The A thru E Approach
to Problem Solving in Chemistry.

An Introduction

Dave Woodcock ©1996,2000
Okanagan University College

OUC Home Page Chem Home Page

Problems with your teachers!

A thru E Index

Additional Comments: Your Teachers!

Finally, here are some points to watch for when you

  • a. watch your teachers solve problems or
  • b. read the problems with solutions in your text book.

Problem number 1

Teachers are experienced problem solvers in the areas in which they teach. In their teaching areas, teachers are experts.

Some consequences of this are:

  • a. As an expert, the teacher tends to use an abbreviated form of problem solving, taking several steps at once. You, as a beginner, or in a new area, must take new steps one at a time.

  • b. As an expert, the teacher may take many steps mentally - often only writing down the calculations at Step 3.
    You must write down on paper most steps - especially as you start to use this problem-solving technique or as you start a new area of study.

  • c. The subject matter is well known and readily accessible to the teacher who may therefore underestimate the difficulties you have in getting around in the subject matter.

Problem number 2

For teachers, almost all problems presented to students are routine.
Some consequences of this are:
  • a. Teachers tend to skip the planning stages (Steps 1 and 2) emphasizing only the calculation step. This step, Step 3, is after the problem has been solved - so if you have a difficulty as to how a particular solution was arrived at by the teacher, now you know why - you weren't shown how to solve the problem at all, you were merely show the solution in the form of the final calculation!

  • b. For routine problems, forward reasoning is most efficient and so teachers tend to show you solutions to problems by forward reasoning. This, of course, leads you to believe that forward reasoning is the most efficient method and to strengthen your resistance to backward reasoning. You must resist reaching this conclusion as experts agree: backward reasoning is the most efficient method when the problem is not routine.

Using this information

These pointers may help you analyze why you are having difficulties in understanding how some of your teachers arrive at solutions to problems. If you understand where your difficulties seem to lie you can begin to ask relevant questions of your teachers, asking perhaps for a full approach to solving a problem or for a demonstration of backward reasoning through a problem.

What if the teacher is a text book?

If the teacher is a text book, you cannot ask it questions, but you can:
  • use another text or
  • ask your 'live' teacher to reason through a problem that is not well illustrated by the text or
  • ask peers to listen to you reason through a problem and help you with that reasoning.

A thru E Index

page upkeep: Dave.
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This page last modified on: Wednesday, 28 November, 2001