Many students struggle with developing an effective method for solving problems. The aim of this blog is to discuss a problem solving model, which may prove effective for students who struggle in this area. This model should be treated as a guideline, or starting place for struggling students, as students usually possess the necessary skills to solve a problem, but lack the framework, which determines how to apply the known skills to solve the problem. The goal of this problem-solving model is to help organize a student’s thinking when approaching problems.
- Identify the information given in the problem, and information that can be inferred from the problem. This means answering the question, what do we know?
- Identify the goal of the problem, the information that we aim to determine in solving the problem. This means answering the question, what do we want to know?
- Identify a logical pathway allowing deduction of the desired, unknown information from information that is given in the problem, and information that can be inferred from the problem. This means answering the question: how can we use the information that we have to find the information that we want to find out?
Developing a Technique
Notice that this problem-solving model does not specifically describe how to solve any given problem. Rather it is a guideline that outlines a general procedure that will structure one’s thinking in a favorable way to solve a problem. The problem solver who utilizes this model still has much thinking to do, and many blanks to fill in. Further, these blanks are not always easy to fill in.
One will generally find that they have more success solving problems when they are able to identify the problem that needs solving, and the prerequisite facts that must be known. Moving along this path, one can work backwards to find each of the prerequisite facts to solve the problem, and determine how to deduce each of these facts from the given information. This process of breaking a large problem into more manageable sub-problems, and re-applying the three-step problem solving guideline to solve the sub-problems proves very effective in resolving even difficult questions.
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