Recognition of Problems in
Dr. Dave Woodcock
The following is a series of slides used in a seminar on this topic to high school teachers,
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The problem in summary:
Students do too little thinking and too much rote learning. This is not the intelligent
way of doing things.
Symptoms of a problem:
- Students want to know "what is on the exam".
- Students do not solve problems.
- Students "throw numbers" at problems.
- Students cannot write "explanations"
- Students want to know "the" answer.
- Students want to know how to do a problem.
- Students answer problems not knowing what the "unknown" is.
- Students are working long hours, but have no time to read and think.
- Students "cram" the night before an exam.
Putting the responsibility for the problem on others and on other things (where we can
do nothing about it!) :
- On The Subject Matter:
- Non-concrete, 3-dimensional, mathematics based, hierarchical, problem solving.
- On The Curriculum:
- Too much to allow the time for thinking, too much detail (factoids?) to allow
interests to be developed, must teach everything to every student.
- Fixed by someone else, I can't do anything about it.
- On The Semester:
- Material is cut up into neat little packages which can be "learned" for the test
and then forgotten.
- On The Text Book:
- Doesn't explain well,
- goes into too much detail,
- not relevant,
- divides topics into neat little packages and exercises,
- does not encourage thinking through problems.
- On The Examinations:
Comment of non-science Professor taking a science course in an experimental study:
"The problems on exams seldom required the use of more than one concept or
physical principle. Only once were we asked to explain or comment on something
rather than complete a calculation. The final asked only the most primary, basic
questions about only the most important laws of physics. We were not required at any
time to interrelate concepts or try to understand the "bigger picture"".
- Too long to encourage thinking (eg answer 50 questions in 50 minutes),
- True/False and Multiple Guess questions,
- too soon after end of class,
- questions promote either regurgitation of material or of algorithms to solve problems.
- On The Students:
- don't want to learn,
- can't do math,
- can't think,
- can't read,
- won't study,
- watch too much tv.
- On Previous Teachers
Putting some of the responsibility where changes can be made:
On Ourselves as Teachers:
- We do not think in our own subjects.
- We do not think about problem solving in our own subjects.
- We always present solutions from beginning to end.
- We present solutions as algorithms.
- We demand the student use the exact problem solving method that we taught.
- We set 20 problems of the same type (and then another on the final exam to
see if the student did rote learn the method).
- We give 50 minute lectures (passive, little personal interaction).
- We do not teach thinking skills (do we have to give solutions to problems?)
- Research into chemical education by chemists is not supported and often not
accepted as scholarly activity.
Energy barriers against doing anything:
- For the teacher:
- To get the student to think we must put thinking skills into our courses. But
then we must take something out. What can we take out?
- If I leave them to think about a problem and not give them a solution, they won't
be able to pass the course and I will not be being helpful to the students.
- I don't know how I solve problems.
- For the student:
- To read and think about the concepts and theories requires diverting time from
doing and learning the problem algorithms. There is not enough time to both rote
learn enough material and problems to pass the course and to read and think about
the concepts. I will go with the sure way that has served me in the past - rote learn
as much as I can.
- We must pay attention to and respect the inherent intelligence of people.
- At least at the start of our courses, we need to reduce the factual content of our
courses and increase the thinking skills content.
- We must be aware of what problem solving (ie thinking) really is, and model it to our
- We must present problems without solutions (maybe even without answers), letting the
students discuss the solutions and deciding when they have a good one.
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