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Structured Problem-Solving (ALC)
This KB document is part of a larger collection of documents on active learning activities that take place in Active Learning Classrooms (ALC). More Active Learning documents
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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
- Laptop, tablet, or mobile phone
- Classroom with campus wireless connection
The following workflow is meant as guidance for how you can facilitate a Structured Problem-Solving learning activity within an Active Learning 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 Google Docs template that includes both the problem and the problem-solving steps.
- Assign the complex problem to groups 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.
- Share the Google Docs template that they will use to document their work. Have each group assign a scribe who will capture the work of the group.
- End the activity.
- Make sure each group shares their Google Docs document with the instructor and add all students' names at the top of the document.
- Ask a few groups to share their solution and process.
- If your problems provide students with defined solutions (ex. a, b, c) use Top Hat and have groups report their solutions. Discuss the results if groups identified different solutions.
- If solutions are more complex, select a few groups to report their results. Ask other groups to share their results if they don't want those presented.
- Review reports in Google Docs for each group.
- Provide feedback/grades to group participants.
- Discuss the results of the activity at the next class meeting.
Accessibility and Room Considerations
An Environmental Sciences professor wanted to use Structured Problem-Solving to consider the issue of air quality and air pollution. He asked each table to evaluate a case study of the quality of the air directly near the college. Based on the data in the case study, students are to assess the air quality (recommending the environmental pollution scorecard) identify major and minor local and regional polluters, and recommended specific actions. Students are given thirty minutes to complete the activity. The remaining class time is spent discussing and reviewing possible solutions. He posts all group solutions in Canvas for students to review (Modified from 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 asks each table to, "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 (Modified from Barkley 245-246).
Barkley, Elizabeth F. et al. Collaborative Learning Techniques A Handbook For College Faculty. Wiley, 2014. pp. 244-248.