One of the things that employers often identify as being an important
quality when hiring college graduates is their problem-solving skills.
Students need to develop the ability to apply problem-solving skills
when faced with issues or problems that are new to them. The development
and use of problem-solving skills also improves learning. Rossman
(1993) suggests that when students use problem-solving skills, "The
role of the student changes from a passive recipient of information
to a participant in the creation of understanding. The problem should
captivate students' attention, be meaningful, and allow a wide range
of individual responses."
For example, here is one way to present a problem
to a class.
Began with the simple question, "What is heat?" Have the
students use journals and the chalkboard to record their ideas. Then
collectively discuss the ideas and write down a summary of the "best
thinking so far" on the subject of heat. Next, say the magic
words, "Let's find out" and begin exploring information
In this example, the teacher gathered the students' prior knowledge
so that he could assess their background and then decide how best
to approach the problem. The students could also be given the opportunity
to "own" the problem instead of just being given a problem
that they may not have interest in or any prior knowledge about. This
can be done by simply asking the students what problems they would
like to solve.
Having a process for solving problems helps to keep efforts focused
and eliminate becoming stalled. Problems solving usually involved
the following steps
Identify the problem
- Analyze the problem and gather information
- Generate potential solutions
- Select and test the solution
- Analyze/Evaluate the results
Some of the tools used in problem-solving include:
- Brainstorming. This technique is used to encourage participation
from each member of the team. Brainstorming helps to break people
out of the typical mode of approaching things to produce new and creative
ideas. It creates a climate of freedom and openness, which encourages
an increased quantity of ideas.
- Root Cause Analysis (AKA as the "Five Why's."). The objective
of Root Cause Analysis is to find the fundamental cause for a problem.
One way is to ask "Why?" five times or more to really get
at the root of the problem.
- Cause and Effect Diagrams. This diagram is drawn to represent the
relationship between an effect (the problem) and its potential causes.
The diagram helps to sort-out and relate the interactions among the
factors affecting a process.
- Pareto Charts. A Pareto Chart shows a frequency distribution where
each bar on the chart show the relative contribution of contributing
problems to the larger problem. It help to identify where to focus
energy to obtain the most positive impact.
- Flowcharting. A Flowchart is a map that shows all the steps in a
process. It helps in understanding the process and making sure all
steps in the process are addressed.
- Decision Matrix. A Decision Matrix is useful when faced with making
a difficult decision. The options or alternatives are listed in the
left-hand column and the selection criteria is listed across the top
row. Each of the options are rated against the selection criteria
to arrive at the best logical decision.
With the appropriate teacher action, students will be able to learn
how to solve a variety of problems.