… The more problem-solving students do while learning, the better they will perform in exams. Conventionally students listen then do. They’re fine at recalling knowledge, but come unstuck when the context of an exam question is different to what they were taught (aka ‘inert knowledge’).
How do you avoid inert knowledge? Students need to connect their knowledge with the different ways it can be used (aka ‘operationalising’). Experts can identify new situations as similar to ones they know how to solve. That’s because they have solved lots of problems and reflected on them. Students who do this will also become expert.
What does teaching through problem-solving mean? First, it’s a mind shift. Instead of thinking of a concept or skill as stuff to be taught, think of it as a solution to a problem (aka ‘problematising’) . After all that’s where it came from. Originally a scientist investigated a phenomenon (the problem) and invented/discovered the concept as an explanation. Learning through problem-solving means putting the concepts and skills back into that context. You start with an interesting phenomenon and then bring in the concept or skill as a way to explain it.
Do you mean project-based or problem-based learning? No! We’re not talking about open-ended enquiry. It’s heavily guided. At the early stages, the teacher is doing most of the heavy lifting, including a lot of explaining. As students’ confidence grows, they can take more responsibility for solving the problems. We’re also not talking about teaching through issues or contexts all the time. This is problem solving focussed on explaining phenomena and analysing data, which is what science is about (or should be).
So how is it different to conventional teaching? The difference is, students use their knowledge in the context of explaining and analysing right from the beginning of a unit, instead of just towards the end. They get a lot more practice, and learn to connect the knowledge with when and how to use it, avoiding the inert knowledge problem. Think computer games – which are very good at getting people to learn them. They don’t teach all the facts and later ask you to put them into practice. Level 1 is a really easy problem, and you learn the basic knowledge/skill while you solve it. Level 2 adds a complication and you learn what you need to solve that. Why not science too?
But isn’t it loads of work to create all the learning problems? Sure, it takes time and practice. That’s why we’re trying to do some of it for you in our Mastery Curriculum. When the framework is launched early in 2018, you’ll see that every unit is organised around a set of problems. They start simple to help students acquire basic knowledge. Then they become more complex so students learn to apply and analyse. As a result, students engage in the kind of thinking that will be tested at GCSE, right from Year 7. Why wouldn’t that improve their ability to use knowledge and perform better?
Agree or disagree? Please comment with your views or experiences.