studies, we have found that students developed creative thinking and problem-solving, increased their understanding of the complexity and interrelationships of ideas, made important connections between their communities (with both people and the environment) and their learning in school and were highly engaged in their learning. They had fun even though the work and personal relationships were challenging, and they valued both activities and learning gained from their experiences. Students were able to articulate perceptions demonstrating that their views of REAPS classes and programs were aligned with the purposes of the model.
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