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Structured Problem-Solving (classroom)
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Facilitating Structured Problem-Solving active learning activities in a classroom
Time and Effort
|Instructor Prep Time||Medium|
|Student Activity Time||Medium|
|Instructor Response Time||Medium|
|Complexity of Activity||Medium|
Structured Problem-Solving gives students a process for solving a complex, content-based problem within a specific time limit. All students must agree to a solution and be able to explain the answer and strategy used to solve the problem. The activity will help identify where students need to develop and/or improve their problem-solving skills.|
Use it when you want...
- To break a problem-solving process into specific steps,
- To have students identify, analyze, and solve problems in an organized manner,
- To give students a structured format — preventing them from being overwhelmed by the magnitude of a problem, or from engaging in irrelevant steps by providing manageable steps.
What students will need
- No special requirements for this approach.
The following workflow is meant as guidance for how you can facilitate a Structured Problem-Solving learning activity within a classroom.
- Create a problem that is complex enough to require students to use sophisticated problem-solving skills. Use research and current questions in the field as a resource.
- Choose an identification and solving procedure that is appropriate to the type of problem selected.
- Solve the problem yourself using the identified problem-solving procedure to uncover any difficulties or errors.
- Create a handout that includes both the problem and the problem-solving steps.
- Organize students into teams and assign them a complex problem to solve.
- Ask students to use the specific steps you have identified as a problem-solving technique: (a) identify the problem; (b) generate possible solutions; (c) evaluate and test the various solutions; (d) decide on a mutually acceptable solution; (e) implement plan, and (f) evaluate the results.
- Teams report the steps they took and the solution they developed.
- Review reports.
- Provide feedback/grades to group participants.
- Discuss the results of the activity at the next class meeting.
Accessibility and Room Considerations
- The wearing of masks by students (particularly in large lecture halls) may make it difficult for students to hear one another when they are asked to speak. All classrooms that are large enough to normally require a microphone already have a microphone system with a communal clip-on pickup element. Further information about the availability of additional clip-on or headset microphone elements will be coming soon. View the instructions and short videos below to assist with the use of the microphones and the portable systems:
An Environmental Sciences professor wanted to use Structured Problem-Solving to consider the issue of air quality and air pollution. He divided students into teams and asked them to evaluate the quality of the air directly near the college. He asked them to consider, "What do you know?" and "Where can you go to find out?". He then asked them to assess the air quality (recommending the environmental pollution scorecard) and to identify major and minor local and regional polluters. He also asked students to develop a presentation for community stakeholders that explained the problem and recommended specific actions (Barkley 245).
In General Chemistry, the professor developed a series of online modules to introduce concepts for the week. As an introductory course, she knows that few students will see how chemistry could be useful in their everyday lives. She decides to use a Structured Problem-Solving activity in class to help them recognize where and how they interact with chemistry every day. She breaks students into groups and asks them, "Select the best antacid from the list on the screen." To help them get started, she gives them a problem-solving strategy in which they respond to a variety of questions that helps them identify the effectiveness of the antacid. The questions guide them to review the list of active ingredients. The questions also guide them to apply information on acids and bases found in the online modules. From the answers to these questions, groups are to design an experiment they would use to test the antacid. Each group presents their ideas to the class, the procedure they would follow, and the data they would collect. At the next class session, the professor has the materials for them to conduct their experiment to solve the problem and identify the best antacid available over the counter (Barkley 245-246).
Barkley, Elizabeth F. et al. Collaborative Learning Techniques A Handbook For College Faculty. Wiley, 2014. pp. 244-248.