The Problem –solving Method in Education

Dr. V.K.Maheshwari, M.A (Socio, Phil) B.Sc. M. Ed, Ph.D.

Former Principal, K.L.D.A.V. (P.G) College, Roorkee, India

Science subject is one of the important subjects in school education. However, really the traditional teaching methods are challenged for their inability to foster critical thinking, holistic learning environment among children. The science subject must develop science process skills where children, observe, measure, classify, process information, interpret think on solving problems, analyze, synthesize, formulate conclusions, etc. but, it should be kept in mind that, creativity in an essential element of science.

Problem-solving is, and should be, a very real part of the curriculum. It presupposes that students can take on some of the responsibility for their own learning and can take personal action to solve problems, resolve conflicts, discuss alternatives, and focus on thinking as a vital element of the curriculum. It provides students with opportunities to use their newly acquired knowledge in meaningful, real-life activities and assists them in working at higher levels of thinking

Meaning and Definition of Problem solving method

In a problem solving method, children learn by working on problems. This enables the students to learn new knowledge by facing the problems to be solved. The students are expected to observe, understand, analyze, interpret find solutions, and perform applications that lead to a holistic understanding of the concept. This method develops scientific process skills. This method helps in developing brainstorming approach to learning concepts.

The students thinking on problem and their understanding of the science behind it is based on common sense. It does not start from textual knowledge. Rather it proceeds from experiencing to gradually forming concepts through books at later stage. It is a process from practice to theory not vice versa. Knowledge here is not a goal but a natural out came of working on tasks. Students live in the real world and like to deal with concrete things where they can touch, feel manipulate things then the method is useful in igniting the process of science learning

A problem is a task for which Problem–solving may be a purely mental difficulty or it may be physical and involve manipulation of data.  , the person confronting it wants or needs to find a solution because the person has no readily available procedure for finding the solution.  The person must make an attempt to find a solution. Problem solving is the act of defining a problem; determining the cause of the problem; identifying, prioritizing and selecting alternatives for a solution; and implementing a solution.

Problem-solving method aims at presenting the knowledge to be learnt in the form of a problem. It begins with a problematic situation and consists of continuous, meaningful, well-integrated activity. The problems are test to the students in a natural way and it is ensured that the students are genuinely interested to solve them.

Problem–solving may be a purely mental difficulty or it may be physical and involve manipulation of data. Problem-solving is the ability to identify and solve problems by applying appropriate skills systematically.

Problem-solving is a process—an ongoing activity in which we take what we know to discover what we don’t know. It involves overcoming obstacles by generating hypo-theses, testing those predictions, and arriving at satisfactory solutions.

Objectives of Problem-Solving: The specific objectives of problem solving in science are :

  • Willingness to try problems and improve their perseverance when solving problems.
  • Improve pupils’ self-concepts with respect to the abilities to solve problems.
  • Make pupils aware of the problem-solving strategies.
  • Make pupils aware of the value of approaching problems in a systematic manner.
  • Make pupils aware that many problems can be solved in more than one way.
  • Improve pupils’ abilities to select appropriate solution strategies.
  • Improve pupils’ abilities to implement solution strategies accurately.
  • Improve pupils’ abilities to get more correct answers to problems
  • The appreciation of the existence of a problems and a desire to solve it
  • The accumulation of the facts and data which are pertinent to the problem.
  • Logical interpretation of the data supported by adequate valid experience.

Tips for effective use of Problem solving method

  • Ask questions and make suggestions. Ask students to predict “what would happen if …” or explain why something happened. This will help them to develop analytical and deductive thinking skills. . Do this by providing positive reinforcement to let students know when they have mastered a new concept or skill.
  • Don’t fear group work.Students can frequently help each other, and talking about a problem helps them think more critically about the steps needed to solve the problem.
  • Help students understand the problem. In order to solve problems, students need to define the end goal. If you succeed at helping students answer the questions “what?” and “why?”, finding the answer to “how?” will be easier. Have students identify specific problems, difficulties, or confusions. Don’t waste time working through problems that students already understand?
  • If students are unable to articulate their concerns, determine where they are having trouble. Identify the specific concepts or principles associated with the problem. Make students articulate their problem solving process. In a one-on-one tutoring session, ask the student to work his/her problem out loud. This slows down the thinking process, making it more accurate and allowing you to access understanding.
  • Link errors to misconceptions. Use errors as evidence of misconceptions, not carelessness or random guessing. Make an effort to isolate the misconception and correct it, then teach students to do this by themselves. We can all learn from mistakes. Try to communicate that the process is more important than the answer so that the student learns that it is OK to not have an instant solution.
  • Model the problem solving process rather than just giving students the answer. As you work through the problem, consider how a novice might struggle with the concepts and make your thinking clear .Provide only minimal assistance and only when needed to overcome obstacles.
  • Take enough time. Budget enough time for: understanding the problem and defining the goal, both individually and as a class; dealing with questions from you and your students; making, finding, and fixing mistakes; and solving entire problems in a single session.
  • Teach within a specific context. Teach problem-solving skills in the context in which they will be used .Use real-life problems in explanations, examples, and exams. Do not teach problem solving as an independent, abstract skill.
  • Work as a facilitator. Teacher must keep in mind that if in a child-directed learning not teacher-directed. He must be alert and active to arouse interest among students. Must provide democratic atmosphere. Teacher must provide situation for all students to come formed and contribute towards the success of the activity.

Procedural steps of Problem solving method

Problem-based learning is a method of educating adult learners that combines theoretical knowledge with practical  activities. The process engages participants in considering complex and challenging issues and encourages them towards finding an appropriate solution. The expectation is that participants will have the motivation to learn because the problem scenarios are based on real-life situations found in the workplace. The expectation is that participants will have the motivation to learn because the problem scenarios are based on real-life situations.

The procedural steps can be devided in two phases

a-       Pre-active /Planning phase

b-      Active / Execution phase

c-       Post-active/Evaluation phase

The Pre-active / planning phase includes:

Defining the problem:

    • The system. Have students identify the system under study  by interpreting the information provided in the problem statement. Drawing a diagram is a great way to do this.
    • Known(s) and concepts. List what is known about the problem, and identify the knowledge needed to understand (and eventually) solve it.
    • Unknown(s). identifying the unknown(s) becomes simpler. One unknown is generally the answer to the problem, but there may be other unknowns. Be sure that students understand what they are expected to find.
    • Units and symbols. Select, interpret, and use units and symbols. Emphasize the use of units whenever applicable. Develop a habit of using appropriate units and symbols yourself at all times.
    • Constraints. Teach students to look for the words only, must, neglect, or assume to help identify the constraints.

Active / Execution phase

The following are the general procedural steps in Execution phase:

Step one

Selection of the Problem  and Presentation of the Problem :A number of problems are confronted by the students in the class or outside. They are made to select a problem as per their capacity and interest.

Each student is made to feel responsible for presenting the problem in front of the teacher and class as per his insight. The students are free to give their suggestions on the problem. Diagnose the situation so that your focus is on the problem .

Step two

Generation of alternative solutions: All the facts related to problem are collected either by a students or group. As a number of facts will be collected, it will help the students to keep the most pertinent facts and discard rest.

Step three

Generate alternative solutions: Postpone the selection of one solution until several alternatives have been proposed. Having a standard with which to compare the characteristics of the final solution is not the same as defining the desired outcome. Considering multiple alternatives can significantly enhance the value of  final solution. Many alternative solutions should be generated before evaluating any of them. A common mistake in problem solving is that alternatives are evaluated as they are proposed, so the first desired solution is chosen, even if it’s not the best fit.

Step four

Evaluate and select an alternative: Skilled problem solvers use a series of considerations when selecting the best alternative. They consider the extent to which:

  • A particular alternative will solve the problem without causing other unanticipated problems.
  • All the individuals involved will accept the alternative.
  • Implementation of the alternative is likely.
  • The alternative fits within the organizational constraints.

Step five

Implement and follow up on the solution: This is most important phase as a proper outline at this stage will lead to purposeful activity. The teacher will guide students to draw exact plan and follow it properly so that the solution to problem is reached. It is more or less like planning stage, where in a clear indication of outline leads to better result. Feedback channels must be built into the implementation of the solution, to produce continuous monitoring and testing of actual events against expectations. Problem solving, and the techniques used to derive elucidation, can only be effective in an organization if the solution remains in place and is updated to respond to future changes.

Post-active/Evaluation phase .

The following steps comes under this phase;

Reaching  the Inferences and conclusions : The tentative solutions which are offered by students are properly noted down. A good number of arrangements, discussion, brainstorming results in reaching a satisfactory conclusion. The teacher has to be very careful at this stage as, if may lead to wrong conclusions. The discussions must be healthy and conducive atmosphere must be provided in the classroom for it.

The students review the entire process and find out each and every stage where in they have made any mistakes. Self-criticism and Self-realization will give training of self confidence. The teacher must see that objective have been achieved.

Writing the Report:

  1. A complete report should  be written by the students. This will include, how they planned, what discussions were held, how duties were assigned, how satisfactory conclusion was reached  etc. It’s vitally important that students have multiple opportunities to assess their own problem-solving skills and the solutions they generate from using those skills. Frequently, students are overly dependent upon teachers to evaluate their performance in the classroom. The process of self-assessment is not easy, however. It involves risk-taking, self-assurance, and a certain level of independence. But it can be effectively promoted by asking students questions such as “How do you feel about your progress so far?” “Are you satisfied with the results you obtained?” and “Why do you believe this is an appropriate response to the problem?

Limitations of the problem-solving method.

Difficult to teach all topics of curriculum- Difficult to organise e- contents of syllabus according to this method. All topics and areas cannot be covered by this method. There is a lack of suitable books and references for the students. This is not suitable for all level students. Method does not suit students of lower classes.Mental activity dominates this method. Hence there is neglect of physical and practical experiences.

Can encourage dirty competition- Most people working in a group unconsciously perceive the situation as competitive. This generates behaviour which is destructive and drains the creative energy of the group. The natural reaction is to regain self-esteem, often by trying to sabotage the ideas of those who disagreed with us. Instead of looking for ways to improve on their ideas we choose to destroy them. These types of behaviour create an atmosphere which is incompatible with effective problem solving.

Possible lack of effective direction- Sometimes there is no effective teacher to give direction to the discussion, with the result that it wanders aimlessly. There is short of talented teachers to practice this method. There is always a doubt of drawing wrong conclusions.

Time and resource constraints- Problem solving is a relatively slow process. It is not economical from time and money point of view. Time consuming method.

Merits of Problem solving method

Knowledge Retention- Problem-based learning is practical and it requires participants to  use their reasoning and problem-solving skills to resolve the scenarios they are presented with. As a result, the learning process is more effective because participants are not trying to memorize large volumes of information .

Develops Competencies- This method follows the principle of learning by doing. Problem-based learning is a collaborative method that fosters teamwork, diversity and mutual respect, which are invaluable competencies in the workplace. Participants also develop their abilities to think strategically.

Context Specific-   In schools the problem-based learning may be limited in its effectiveness because it is highly context specific. During the learning process, participants are given a specific problem that is based on a foreseeable work scenario. They learn to use old facts in new references.

Method is scientific in nature-  Develops good study habits and reasoning power. Helps to improve and apply knowledge and experiences. Stimulates thinking of the child. Develops desirable study habits in the students.

Develops qualities of initiative and self-dependence in the students- Students learn virtues such as patience, cooperation, and self-confidence.  Learning becomes more interesting and purposeful. Develops qualities of initiative and self-dependence in the students, as they  have to face similar problematic situations in real life too. Shared responsibility makes individuals more willing to take risks. The discussion of different points of view also helps the group to be more realistic in assessing the risks associated with particular courses of action.

Reduced bias- The shared responsibility of a group in arriving at decisions can. encourage individuals to explore seemingly unrealistic ideas and to challenge accepted ways of doing things. Individual biases and prejudices can be challenged by the ,group, forcing the individual to recognise them. Group pressure can also encourage individuals to accept that change is needed.

Better solutions- Groups of individuals can bring a broad range of ideas, knowledge and skills to bear on a problem. This creates a stimulating interaction of diverse ideas which results in a wider range and better quality of solutions. . They become capable to generalize. Students learn to find solution to their problem. When people who are affected by a problem or who will be involved in implementation are involved in finding a solution, they will know how and why that particular solution was chosen. Also, people with knowledge relevant to the problem can communicate that knowledge directly if they participate in solving the problem.

“There are many problems throughout the world, some that are very simplistic while others are very complicated with many details.  In order to be an effective problem solver, a person has to have the ability to use prior problem solving skills on problems in the existing future”

(Ormrod, 2008).













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