Problem Solving in Teaching – The Daily Campus

Problem Solving in Teaching

Problem Solving in Teaching

Teaching Problem Solving Skills

Many instructor students in engineering, math and science solve “problems”. But are their students solving real problems or just practicing? The former emphasizes critical thinking and decision-making skills although in the latter case only the application of the previously taught method is required. True problem solving is the process of applying a method - which is not known before - it is a problem that involves a specific situation and the problem solver has not been seen before to find a satisfactory solution.

Below you will find some basic principles for solving teaching problems and a model for applying your classroom teaching.

Principles for teaching problem solving

  • Model a useful problem-solving method:

Problem solving can be difficult and sometimes tedious. Show students with your example how to be patient and persevering and how to follow structural methods such as the Woods model described here. Add your method as you use it so students can see the connections.

  • Teach within a specific context:

Teach problem-solving skills in the context in which they will be used (e.g., calculating sesame fractions in a chemistry course). Use real life problems in explanations, examples and experiments. Don’t teach problem solving as an independent, abstract skill.

  • Help students understand the problem:

To solve problems, students need to define the ultimate goal. "What?" If you help students answer questions. And "why?", "How?" Can you find the answer? It will be easy.

  • Take enough time:

Adequate time budget when planning lectures / tutorials: Understanding the problem and setting goals, both individually and in class; Deal with questions from you and your students; Make mistakes, find and correct; And solving whole problems in a single session.

  • Link errors to misconceptions:

Use errors as evidence of carelessness, not careless or random guessing. Try to separate the misconception and correct it, then teach the students to do it themselves. We can all learn from mistakes.

Woods’ problem-solving model

  1. Define the problem

The system

Identify the system under study (e.g., a metal bridge under certain forces) by interpreting the information provided in the student problem statement. Drawing diagrams is a great way to do this.

Known and concepts

List what you know about the problem and identify the knowledge needed to solve it (and finally) solve it.


Once you have a list of acquaintances, it becomes easier to identify the unknown. One unknown is usually the answer to the problem, but the other may remain unknown. Make sure students understand what they expect.

Units and symbols

A key aspect of problem solving is to teach students how to select, interpret and use units and symbols. Emphasize the use of units whenever applicable. Always develop the habit of using appropriate units and symbols.


All problems have some stated or bounded limitations. Students should simply be taught to look for these words, of course to ignore them or to help identify these limitations.

  1. Think about it

"Let it be perfect". Use this step to think about the problem. Ideally, students will develop a psychological picture of the problem at this stage.

Identify specific parts of knowledge. Collect information from the illustrations, examples and problems described in the course should determine the necessary background knowledge of the students.

  1. Plan a solution

Consider possible strategies. Some common problem solving techniques are: calculation; Facilitate; Use an equation; Create a model, figure, table, or chart; Or work behind.

Choose the best strategy. Help students choose the best strategy by reminding them again what they need to find or calculate.

  1. Carry out the plan

Be patient. Most problems are not solved quickly or on the first try. In other cases the solution may be the easiest step to implement.

Is patient Doing discourage students if a plan doesn’t work immediately.

  1. Look back

Encourage students to reflect. Once a solution is reached, students should ask them the following questions:

Does the answer make any sense?

Does it meet the criteria established in step 1?

Did I answer the question?

What did I learn from this?

Could I have done the problem differently?

Success Story

During our class meeting last week, I noticed a boring habit developing in my students. Sometimes they don’t want to switch seats and move away from their best friends and sometimes they want to be the last standing (when we do an activity that sits after our observance). We then talked about how it can make everyone else feel and how it can affect our class community. We agree that this is a problem because it does not make everyone feel welcome. Finally, I asked for advice to solve their problem.

We have been working to solve the problem throughout the year. I started by teaching my students that solutions always need to be relevant, respectful, reasonable and helpful. This is a challenge for students who often think about punishment before solving it. As we begin to talk about possible solutions to this problem, the first few solutions were surprisingly nothing more than punishments, such as keeping criminals away from future greetings and activities until they are kind to them and future greeters are left in the circle. However, the more we talked, the more they began to consider ways to prevent the problem from happening. Finally we decided on two possible preventive solutions:

1) They can come to the circle individually and choose a place to sit away from close friends so that they do not get tempted to stop moving.

2) We can make designated seats around the circle so that no one feels uncomfortable moving when needed.

Looks like I taught them well how to solve problems properly because immediately one of the students suggested that I vote in class. It was difficult to argue with his argument and indeed both solutions were acceptable. We had a vote this morning. I wanted to close the children's eyes and raise my hand. They voted to determine (20-3) seats. When they opened their eyes and I announced the winning solution they started pumping fists with excitement.

I couldn't help but smile. I have never thought of such a positive response to the idea of   seats allocated for classified activities. In fact, I suspect that if I had forced the idea of   “punishment” or consequently assigned seats on them, I would have heard a lot of complaints and frustration. Yet while they could appreciate the problem and come up with a solution on their own, they were not interested in embracing the idea. We immediately made a chart with the designated circle seats and in the afternoon they were already reminding each other where they needed to sit. It's love! Sarah Worstwick, Washington, DC

Teach Students the 4 Problem-Solving Steps

Another way to solve problems in the classroom is to teach students 4 problem-solving steps.

Post a copy of the 4 troubleshooting steps where students can refer to it (probably "next to the peace table").

Problem-Solving Steps

1. Ignore it. (It takes more courage to go away than to fight and fight))

Do something else. (Find another game or activity))

Long enough for the cooling period, then follow the next steps

Speak it with respect.

Tell the other person how you feel.

Listen to what the other person has to say about how he feels and what he doesn't like.

Share what you said to contribute to the problem.

Tell the other person what you want to do differently.

3. Agree on a solution together. For example:

Make a plan to share or share.


4. If you can't do it all together, ask for help.

Put it on the class meeting agenda. (This may also be the first choice and is not meant to be a last resort)

After discussing these skills, let the children play a role in the following hypothetical situations. Let them solve each situation in four different ways (one for each step).

1. fighting over who gets the tetherball back.

2. in a row

3. Calling people bad names.

4) Sitting at the car or bus window to fight with the car turn.

Kids should use these steps before putting any issues on the agenda of some teachers. Let the children choose which one they would like at the moment, rather than the other (class meeting or one-on-one).

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