Teach the Solutionary Framework

The Solutionary Framework helps educators prepare future generations to be solutionaries who can solve intersectional problems in their communities and world. By teaching with the Solutionary Framework in your school or classroom, you’re helping to build a more just, healthy, and sustainable world. Thank you for your vision and dedication.

This page provides a brief overview of the Solutionary Framework as well as examples and approaches to help you implement it.

Solutionary Guidebook

First, if you don’t already have a copy of the Solutionary Guidebook, download it here. The Solutionary Guidebook is an in-depth printable guide for teaching the Solutionary Framework.

You can also view our teacher implementation rubric and student reflection rubric to help you understand solutionary teaching and learning goals.

Introduction to the Solutionary Framework

What is a Solutionary?

A solutionary is someone who is able to identify inhumane and unsustainable systems and then develop solutions that are healthy and just for the diversity of people impacted by those systems, for animals, and for the environment. Solutionaries use critical thinking, systems thinking, strategic thinking, and creative thinking to look at problems in new ways, and they act collaboratively with others to devise and implement solutions.

Watch this video to better understand solutionary thinking and action: Become a Solutionary.

What is the Solutionary Framework?

The Solutionary Framework is a multi-step approach that teaches students to think like solutionaries, from problem identification to solution implementation.

Four-phase solutionary framework graphic
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Phase One – Cultivating Compassion and Identifying a Problem We Care About

  • cultivate our compassion for others;
  • learn about issues in our community and in the world;
  • identify a problem of personal concern;

Phase Two – Researching Causes and Their Consequences

  • connect with stakeholders and those working to solve the problem;
  • identify the causes of the problem from psychological factors, worldviews, and mindset to systemic structures; 
  • determine who and what is harmed by the problem, and who and what benefits;
  • research what has been done to solve the problem thus far;
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Phase Three – Devising Solutions and Planning for Implementation

  • devise solutions to the problem that address root and/or systemic causes, avoid unintended negative consequences, and do the most good and least harm for people, animals, and the environment; 
  • determine which solutions are most solutionary and most feasible for implementation;
  • create a plan to implement our solution;

Phase Four – Implementing, Assessing, Celebrating

  • implement an actionable element of our solution;
  • present our solution;
  • assess our solution;
  • celebrate our solutionary work

The Solutionary Framework is a process, not a prescription

It does not have to be followed lock-step or, in every instance, be implemented from beginning to end. Students, whether they be in first grade or high school, might benefit from time spent simply building compassion for other people, animals, and the environment. Problem identification and solution development might come later. Sometimes students devise wonderful solutions but, because of their age, are not in a position to implement them. That is okay. The Solutionary Framework can work with students at all developmental levels. It can be applied across subjects. And it can be combined with other instructional frameworks, such as Design Thinking, Trauma-Informed Practices, or Habits of the Mind. Use the framework to build instruction for YOUR students and YOUR curriculum. 

Have a question? Contact one of IHE’s solutionary coaches to provide answers either in writing, through a phone call, or through a 20-minute support Zoom session.

5 Curricular Approaches

All teachers have their own way of teaching based on grade level, subject, school or district expectations, as well as personal preferences. Consequently, there are many different ways of implementing the 14-step Solutionary Framework. We offer several possibilities below.

1. Overlay the Solutionary Framework onto an existing unit in any subject.

For example, a first-grade class may already be learning about butterflies in science. Based on the Solutionary Framework, students might spend time cultivating a sense of compassion for and curiosity about the caterpillars becoming butterflies. They could then explore the problems butterflies are facing from factors such as climate change, pesticide use, land development, etc. Ultimately, they could be guided to consider potential solutions. The same approach could be used for a required unit on Nutrition in grade 6, Human Activity and Climate in 9th grade Biology, or Holocaust Education in 10th grade. The approach can also be used in the visual and performing arts as students examine and bring expression to issues related to social justice, climate change, or animal welfare, for example. 

2. Use the Solutionary Framework in combination with teaching research, writing, and presentation skills in Language Arts or Social Studies.

One could start off with a read-aloud by a student solutionary, such as Greta Thunburg or Malala Yousafzai. Students could then select their own problem or challenge about which they are passionate, or they might focus on a more defined set of problems, such as those outlined through the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Moving through the steps of the Solutionary Framework, they would engage in reading, research, speaking to stakeholders, thinking critically and systematically about the issues, and, ultimately, presenting their solutions. 

3. Add key elements of the Solutionary Framework to the problem-, project-, or phenomenon-based learning already taking place in your curriculum.

Most PBL units implemented in schools incorporate the elements of personal choice, interdisciplinary instruction, authentic assessment, collaboration, and critical thinking. The Solutionary Framework builds on this by teaching systems thinking, strategic thinking, creative thinking, as well as ethical analysis as students consider the impact of their solutions on all people, animals, and the environment. 

As students identify real problems in their local communities and around the world, you can use the Solutionary Framework to help them explore how multiple social, economic, and environmental systems may impact one another. In addition, the principle of “most good, least harm” used in the framework provides students with an ethical lens that extends their decision-making beyond themselves and helps them see the impact of any solution on all people, on animals, and on the complex systems of our planet. The Solutionary Framework also asks students to actually implement their solutions, and then continue to refine their approach based on the results. The Solutionary Framework is a more complete, more ethically-mindful, and more action-oriented version of Project-Based Learning, but is not a fundamentally new approach.

4. Teach the Solutionary Framework as a stand-alone unit.

Such an approach can be done in a single classroom, as a grade level, as an elective course in middle school or high school, or even as a whole school project. The time frame can range from a full week to a full year in the case of an elective course. Students may select any problem or challenge in which they are personally interested or choose from a predefined set of problems such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Students then work individually or in cooperative groups through the steps of the Solutionary Framework. If done as a grade level or as a whole school, multiple teachers can collaborate to guide students through the process.

5. Use the Solutionary Framework to structure an after-school club or to deepen the impact of a community service requirement.

This approach is similar to the one above but the solutionary learning and action would take place outside of regular school hours. 

Sample Units

Educators learn best from one another, and the most successful units are often planned in collaboration. We are excited to share with you some exemplar units developed by educators who have been using the solutionary approach with their students for a number of years. Take what is useful to you. Revise in ways that make sense to you and your students. Feel free to share with us your own best ideas as we all work together to create a generation of solutionaries! Simply email us at solutionarylearning@humaneeducation.org.

Solutionary PBL Units

The exemplar units below have been developed by our partners in the San Mateo County Office of Education and San Joaquin Teachers College Environmental Literacy Master’s Degree Program. These exemplars are aligned with California state standards and include many take-and-teach activities for both virtual and on-site learning. Each unit includes the following grade-level bands: K-2, 3-5, and 6-12.

Solutionary PBL Exemplar Lessons:

We strongly recommend you watch this outstanding explanation by Andra Yeghoian, the Coordinator of Environmental Literacy for San Mateo County, of how the Solutionary Framework overlays the process of both planning and teaching.

Career and Technical Education Modules

Career and Technical Education (CTE) provides many wonderful opportunities for solutionary learning and action. The exemplars below were developed by our partners at the San Mateo County Office of Education. 

Green Careers Awareness Modules:

  • Elementary Modules (Green Entrepreneurship: “Chocolate Company,” and Outdoor Education)
  • Middle School Modules (Agriscience, Computer Science, Energy & Power, Engineering, Green Engineering, Industrial Biotechnology, Product Innovation & Design)

Case Studies

Case Studies open the doorway for students to explore the interconnectedness of seemingly disparate problems and the systems that perpetuate them. They also engage students in the complex work of uncovering potential solutions. The case study below was developed by educators at IHE.

6-Week Dead Zone Unit: This unit is designed as a case study, presenting students with authentic problems. Students ask, What are the biggest killers of people in the U.S. today? What is the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico? How can these two seemingly disparate problems possibly be connected? These problems offer a doorway for students to explore the connection between a major issue in the U.S. (diet-related diseases) and a recurring ecological disaster: the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Through hands-on, experiential learning, students will explore these contrasting questions as they engage in uncovering various causes and solutions.

Stand-Alone Solutionary Unit Samples 

These units are not tied to a particular topic but rather guide students to apply the Solutionary Framework to a problem in which they are interested.

20-Day Solutionary Unit: This unit, designed by middle school teachers Katie Coppens and Mat Holmes from Falmouth, Maine, takes students through a four-week journey of the entire Solutionary Framework. It includes resources, activities, and teaching notes for each day as it guides students to identify, analyze, and develop solutions for a problem about which they care.

Solutionary Fair: This exemplar unit has been developed by Oceanside School District sophomore class to teach all of the district’s 5th graders about local issues in a solutionary fair. The fair, The World We Want, is based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. There are 4 stations students rotate through to learn about UN Sustainability Development Goals,  clean water, food insecurity, and the impacts of single-use plastics on the environment.  

Additional Resources to Support You

The Next Step: Earn Your Solutionary Teaching Badge!

The Institute for Humane Education offers a Solutionary Micro-credential Program (SMP), an online professional learning course for educators who want to deepen their understanding of solutionary teaching with the support of colleagues and coaches. In order to teach like a solutionary, you need to be thinking like a solutionary yourself – this program helps you do that. The SMP includes three modules: Concept, Process, and Application. Each module takes approximately 10 hours to complete. You’ll move through the course at your own pace. Once completed you’ll receive a Solutionary badge and Certificate of Completion. 

The Solutionary Micro-credential Program provides you with the knowledge and support you need to deeply engage your students in work that is meaningful to them; improves their research, thinking, and modern literacy skills; fosters their compassion; and contributes to a healthier and more humane society. We are committed to ensuring that all teachers and districts that wish to participate in the Solutionary Micro-credential Program are able to do so. If you have questions, please contact our lead facilitator at betsy@humaneeducation.org.