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As the text mentions, there are four more traditional ways to respond to inappropriate student behavior including ignoring

the behavior, sending the student to a principal or assistant principal, call and chat with the parents for help, or simply apply some kind of punishment on the student. Although these methods work for some students, the text gives us alternative methods known simply as "communication skills". The three components of having of these skills are constructive assertiveness, empathic responding, and problem solving. All of these skills will be heightened if a teacher has great listening practices as well.

Constructive Assertiveness

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The goal of constructive assertiveness is to avoid tearing the student down or labeling students as being bad, rude, annoying, and so on. This communication skill is often used to reinforce what the students already know they should be doing, when they might not be doing it. There are three aspects of constructive assertiveness that make it a complete, effective package. The first is clearly state the problem/concern as a statement. For example: Instead of calling a student out for passing notes and making a scene, one would rather say, "Taking and passing notes during discussion distracts other students from the lesson" (Emmer & Evertson 153). The second is to use body language cues like making eye contact, completely facing the student in an strong but not threatening pose, and matching facial expressions to your tone and purpose when communicating with the student. The third aspect is to 'seal the deal' and get the appropriate behavior. To accomplish this, one must avoid being sidetracked when

talking with a student about their behavior. All of these aspects can be enforced easily by constantly assessing the students' behavior during class time.

Empathic Responding
When you actively use empathic responding, you are making the students aware of your understanding of their situation. The students will notice that you ask for and respect their perspective, all the while managing to listen to their entire story and take in the situation they are explaining. When approaching a student who is misbehaving or has a problem with something that needs resolving, empathic responding works as a way to reason with the student and have them reassess the situation and find different avenues to solve the problem. This method also takes some pressure off of the teacher because they don't have to stress about solving an emotionally charged problem or mess. For example: A teacher may use phrases like "go on..", "that's interesting, tell me more", and "I'm interested in hearing your ideas about this" (Emmer & Evertson 156). The key to accomplishing empathic responding is to actively listen and process everything that the student is telling you. Although this approach is effective, it is often difficult to find time to discuss your way through problems using this method and it is very important to not become a 'push-over' in the classroom using this method. You must always stick by the original guidelines or rules for the classroom, and what you administered for punishment.

Problem Solving
There are three steps to follow when approaching a problem with the intent of solving the said problem. The first step is to identify the problem at hand. This can be accomplished in many different ways, but one of the best ways to do this when dealing with students is to ask the student(s) for their view toward what is happening. It is good to remember that some students may push the blame onto other students or adults. You must see through the situation clearly and look at it all from angles. The second step is to identify any and all solutions to the problem, and pick a solution to use. A great way to get students involved in this step is to ask them what they think about the solution you presented to them to get their feedback (Rubenstein 2009). During this step, it is a good idea to have more then one solution on the table for the student to think through. The third, and final step, is to obtain some kind of commitment on the student's part. You are looking for an oral or written commitment from the student saying that they agree to the chosen solution and will stick to it for a specified period of time. Source; +Teachers#Chapter%208:%20%22Communication%20Skills%20for%20Teachers%22toc-Constructive%20Assertiveness

What Is Problem Solving?

by Michael E. Martinez

Errors are part of the process of problem solving, which implies that both teachers and learners need to be more tolerant of them, Mr. Martinez points out. If no mistakes are made, then almost certainly no problem solving is taking place. To think is constantly to choose in view of the end to be pursued.1 Every educator is familiar with the term "problem solving," and most would agree that the ability to solve problems is a worthy goal of education. But what is problem solving? Its meaning is actually quite straightforward: problem solving is the process of moving toward a goal when the path to that goal is uncertain. We solve problems every time we achieve something without having known beforehand how to do so. We encounter simple problems every day: finding lost keys, deciding what to do when our car won't start, even improvising a meal from leftovers. But there are also larger and more significant "ill-defined" problems, such as getting an education, becoming a successful person, and finding happiness. Indeed, the most important kinds of human activities involve accomplishing goals without a script. Problem solving is a ubiquitous feature of human functioning. Human beings are problem solvers who think and act within a grand complex of fuzzy and shifting goals and changing means to attain them. This has always been true, but it is doubly so today because we live in a time of unprecedented societal transformation. When circumstances change, old procedures no longer work. To adapt is to pursue valued goals even when circumstances - and perhaps the goals themselves - are in flux. Because the pace of societal change shows no signs of slackening, citizens of the 21st century must become adept problem solvers, able to wrestle with ill-defined problems and win. Problem-solving ability is the cognitive passport to the future. There is no formula for true problem solving. If we know exactly how to get from point A to point B, then reaching point B does not involve problem solving. Think of problem solving as working your way through a maze.2 In negotiating a maze, you make your way toward your goal step by step, making some false moves but gradually moving closer toward the intended end point. What guides your choices? Perhaps a rule like this: choose the path that seems to result in some progress toward the goal. Such a rule is one example of a heuristic. A heuristic is a rule of thumb. It is a strategy that is powerful and general, but not absolutely guaranteed to work. Heuristics are crucial because they are the tools by which problems are solved. By contrast, algorithms are straightforward procedures that are guaranteed to work every time. For example, you have in your long-term memory algorithms that enable you to tie your shoelaces, to start up your car, and perhaps even to cook an omelet. Barring broken shoelaces, a dead battery, and rotten eggs, these algorithms serve you very well. An algorithm may even be so automatic that it requires very little conscious processing as you carry out the procedure. Now here is an important consideration: what constitutes problem solving varies from person to person. For a small child, tying shoelaces will indeed require problem solving, just as cooking an omelet entails problem solving for many adults. Thus problem solving involves an interaction of a person's experience and the demands of the task. Once we have mastered a skill, we are no longer engaged in problem solving when we apply it. For a task to require problem solving again, novel elements or new circumstances must be introduced or the level of challenge must be

raised. Some problem solutions, however, can never be reduced to algorithms, and it is often those problems that constitute the most profound and rewarding of human activities. The necessity of problem solving to all that is important about being a person cannot be overstated. In addition, problem solving is not an advanced process that is reserved solely for mature learners. Indeed, people of all ages can and must be solvers of problems. Perhaps young children are the most natural problem solvers. Because they continually face circumstances that are novel, they must adapt. It's their "job." And they are amazingly good at it. Moreover, young children don't fret about failure the way that school-age children and adults tend to do. They take detours and setbacks in stride because they know intuitively that such obstacles are a part of the problem solving process. Still, we need to encourage problem solving in children. Whenever possible, this involves letting children find their own ways of reaching their goals. Good parents and other caregivers know when to stand back and let a child figure things out and when to step in and offer the right amount of help. Armed only with our heuristics, then, we engage in a process of heuristic search. Like finding one's way through a maze, we move closer, haltingly, to where we want to be. We can't be sure of what lies around the next corner or that the direction that once seemed so promising will pay off. Progress toward important goals is incremental, and each move is informed by our repertoire of heuristics. Because of the possibility of false moves, we need to monitor our progress continually and switch strategies if necessary.

The Power of Heuristics

If heuristics are the problem solver's best guide, it makes sense to elucidate them as much as possible. First, each learner must know what heuristics are and must be aware of their power. Second, each learner must have both general and specific heuristics at his or her disposal. General heuristics are cognitive "rules of thumb" that are useful in solving a great variety of problems. They are usually content-free and apply across many different situations. Specific heuristics are used in specialized areas, often specific subject domains or professions. Probably the most powerful general heuristic, alluded to in the maze example, is "means-ends analysis." Essentially, the heuristic is this: form a subgoal to reduce the discrepancy between your present state and your ultimate goal state. Phrased more colloquially: do something to get a little closer to your goal. Problems defy one-shot solutions; they must be broken down. Means-ends analysis accepts incremental advancement toward a goal. The method is not fail-safe, of course, because positive results are not guaranteed with any heuristic. However, if all goes well, this heuristic will help move you incrementally toward your ultimate goal. You apply it again and again, trying to reduce the discrepancy further. By means of this less-than-direct path, you find your way to the ends you seek. Such a search is not simply a process of trial and error, because the steps taken are not blind or random. Rather, the application of a series of tactical steps leads you ever closer toward the goal. Mistakes made along the way must be accepted as inextricable from the problem-solving process.

The benefits conferred by means-ends analysis may be as much emotional as intellectual. If a large and complex problem seems daunting as a whole, perhaps one can summon the will to accomplish a small piece of it. And that success can motivate one to persist. Thus starting a task can make the effort self-sustaining. Sometimes when we tackle a difficult project, it's as if we are trying to start a car on a cold winter morning. We encounter resistance. Once begun, however, the task becomes marginally easier and doesn't require a constant exertion of will to sustain it. At some point, we "cross the Rubicon" - we reach the point where it seems more difficult to stop than to carry on to completion. That is when a problem-solving activity becomes self-sustaining and bears us along by its momentum. "Just do it!" is not solely a great marketing slogan; it can also be seen as a directive to disregard the ominous hulking problem that looms ahead and simply take the first step. Heuristics are usually picked up incidentally rather than identified and taught explicitly in school. This situation is not ideal. A curriculum that encourages problem solving needs to provide more than just practice in solving problems; it needs to offer explicit instruction in the nature and use of heuristics. Herbert Simon has written: In teaching problem solving, major emphasis needs to be directed toward extracting, making explicit, and practicing problem-solving heuristics - both general heuristics, like means-ends analysis, and more specific heuristics, like applying the energy conservation principle in physics.3 What are some other heuristics? One that is probably familiar to most readers goes by the name of "working backward." First, consider your ultimate goal. From there, decide what would constitute a reasonable step just prior to reaching that goal. Then ask yourself, What would be the step just prior to that? Beginning with the end, you build a strategic bridge backward and eventually reach the initial conditions of the problem. An illustration of the use of this approach can be taken from the Tower of Hanoi problem. A number of disks are placed on a peg in an arrangement like this:

The rules are simple. Only one disk can be moved at a time, and a larger disk may never be placed on top of a smaller disk. The goal is to move the entire stack of disks from the first peg to the third. Working backward helps us understand that at some point we must find a way to place the largest disk at the bottom of the third peg. Working backward from there, we would infer that all the smaller disks would eventually need to be placed on the middle peg, according to the rules, so that the largest disk is free to move. That step also has logical precursors, and so on. Working backward makes the problem more manageable and its solutions much more efficient than following a less reasoned approach.

Or take another example. My daughter came home from school with a story about a provocative exchange between a teacher and a student: Teacher: What do you want to be when you are an adult? Student: I want to be rich. Teacher: No, but what do you want to be? Student: I don't care. I just want to be rich. This student certainly had a clear goal in mind, though some might question its value independent of the means for achieving it. In any case, the student has some serious "working backward" to do. If his goal is to be rich, what kind of career might allow him to achieve it? Becoming a movie star? A Wall Street investor? An entrepreneur? A criminal? Some combination of these? If an entrepreneur, that might imply that majoring in business in college would be in order. In turn, that goal might suggest that tonight the student should study his mathematics a little harder than is his custom. Working backward makes "next steps" plainer than simply wishing and hoping that dreams will materialize. A third heuristic seeks to solve problems through "successive approximation." Initial tries at solving a problem may result in a product that is less than satisfying. Writing is a good example. Few accomplished writers attempt to write perfect prose the first time they set pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard). Rather, the initial goal is a rough draft or an outline or a list of ideas. Over time, a manuscript is gradually molded into form. New ideas are added. Old ones are removed. The organization of the piece is reshaped to make it flow better. Eventually, a polished form emerges that finally approximates the effect that the author intended. Given time and effort, what started out as rough and approximate can become art. In fact, successive approximation seems to be an important heuristic in producing outstanding creative works of all kinds. This model is relevant to many pursuits other than writing. Inventions, theories, stories, recipes, and even personal and group identities start out rough but are restructured and refined over time. Think of the bicycle, whose various designs over the decades have metamorphosed toward greater efficiency and lighter weight. Successive approximation accepts the design process as problem solving, a series of zigs and zags toward something better.4 Not only is such a process compatible with human information processing, but awareness of the principle can sustain a halfbaked idea that initially seems raw, wild, and foolish but is just possibly the germ of an eventual marvel. George Polya's advice was "Draw a figure."5 In that spirit, I offer a fourth and final example of a heuristic: portray the problem at hand in an explicit "external representation." List, describe, diagram, or otherwise render the main features of a problem. This heuristic has several important features. First, it allows us to represent more complexity than we can hold in mind at once. Depicting a problem on paper, whiteboard, or computer screen relieves short-term memory of the burden of representing the problem and allows the processing capacity of our brains to be directed toward solving it. An incidental benefit is that often the very attempt to represent the problem explicitly forces a problem solver to be clear about what it is he or she is trying to do and about what stands in the way. A clearer representation of goals and obstacles may by itself greatly simplify solution of the problem.

Another benefit of external representation is that the medium chosen to portray a problem may help the solver see the problem in a new way. In our heads we may understand a problem in words. On paper, we may discover that a picture makes more sense. Sometimes words can distort the more direct pictorial representations and so hinder problem solving.6 Pictorial representations are used by experts in many fields and can be of considerable help.7 Finally, an external representation, unlike a mental representation, is potentially a "public document." The fact that other people can see it might help a group reach consensus about the nature of a problem. An obstacle that is prohibitive to one person might seem trivial or irrelevant to another. Likewise, a common representation might allow one participant to point out a significant opportunity that is unseen by other members of the group.

All heuristics help break down a problem into pieces. The problem as a whole is thus transformed. It is no longer a chaotic mass, like a ton of cooked spaghetti. Rather, through the creation of various subgoals, each of the pieces becomes manageable. The problem does become more complex in one sense because the pieces themselves must somehow be borne in mind. If a large goal is broken down into subgoals, then one cognitive challenge becomes goal management - keeping track of what to do and when. Goal management is probably a major aspect of intelligent thought. Patricia Carpenter, Marcel Just, and Peter Shell regard goal management as a central feature of problem solving. A key component of analytic intelligence is goal management, the process of spawning subgoals from goals, and then tracking the ensuing successful and unsuccessful pursuits of the subgoal on the path to satisfying higher-level goals.... The decomposition of complexity . . . consists of the recursive creation of solvable subproblems.... But the cost of creating embedded subproblems, each with [its] own subgoals, is that they require management of a hierarchy of goals.8 The importance of monitoring subgoals is an example of a more general phenomenon: one common feature of problem solving is the capacity to examine and control one's own thoughts. This self-monitoring is known as metacognition. Metacognition is essential for any extended activity, especially problem solving, because the problem solver needs to be aware of the current activity and of the overall goal, the strategies used to attain that goal, and the effectiveness of those strategies. The mind exercising metacognition asks itself, What am I doing? and How am I doing? These self-directed questions are assumed in the application of all heuristics. However, in practice, teachers cannot simply assume that students will engage in metacognition it must be taught explicitly as an integral component of problem solving. Problem solving requires both the vigilant monitoring and the flexibility per misted by metacognition. When solving problems, means shift continually depending on one's position relative to desired goals. Even goals change as old goals are superseded by new and better ones. Maintaining flexibility is essential. Too often we feel wedded to a chosen strategy and continue to apply that strategy even if it lead us wildly astray. When this happens, it is usually wrong to conclude that we must start over. The important question is always "What do I do now, given my goal, my current position, and the resources available to me?" Getting off course along the way

is fully expected. Cool-headed reappraisal is the best response - not mindless consistency, panic, or surrender.

A New Mindset
In pursuit of the goal of improving problem-solving ability, I have advocated the use of heuristics and have suggested a few. There are countless others. Some are general and apply to many problem situations, but most are specific and apply in specialized fields. Heuristics are vital, but they are not necessarily the most important aspect of problem solving. Perhaps more powerful than any heuristic is an understanding that, by its very nature, problem solving involves error and uncertainty. Even if success is achieved, it will not be found by following an unerring path. The possibilities of failure and of making less-than-optimal moves are inseparable from problem solving. And the loftier the goals, the more obvious will be the imperfection of the path toward a solution. The necessity of uncertainty is recognized implicitly whenever we commend someone for being a risk taker. It is not the taking of risks itself that is commendable; rather, taking risks is a means to an end. What we actually applaud is the courage to adopt a difficult and commendable goal and then to enter the thorny thicket of problem solving where the only way out is through heuristic search and nerve. The willingness to suspend judgment - to accept temporary uncertainty-is an important aspect of thinking in general. John Dewey linked tolerance of uncertainty to reflective thinking: Reflective thought involves an initial state of doubt or perplexity.... To many persons both suspense of judgment and intellectual search are disagreeable; they want to get them ended as soon as possible.... To be genuinely thoughtful, we must be willing to sustain and protract the state of doubt, which is the stimulus to thorough inquiry.9 How then is it possible to improve problem-solving ability? First, we need to recognize when we are engaged in problem solving and accept as natural, normal, and expected the stepwise and discursive path toward a goal through the application of general and specific heuristics. Second, we must not let anxiety take hold. Anxiety is a spoiler in the problem-solving process. It stalks right behind uncertainty, ready to pounce. Demanding and uncertain environments, the seedbeds of all problem solving, are fertile ground for anxiety. Uncertainty is an integral part of the business of solving problems. Those who cannot bear situations in which it is impossible to see the way clearly to the end are emotionally ill-prepared to solve problems. Errors are part of the process of problem solving, which implies that both teachers and learners need to be more tolerant of them. If no mistakes are made, then almost certainly no problem solving is taking place. Unfortunately, one tradition of schooling is that perfect performance is often exalted as an ideal. Errors are seen as failures, as signs that the highest marks are not quite merited. Worse still, errors are sometimes ridiculed or taken as ridiculous. Mistakes and embarrassment often go hand in hand. Perfect performance may be a reasonable criterion for evaluating algorithmic performance (though I doubt it), but it is incompatible with problem solving.10

What so often counts most in schools is the important but incomplete cognitive resource of knowledge. Fixed knowledge and algorithms are easier to teach, learn, and test than is the tangled web of processes that make up problem solving. Typically, it is not before graduate school that problem solving really becomes the focus of an educational program. Even in graduate school a student may not get to wrestle with the true problems of a field of study until the dissertation. What can reverse this sorry state of affairs? A better understanding of the nature of problem solving is a place to start. Ultimately, we will have to change the culture of schooling. In the workplace as well, we need to revise our attitude toward errors - at least toward those that are a reasonable consequence of significant problem solving. (Errors in balancing the books don't count.) But if a job requires fluid intelligence-the ability to operate within the flux of continually changing demands and challenges-even the corporate culture must accept and deal with the multitude of paths toward solutions and the necessary existence of error. For educators to accept errors, uncertainty, and indirect paths toward solutions is itself a difficult problem because doing so contradicts our ingrained beliefs and expectations about teaching and learning. But problem solving must be understood and promoted if the next generation is to be prepared for the unprecedented challenges (i.e., problems) that it will face. Yet great things are accomplished when great things are attempted, and in our efforts we do not face total uncertainty. We have, in fact, our experience and its dividend, our knowledge, to support us. Heuristics and knowledge are what Herbert Simon has called the "two blades" of effective professional education, and he reminds us that "twobladed scissors are still the most effective kind."11 I would add that what is good for professional education is good for education of all kinds at all levels. By combining what we do know with our understanding of the problemsolving process, we can move toward our goals - perhaps not unerringly, but by the sort of wending progress that is the signature of problem solving.

1. Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon, The Development of Intelligence in Children, trans. E. S. Kite (Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins, 1916), p. 140. 2. Herbert A. Simon, The Sciences of the Artificial (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1981). 3. Herbert A. Simon, "Problem Solving and Education:' in David T. Tuma and Frederick Reif, eds., Problem Solving and Education: Issues in Teaching and Research (Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum, 1980), pp. 81-96. 4. Charles E. Lindblom, "The Science of Muddling Through" Public Administration Review, vol. 19, 1959, pp. 79-88. 5. George Polya, How to Solve It, 2nd ed. (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1957). 6. Jill H. Larkin and Herbert A. Simon, "Why a Diagram Is (Sometimes) Worth Ten Thousand Words," Cognitive Science, vol. 11, 1987, pp. 65-99. 7. Fred Reif and Joan I. Heller, "Knowledge Structure and Problem Solving in Physics," Educational Psychologist, vol. 17, 1982, pp. 102-27. 8. Patricia A. Carpenter, Marcel Adam Just, and Peter Shell, "What One Intelligence Test Measures: A Theoretical Account of the Processing in the Raven Progressive Matrices Test," Psychological Review, vol. 97, 1990, pp. 404-31.

9. John Dewey, How We Think: A Restatement of the Relation of Reflective Thinking to the Educative Process (Boston: Heath, 1933), p. 16. 10. It is not impossible to solve a problem without error, but it is misleading to think that this experience is the normal character of problem solving. 11. Simon, "Problem Solving and Edueation,"
Michael E. Martinez is an associate professor in the Department of Education, University of California, Irvine. Source;

What is a Problem? A problem exists when a problem solver has a goal but does not know how to accomplish it. Specifically, a problem occurs when a situation is in a given state, a problem solver wants the situation to be in a goal state, and the problem solver is not aware of an obvious way to transform the situation from the given state to the goal state. In his classic monograph, On Problem Solving, the Gestalt psychologist Karl Duncker defined a problem as follows: A problem arises when a living creature has a goal but does not know how this goal is to be reached. Whenever one cannot go from the given situation to the desired situation simply by action, then there has to be recourse to thinking. Such thinking has the task of devising some action, which may mediate between the existing and desired situations. (1945, p. 1) This definition includes high-level academic tasks for a typical middle school student such as writing a convincing essay, solving an unfamiliar algebra word problem, or figuring out how an electric motor works, but does not include low-level academic tasks such as pronouncing the sound of the printed word cat, stating the answer to 2 2 =___, or changing a word from singular to plural form. What is Problem Solving? According to Mayer and Wittrock, problem solving is cognitive processing directed at achieving a goal when no solution method is obvious to the problem solver (2006, p. 287). This definition consists of four parts: (1) problem solving is cognitive, that is, problem solving occurs within the problem solver's cognitive system and can only be inferred from the problem solver's behavior, (2) problem solving is a process, that is, problem solving involves applying cognitive processes to cognitive representations in the problem solver's cognitive system, (3) problem solving is directed, that is, problem solving is guided by the problem solver's goals, and (4) problem solving is personal, that is, problem solving depends on the knowledge and skill of the problem solver. In sum, problem solving is cognitive

processing directed at transforming a problem from the given state to the goal state when the problem solver is not immediately aware of a solution method. For example, problem solving occurs when a high school student writes a convincing essay on the causes of the American Civil War, understands how the heart works from reading a biology textbook, or solves a complex arithmetic word problem.


Problem solving is related to other terms such as thinking, reasoning, decision making, critical thinking, and creative thinking. Thinking refers to a problem solver's cognitive processing, but it includes both directed thinking (which is problem solving) and undirected thinking (such as daydreaming). Thus, thinking is a broader term that includes problem solving as a subset of thinking (i.e., a kind of thinking, i.e., directed thinking). Reasoning, decision making, critical thinking, and creative thinking are subsets of problem solving, that is, kinds of problem solving. Reasoning refers to problem solving with a specific task in which the goal is to draw a conclusion from premises using logical rules based on deduction or induction. For example, if students know that all four-sided figures are quadrilaterals and that all squares have four sides, then by using deduction they can conclude that all squares are quadrilaterals. If they are given the sequence 2468, then by induction they can conclude that the next number should be 10. Decision making refers to problem solving with a specific task in which the goal is to choose one of two or more alternatives based on some criteria. For example, a decision making task is to decide whether someone would rather have $100 for sure or a 1% chance of getting $100,000. Thus, both reasoning and decision-making are kinds of problem solving that are characterized by specific kinds of tasks. Finally, creative thinking and critical thinking refer to specific aspects of problem solving, respectively. Creative thinking involves generating alternatives that meet some criteria, such as listing all the possible uses for a brick, whereas critical thinking involves evaluating how well various alternatives meet some criteria, such as determining which are the best answers for the brick problem. For example, in scientific problem solving situations, creative thinking is involved in generating hypotheses and critical thinking is involved in testing them. Creative thinking and critical thinking can be involved in reasoning and decision making.

Problems can be well-defined or ill-defined. A well-defined problem has a clearly specified given state, a clearly specified goal state, and a clearly specified set of allowable operations. For example, Solve for x: 2x + 11 = 33 is a well-defined problem because there is clear given state (i.e., 2 x 11 = 33), a clear goal state (i.e., x = ___) and a clear set of operations (i.e., the rules of algebra and arithmetic). An ill-defined problem lacks a clearly specified given state, goal state, and/or set of allowable operators. For example, develop a research plan for a senior honors thesis is an ill-defined problem for most students because the goal state is not clear (e.g., the requirements for the plan) and the allowable operators are not clear (e.g., the places where students may find information). What makes a problem well-defined or ill-defined depends on

the characteristics of the problem. Although most important and challenging problems in life are ill-defined, most problem solving in schools involves well-defined problems. Moreover, it is also customary to distinguish between routine and non-routine problems. When a problem solver knows how to go about solving a problem, the problem is routine. For example, two-column multiplication problems, such as 25 x 12 = ___, are routine for most high school students because they know the procedure. When a problem solver does not initially know how to go about solving a problem, the problem is non-routine. For example, the following problem is nonroutine for most high-school students: If the area covered by water lilies in a lake doubles every 24 hours, and the entire lake is covered in 60 days, how long does it take to cover half the lake? Robert Sternberg and Janet Davidson (1995) refer to this kind of problem as an insight problem because problem solvers need to invent a solution method (e.g., in this case the answer is 59 days). What makes problems either routine or non-routine depends on the knowledge of the problem solver because the same problem can be routine for one person and non-routine for another. Although the goal of education is to prepare students for solving non-routine problems, most of the problems that students are asked to solve in school are routine.


Mayer and Wittrock (2006) distinguished among four major cognitive processes in problem solving: representing, in which the problem solver constructs a cognitive representation of the problem; planning, in which the problem solver devises a plan for solving the problem; executing, in which the problem solver carries out the plan; and self-regulating, in which the problem solver evaluates the effectiveness of cognitive processing during problem solving and adjusts accordingly. During representing, the problem solver seeks to understand the problem, including the given state, goal state, and allowable operators, and the problem solver may build a situation modelthat is, a concrete representation of the situation being described in the problem. Although solution execution is often emphasized in mathematics textbooks and in mathematics classrooms, successful mathematical problem solving also depends on representing, planning, and self-regulating. In a 2001 review, Jeremy Kilpatrick, Jane Swafford, and Bradford Findell concluded that mathematical proficiency depends on intertwining of procedural fluency (for executing) with conceptual understanding (for representing), strategic competence (for planning), adaptive reasoning, and productive disposition (for self-regulating). According to Mayer and Wittrock (2006), students need to have five kinds of knowledge in order to be successful problem solvers: facts: knowledge about characteristics of elements or events, such as there are 100 cents in a dollar; concepts: knowledge of a categories, principles, or models, such as knowing what place value means in arithmetic or how hot air rises in science; strategies: knowledge of general methods, such as how to break a problem into parts or how to find a related problem;

procedures: knowledge of specific procedures, such as how to carry out long division or how to change words from singular to plural form; and beliefs: cognitions about one's problem-solving competence (such as I am not good in math) or about the nature of problem solving (e.g., If someone can't solve a problem right away, the person never will be able to solve it). Facts and concepts are useful for representing a problem, strategies are needed for planning a solution, procedures are needed for carrying out the plan, and beliefs can influence the process of self-regulating.


Many current views of problem solving, such as described in Keith Holyoak and Robert Morrison's Cambridge Handbook of Thinking and Reasoning (2005) or Marsha Lovett's 2002 review of research on problem solving, have their roots in Gestalt theory or information processing theory. Gestalt Theory. The Gestalt theory of problem solving, described by Karl Duncker (1945) and Max Wertheimer (1959), holds that problem solving occurs with a flash of insight. Richard Mayer (1995) noted that insight occurs when a problem solver moves from a state of not knowing how to solve a problem to knowing how to solve a problem. During insight, problem solvers devise a way of representing the problem that enables solution. Gestalt psychologists offered several ways of conceptualizing what happens during insight: insight involves building a schema in which all the parts fit together, insight involves suddenly reorganizing the visual information so it fits together to solve the problem, insight involves restating a problem's givens or problem goal in a new way that makes the problem easier to solve, insight involves removing mental blocks, and insight involves finding a problem analog (i.e., a similar problem that the problem solver already knows how to solve). Gestalt theory informs educational programs aimed at teaching students how to represent problems. Information Processing Theory. The information processing theory of problem solving, as described by Allen Newell and Herbert Simon (1972), is based on a humancomputer metaphor in which problem solving involves carrying out a series of mental computations on mental representations. The key components in the theory are as follows: the idea that a problem can be represented as a problem spacea representation of the initial state, goal state, and all possible intervening statesand search heu-risticsa strategy for moving through the problem space from one state of the problem to the next. The problem begins in the given state, the problem solver applies an operator that generates a new state, and so on until the goal state is reached. For example, a common search heuristic is means-ends analysis, in which the problem solver seeks to apply an operator that will satisfy the problem-solver's current goal; if there is a constraint that blocks the application of the operator, then a goal is set to remove the constraint, and so on. Information processing theory informs educational programs aimed at teaching strategies for solving problems.


Max Wertheimer (1959) made the classic distinction between learning by rote and learning by understanding. For example, in teaching students how to compute the area of a parallelogram by a rote method, students are shown how to measure the height, how to measure the base, and how to multiply height times base using the formula, area = height x base. According to Wertheimer, this rote method of instruction leads to good performance on retention tests (i.e., solving similar problems) and poor performance on transfer tests (i.e., solving new problems). In contrast, learning by understanding involves helping students see that if they can cut off the triangle from one end of the parallelogram and place it on the other side to form a rectangle; then, they can put 1 x 1 squares over the surface of the rectangle to determine how many squares form the area. According to Wertheimer, this meaningful method of instruction leads to good retention and good transfer performance. Wertheimer claimed that rote instruction creates reproductive thinkingapplying already learned procedures to a problemwhereas meaningful instruction leads to productive thinkingadapting what was learned to new kinds of problems. Mayer and Wittrock (2006) identified instructional methods that are intended to promote meaningful learning, such as providing advance organizers that prime appropriate prior knowledge during learning, asking learners to explain aloud a text they are reading, presenting worked out examples along with commentary, or providing hints and guidance as students work on an example problem. A major goal of meaningful methods of instruction is to promote problem-solving transfer, that is, the ability to use what was learned in new situations. Wittrock (1974) referred to meaningful learning as a generative process because it requires active cognitive processing during learning.


In the previous section, instructional methods were examined that are intended to promote problem-solving transfer. However, a more direct approach is to teach people the knowledge and skills they need to be better problem solvers. Mayer (2008) identified four issues that are involved in designing a problem-solving course. What to Teach. Should problem-solving courses attempt to teach problem solving as a single, monolithic skill (e.g., a mental muscle that needs to be strengthened) or as a collection of smaller, component skills? Although conventional wisdom is that problem solving involves a single skill, research in cognitive science suggests that problem solving ability is a collection of small component skills. How to Teach. Should problem-solving courses focus on the product of problem solving (i.e., getting the right answer) or the process of problem solving (i.e., figuring out how to solve the problem)? While it makes sense that students need practice in getting the right answer (i.e., the product of problem solving), research in cognitive science suggests that students benefit from training in describing and evaluating the methods used to solve problems (i.e., the process of problem solving). For example, one technique that emphasizes the process of problem solving is modeling, in which teachers and students demonstrate their problem-solving methods.

Where to Teach. Should problem solving be taught as a general, stand-alone course or within specific domains (such as problem solving in history, in science, in mathematics, ETC.)? Although conventional wisdom is that students should be taught general skills in stand-alone courses, there is sufficient cognitive science research to propose that it would be effective to teach problem solving within the context of specific subject domains. When to Teach. Should problem solving be taught before or after students have mastered corresponding lower-levels? Although it seems to make sense that higher-order thinking skills should be taught only after lower-level skills have been mastered, there is sufficient cognitive science research to propose that it would be effective to teach higher-order skills before lowerlevel skills are mastered. In this section, three classic problem-solving courses are described that meet these four criteria and that have been subjected to rigorous research study: the Productive Thinking Program developed by Martin Covington, Richard Crutchfield, and Lillian Davies (1966), Instrumental Enrichment developed by Reuven Feuerstein (1980), and Odyssey described by Raymond Nickerson (1994). The Productive Thinking Program consisted of 15 cartoon-like booklets intended to teach thinking skills to elementary school children. Each booklet presented a detective-type storysuch a story about a bank robbery and students learned how to generate hypotheses such as who might have done itand evaluate hypotheses using information in the booklet. Child characters in the booklet modeled problem-solving methods, and adult characters offered commentary and hints. Overall, Richard Mansfield, Thomas Busse, and Ernest Krepelka (1978) reported that students who learned with the Productive Thinking Program showed greater improvements in their ability to solve similar detective-type problems as compared to students who had not received the training. In Instrumental Enrichment, students who had been identified as mentally retarded based on a traditional intelligence test were given concentrated classroom instruction in how to solve traditional intelligence test items. In a typical lesson, the teacher introduces the class to an intelligence test item; then, the class breaks down into small groups to devise ways to solve the problem; next, each group reports on its solution method to the whole class; and finally, a teacher-led discussion ensues in which students focus on describing effective methods for solving the problem. Evaluation studies reported by Feuerstein (1980) show that students who received this training on a regular basis over several years showed greater gains in non-verbal intelligence than did non-trained students. Finally, in Odyssey, middle-school students received training in how to solve intelligence test problems, using a procedure somewhat like Instrumental Enrichment, and with similar results. David Perkins and Tina Grotzer reported that the training enhanced the magnitude of students' intelligent behavior [on] authentic tasks at least in the short term (2000, p. 496). Overall, each of these courses met the criteria for what to teach (i.e., a collection of small component skills), how to teach (i.e., using modeling to focus on the process of problem solving), where to teach (i.e., teaching specific skills), and when to teach (i.e., teaching before all lower-level skills were mastered). Although none of these programs is currently popular, courses based on these four criteria are likely to be successful.

See also:Creativity, Critical Thinking, Decision Making, Learning and Teaching Mathematics, Reasoning

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Wertheimer, M. (1959). Productive thinking. New York: Harper & Row. Wittrock, M. C. (1974). Learning as a generative process. Educational Psychologist, 11, 8795.
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