For students: We hope this guide sharpens your reading skills and deepens your understanding.
For teachers: We encourage reproduction and adaptation of these ideas, freely and without further permission from AramcoWorld, by teachers at any level.
Common Core Standards met in this lesson: RL/RI.1, RL/RI.2 (see details below).

—The Editors
Do you have comments? I'd be pleased to hear from you at 
[email protected].
—Julie Weiss


Chasing Zero: Developing a Model for Complex Problem-Solving

Making a carbon-neutral city is challenging anywhere in the world, but it's even more daunting in the desert. Yet that is exactly what is being attempted in Masdar City, a start-from-scratch project in Abu Dhabi. "Chazing Zero" describes the challenges and opportunities in planning and beginning to build Masdar City. When you read and analyze the story, looking closely at how city designers have gone about solving some highly complex problems and practicing a method of problem-solving that can be used in other situtions. By the end of the activity, you will be able to:

•Define "carbon-neutral" city.
•Identify problems that arose in planning Masdar City.
•Describe how city planners addressed those problems.
•Use a problem-solving model.

How Do You Solve Problems?

Start this activity by thinking about problem-solving in your own life. When face with a problem, how do you go about trying to solve it? Think about a problem you've confronted. It can be something very simple, like finding that you have no clean clothes to wear for school the next day, or that you don't know how you'll get home if you stay late at school. Write down the problem. Think about it, and then write down how you went about solving it. What steps did you take? Were they all successful? Did you need to pause and try a different way around the problem? Now, holding in mind your own process for solving a problem, read "Chasing Zero." Before digging into the process of problem-solving, clarify a few things about the content of the article. With classmates, define "carbon neutral," and discuss why it is important enough that an effort is being made to develop a carbon-neutral city near Abu Dhabi.

Then think about a story shared by you and your family or friends about which people disagree.  Tell it to a partner, or, if you feel more comfortable to do so, write it down. Share your examples with the class, and together see what the examples have in common. Is there, for example, a common type of misunderstanding that's responsible for several disagreements? Maybe your aunt is hard of hearing, your cousin lived in a far-off city and received the story third-hand, or maybe there's a family member who likes to exaggerate. Is there ever any resolution to the disagreement? Is there a source people look to as the expert—perhaps a parent who clarifies a story that siblings tell differently? Has there ever been new information added—maybe someone who knew your grandparents and can remember the incident first hand? These are just examples of possible patterns. Keep your eyes open and see what you notice among your classmates' stories.

How Did Masdar City's Planners Solve Problems?

How did Masdar City's planners identify and solve problems? They used a model that roughly follow these steps:

Copy this flow chart onto a piece of paper if you are doing the activity alone, or on a chart paper if you are doing it as a class.

Step 1: Define the Problem

In the section of the article titled "Form Follows Nature," writer Alan Mammoser identifies "the first challenge [which] was the oldest" faced by people who live in desert climates. What was that problem? Write it on the paper, under step 1.

Step 2: Decide Where to Look for Solutions, and Look There

It is possible that when you have a relatively simple problem to solve, you can go directly to generating potential solutions. Masdar's planners, however, faced a very challenging problem, so their next step was to decide where they were going to seek guidance in finding answers. They chose two sources, which you can read about in the section of the article under the subhead, "Form Follows Nature." Write the two sources under step 2.

Step 3: Generate Ideas Based on What You Learned

What ideas did planners come up with, based on what they learned in step 2? Be sure that part of your answer focuses on the large-scale issues, such as city layout, while another part focuses on how individual buildings would be designed to solve the problem. Write these under step 3 on the flow chart.

Step 4: Face Obstacles

As with most large-scale projects, Masdar's planners and builders encountered obstacles along the way. What were those obstacles? Write them under step 4 on the flow chart.

Step 5: Define the Next Problem

The next obstacles (notably insufficent funding) led to a set of new problems. What were those problems? Write one of them, beginning again at step 1 on the flow chart. Go through the five steps again with the second set of problems.

Evaluating the Problem-Solving Process

Now that you've used the flow-chart to practice a method of problem-solving, step back and evaluate what you've accomplished. What was most helpful about the problem-solving process. What was most challenging? Think about the beginning of the activity. You wrote about solving a problem. How would this model work with the problem you wrote about? Would using it change the outcome? Try using the model as other problems arise. See what works best, and change what doesn't work as well, until you have your own reusable model for solving problems.


Common Core Standards met in this lesson: 

RL/RI.1 Read closely to determin what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; city specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

RL/RI.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.