Teaching Problem Solving: Core to All STEM Learning

Report
Teaching Problem Solving:
Core to All STEM Learning
Linda Rumans and Sylvia Unwin
With Marcia Williams, Emerita
Overview
Recent Job Description
• Problem Solving: Shows insight into the root
causes of problems. Generates a range of
solutions and courses of action including the
benefits, costs, and risks associated with each.
• Job Title?
Physician
Actuary
Engineer
Programmer
Astronomer
Receptionist
Accountant
Theater
Manager!
Governor
DBA
Business Owner
Network Admin
Detective
Architect
Legislator
Marketing Director Professor
Gary Trudeau…
Recent Job Description
• Problem Solving: Shows insight into the root
causes of problems. Generates a range of
solutions and courses of action including the
benefits, costs, and risks associated with each.
• Job Title?
Physician
Actuary
Engineer
Programmer
Astronomer
Receptionist
Accountant
Theater
Manager!
Governor
DBA
Business Owner
Network Admin
Detective
Architect
Legislator
Marketing Director Professor
Where can a student
find problem solving?
Cartoon Caption
OK – Now listen up. Nobody gets in here
without answering the following question.
A train leaves Philadelphia at 1 pm. It’s
travelling at 65 mph. Another train leaves
Denver at 4:00…Say, do you need some
paper?
Questions
• What did this kind of problem teaches you?
• When did you need to know how to solve a
similar problem?
• How applicable to your life was this kind of
problem?
• How transferable were the problem solving
strategies to other problems?
• More importantly – how relevant is it to our
students?
Where is Problem Solving
Taught?
• We assume students will become better
problem solvers by experience
Problem Solving - Overview
• Difference between Contentoriented and Process-oriented
course
• We tend to focus on the
“solution” and not how we got
there
Problem Solving is a
Process
• A problem solving course can have content, but the
focus is on how did you get to the solution?
• Some problems have one correct answer and other
problems have a better option.
• After students get a solution(s), ask:
–
–
–
–
What strategies did you use?
How long did it take?
What worked well?
What didn’t work?
• Assessment is more difficult in a process-oriented class
Problem Solving
Strategies
– Pattern recognition
– Choice of entry point and attention area
– Challenge assumptions (the “Why” technique)
– Generation of alternatives
• Minimum number of alternatives
• Minimum time spent developing alternatives
Hands On Group Problem
How can
you use a
pair of pliers
to cook an
egg?
Problem Solving Strategies
– Suspended judgment
– Recognize dominant ideas and
crucial factors
– Fractionation
– Random stimulation
– Explain the problem to someone
else
– Go away from the problem
Problem Solving Strategies
– Identify obstacles
– Build a “straw man” (draft proposal that is
not expected to be the final proposal)
– Identify the “correct” problem
– Recognize problem statements and solution
statements
– Innovation  Results in accidental
inventions
Problem Solving Strategies
– Binary Reduction
– Change one thing
– Write Everything Down (slow down and think)
– Work backwards (reversal)
– Recreate the problem
– Elimination
Examples of Accidental
Inventions
1.
Microwave oven (Percy LeBaron Spencer – engineer working on radar
technology late 1940s.)
2. Pacemaker (Wilson Greatbatch pulled the wrong resistor out of his box)
3. Penicillin (Sir Alexander Fleming, 1928, forgot to keep one of his culture
plates in a sterile environment)
4. Vulcanized Rubber (Multiple failures to develop a durable form a
rubber; 1830’s)
5. Teflon
6. Super Glue (1942 – looking for a plastic to be used as a clear gunsight)
7. Safety Glass
8. Potato Chips (1853)
9. Ice Cream Cones (1904 World’s Fair)
10. Champagne (17th Century, a monk and Dom Pierre Pérignon)
Innovation – More Examples
Principle
Solution
Segmentation (Divide an
Individually wrapped cheese
object into independent parts) slices
Local quality (Provide different "Adult" editions of Harry Potter
packaging for different uses) books
Nested Doll
Store within store (coffee
shops in bookstores and
supermarkets)
Another dimension (Tilt or re- Squeezable ketchup bottles
orient object)
that sit on their lids
http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newCT_92.htm
Examples
Problem Statement or Solution Statement?
•
•
•
•
“I need a rug.”
“We need a new student garage.”
“My printer needs more memory.”
“I need a new camera.”
Statements with the word “need” often indicate a
pre-determined solution.
Exercise: Practice writing problem statements.
Identify the facts you need before you can proceed
with identifying possible causes.
Sample Assignments – Adaptable to
any discipline
1. Document at least 30 ways to print a
Word Document
–
–
–
–
Write everything down
Generation of Alternatives
Minimum number
Change one thing
2. Create a problem (and solution) for a problem solving
round robin
3. Create a TechNote (Fractionation, testing,
documentation)
4. Create a one-page list of strategies
Classroom Exercises Examples
•
•
•
•
Redesign a way to tell time
Cartoons – write captions
How can you use a bucket with a hole?
Brick exercise:
– Lists of traditional ways to use bricks
– Lists of non-traditional ways to use bricks
– Discussion
• Moneylender, Father and Daughter problem
Money Lender
Classroom Exercises
• Options are endless
• Highly interactive and active
class sessions
• Objective: Change the way
students approach problem
solving
Student Feedback
• “I used lots of the strategies to plan my
wedding.”
• “I had a digital camera and I couldn’t get it to
work. In the past, I would have put the camera
back in the box and forgotten about it. After
your class, I didn’t give up. I eventually solved
the problem.”
Specific
Recommendation –
Problem Solving Course
• Objectives
– Vocabulary and strategies of problem solving
– Emphasize the process, not the solution
– Applicable to multiple disciplines
• Content
– Generic Strategies with generic problems
– Content-specific problems
• Early in the course of study
The Good News!
• Problem Solving/Creativity are strategies that can be
taught
• There are many resources (books, web)
• Students with problem solving skills will be more
effective in their classes…and the workplace
• Assessment continues to be a challenge
References
http://mindtools.com/pages/main/newMN_TMC.htm
Resources
• Edward deBono, Lateral Thinking
• http://www.debonoconsulting.com/edward_de_bono.asp
• Roger von Oech, Creative Whack Pack
• James L. Adams, Conceptual Blockbusting
• Web searches:
– Problem Solving
– Creativity
– Lateral Thinking
• Marcia Williams, Bellevue College

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