I Can Problem Solve (ICPS)

Program Goals/Target Population

I Can Problem Solve (ICPS) is a school-based prevention program that trains children in generating a variety of solutions to problems, considering and understanding the possible consequences of those solutions, and recognizing thoughts, feelings, and motives that can lead to problem situations. ICPS is designed for young children, typically around the ages of 4 to 12, who are of lower and middle socioeconomic status, live in principally urban and rural settings, from multiple ethnic groups, and may be at risk for behavioral dysfunctions and interpersonal maladjustment. The program was created to encourage critical thinking, cognitive processing, and problem solving in young children, based on the principle of teaching "how to think" rather than "what to think."

Program Components

The ICPS curriculum consists of 3 manuals: Preschool (59 lessons); Kindergarten/Primary grades (Kindergarten through Grade 2, 83 lessons); and Intermediate Elementary Grades (Grade 3 through Grade 6, 77 lessons). These individual 20- to 40-minute lessons are integrated into all teaching areas. Each lesson has a stated purpose, suggested material, and script teachers use to guide the class. Ideally, lessons are delivered between three and five times a week. Lessons encourage children to be creative in finding solutions, and to develop a habit of problem solving and contemplating those solutions and potential consequences. The program includes both formal lessons and specific suggestions for incorporating ICPS principles into daily classroom activities. Early lessons focus on word concepts and pre-problem-solving skills to understand and recognize other people’s feelings. The lessons that follow aim to help children identify their feelings and the feelings of others, with later lessons using role playing and "dialoguing" to enhance their problem-solving skills. The teacher can strictly follow the lesson plan or be creative with content, as long as the concepts of the lesson are taught. These concepts can also be incorporated into academic subjects, such as reading and math. Various techniques and tools including games, puppets, role playing, and stories are used in lessons throughout the course. In addition, teachers and other school personnel learn how to use the problem solving approach (called "ICPS Dialoguing") outside of the formal lessons. Dialoguing guides children to use their newly acquired problem solving skills when problems occur in real life.

Key Personnel

The ICPS intervention requires a qualified and trained teacher to implement the program within his or her classroom. It also requires a lesson guide to lead the classroom through the program.

Intervention ID: 
4 to 12

Study 1
Shure and Spivack’s 1982 evaluation of an interpersonal cognitive problem-solving intervention, which would later be called I Can Problem Solve (ICPS), followed low-income, inner-city African American nursery school and kindergarten children to evaluate them over a 2-year period. Subjects in the year 1 evaluation included 113 children (47 boys and 66 girls) trained in ICPS, and 106 control children (50 boys and 56 girls). In year 2 of the evaluation, the 131 children were divided into four groups: a twice trained group (n=39); a trained in nursery school group (n=30); a trained in kindergarten group (n=35); and a never-trained control group (n=27). At baseline the average age of the sample was 4 years and 3 months, with equality of the groups in age distribution, IQ, ICPS test scores, and behavioral characteristics. On average, treatment children were trained for 12 full weeks in formal, scripted sessions implemented by their teacher throughout the school day.

Researchers collected information on interpersonal cognitive problem-solving measures each year immediately before and following the 12-week intervention, for a total of four assessments. The measures were used to test children’s abilities to problem solve and understand consequences, and to evaluate teacher-rated interpersonal behavior in the classroom. Data was analyzed using analysis of variance.

Study 2
The Kumpfer and colleagues (2002) evaluation of ICPS compared 256 children who received treatment with 322 control children. Children were recruited from the 1st grade classes of 12 schools in two Rocky Mountain districts. It should be noted that the study also included two other treatment conditions not discussed in this summary: one with 56 ICPS children who also received the Strengthening Families program, and one with 21 ICPS children who received only the parent module of the Strengthening Families program. The overall sample was 87 percent Caucasian and 7.6 percent Hispanic, with an average Hollingshead index position indicating a largely middle-class sample. The majority of the sample (53 percent) was female; 6 percent were enrolled in special education and 3.2 percent had a documented learning disability.

Kumpfer et al. (2002) designed constructs for measuring school bonding, parenting skills, social competence, and self-regulation by deriving various indices from questionnaires administered to children, parents, and teachers. Questionnaires were administered at the beginning and end of the intervention year. The results show scores on each item and the study estimates effect sizes and mean differences controlling for group differences in the baseline measurements.

Study 3
In an independent study conducted by Boyle and Hassett–Walker (2008), matched pairs of schools were randomly assigned to either ICPS instruction or control status. The student sample included 226 students who were assigned to one of three groups: the 2-year ICPS group (n=96) received ICPS instruction for 2 consecutive years; the 1-year ICPS group (n=106) received ICPS instruction for 1 year only in kindergarten or 1st grade; and the control group (n=24) received no ICPS instruction.

More than 80 percent of participants in each group were Hispanic. African American students made up 9 percent of the 2-year instruction group and 5 percent of the 1-year instruction group. None of the control group participants were African American. A small percentage of participants in each group were white. Each group had more females than males. Additionally, more than 90 percent of children in all three groups were receiving a discounted lunch, a measure used as an indicator of income level.

Chi-square analyses revealed no significant differences among the groups in race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or gender. Two behavior ratings scales were employed: the Preschool Social Behavior Scale and the Hahnemann Behavior Rating Scale. Analysis was conducted using multiple analysis of covariance and analysis of covariance techniques.


Study 1
Problem Solving
Shure and Spivack (1982) found that children in the treatment group had significantly greater interpersonal problem-solving scores compared with the control group. This gain was maintained at the 1-year follow-up as seen in the nursery school trained children.

Understanding Consequences
Children in the treatment group had significantly different consequence scores (as measured by the What Happens Next Game) compared with the control group. These gains were maintained at the 1-year follow-up as seen in the nursery school trained children.

Children in the treatment group demonstrated significantly greater adjustment and improved interpersonal behavior as measured by teachers when compared with the control group. This gain was maintained at the 1-year follow-up as seen in the nursery school trained children.

Study 2
School Bonding
Kumpfer and colleagues (2002) found the I Can Problem Solve (ICPS) intervention had a rather large and significant effect (effect size=1.32) on the scores for social bonding among treatment group children, compared with children in the control group.

Social Competence
There were no significant differences between scores for social competence of the treatment group and the control group after the 1-year intervention.

The ICPS intervention had a moderate and significant effect (effect size=.46) on self-regulation scores for treatment group children, compared with children in the control group.

Study 3
The study by Boyle and Hassett–Walker (2008) showed that after 1 year of intervention, the treatment group scored significantly higher in both teacher-rated behavior scales than the control group. Additionally, the group that received 2 years of the intervention showed even more substantial effects. These findings indicate the program resulted in improved behavior of participants in the treatment group compared with the control group.