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  • Problem Solving in STEM

Solving problems is a key component of many science, math, and engineering classes.  If a goal of a class is for students to emerge with the ability to solve new kinds of problems or to use new problem-solving techniques, then students need numerous opportunities to develop the skills necessary to approach and answer different types of problems.  Problem solving during section or class allows students to develop their confidence in these skills under your guidance, better preparing them to succeed on their homework and exams. This page offers advice about strategies for facilitating problem solving during class.

How do I decide which problems to cover in section or class?

In-class problem solving should reinforce the major concepts from the class and provide the opportunity for theoretical concepts to become more concrete. If students have a problem set for homework, then in-class problem solving should prepare students for the types of problems that they will see on their homework. You may wish to include some simpler problems both in the interest of time and to help students gain confidence, but it is ideal if the complexity of at least some of the in-class problems mirrors the level of difficulty of the homework. You may also want to ask your students ahead of time which skills or concepts they find confusing, and include some problems that are directly targeted to their concerns.

You have given your students a problem to solve in class. What are some strategies to work through it?

  • Try to give your students a chance to grapple with the problems as much as possible.  Offering them the chance to do the problem themselves allows them to learn from their mistakes in the presence of your expertise as their teacher. (If time is limited, they may not be able to get all the way through multi-step problems, in which case it can help to prioritize giving them a chance to tackle the most challenging steps.)
  • When you do want to teach by solving the problem yourself at the board, talk through the logic of how you choose to apply certain approaches to solve certain problems.  This way you can externalize the type of thinking you hope your students internalize when they solve similar problems themselves.
  • Start by setting up the problem on the board (e.g you might write down key variables and equations; draw a figure illustrating the question).  Ask students to start solving the problem, either independently or in small groups.  As they are working on the problem, walk around to hear what they are saying and see what they are writing down. If several students seem stuck, it might be a good to collect the whole class again to clarify any confusion.  After students have made progress, bring the everyone back together and have students guide you as to what to write on the board.
  • It can help to first ask students to work on the problem by themselves for a minute, and then get into small groups to work on the problem collaboratively.
  • If you have ample board space, have students work in small groups at the board while solving the problem.  That way you can monitor their progress by standing back and watching what they put up on the board.
  • If you have several problems you would like to have the students practice, but not enough time for everyone to do all of them, you can assign different groups of students to work on different – but related - problems.

When do you want students to work in groups to solve problems?

  • Don’t ask students to work in groups for straightforward problems that most students could solve independently in a short amount of time.
  • Do have students work in groups for thought-provoking problems, where students will benefit from meaningful collaboration.
  • Even in cases where you plan to have students work in groups, it can be useful to give students some time to work on their own before collaborating with others.  This ensures that every student engages with the problem and is ready to contribute to a discussion.

What are some benefits of having students work in groups?

  • Students bring different strengths, different knowledge, and different ideas for how to solve a problem; collaboration can help students work through problems that are more challenging than they might be able to tackle on their own.
  • In working in a group, students might consider multiple ways to approach a problem, thus enriching their repertoire of strategies.
  • Students who think they understand the material will gain a deeper understanding by explaining concepts to their peers.

What are some strategies for helping students to form groups?  

  • Instruct students to work with the person (or people) sitting next to them.
  • Count off.  (e.g. 1, 2, 3, 4; all the 1’s find each other and form a group, etc)
  • Hand out playing cards; students need to find the person with the same number card. (There are many variants to this.  For example, you can print pictures of images that go together [rain and umbrella]; each person gets a card and needs to find their partner[s].)
  • Based on what you know about the students, assign groups in advance. List the groups on the board.
  • Note: Always have students take the time to introduce themselves to each other in a new group.

What should you do while your students are working on problems?

  • Walk around and talk to students. Observing their work gives you a sense of what people understand and what they are struggling with. Answer students’ questions, and ask them questions that lead in a productive direction if they are stuck.
  • If you discover that many people have the same question—or that someone has a misunderstanding that others might have—you might stop everyone and discuss a key idea with the entire class.

After students work on a problem during class, what are strategies to have them share their answers and their thinking?

  • Ask for volunteers to share answers. Depending on the nature of the problem, student might provide answers verbally or by writing on the board. As a variant, for questions where a variety of answers are relevant, ask for at least three volunteers before anyone shares their ideas.
  • Use online polling software for students to respond to a multiple-choice question anonymously.
  • If students are working in groups, assign reporters ahead of time. For example, the person with the next birthday could be responsible for sharing their group’s work with the class.
  • Cold call. To reduce student anxiety about cold calling, it can help to identify students who seem to have the correct answer as you were walking around the class and checking in on their progress solving the assigned problem. You may even want to warn the student ahead of time: "This is a great answer! Do you mind if I call on you when we come back together as a class?"
  • Have students write an answer on a notecard that they turn in to you.  If your goal is to understand whether students in general solved a problem correctly, the notecards could be submitted anonymously; if you wish to assess individual students’ work, you would want to ask students to put their names on their notecard.  
  • Use a jigsaw strategy, where you rearrange groups such that each new group is comprised of people who came from different initial groups and had solved different problems.  Students now are responsible for teaching the other students in their new group how to solve their problem.
  • Have a representative from each group explain their problem to the class.
  • Have a representative from each group draw or write the answer on the board.

What happens if a student gives a wrong answer?

  • Ask for their reasoning so that you can understand where they went wrong.
  • Ask if anyone else has other ideas. You can also ask this sometimes when an answer is right.
  • Cultivate an environment where it’s okay to be wrong. Emphasize that you are all learning together, and that you learn through making mistakes.
  • Do make sure that you clarify what the correct answer is before moving on.
  • Once the correct answer is given, go through some answer-checking techniques that can distinguish between correct and incorrect answers. This can help prepare students to verify their future work.

How can you make your classroom inclusive?

  • The goal is that everyone is thinking, talking, and sharing their ideas, and that everyone feels valued and respected. Use a variety of teaching strategies (independent work and group work; allow students to talk to each other before they talk to the class). Create an environment where it is normal to struggle and make mistakes.
  • See Kimberly Tanner’s article on strategies to promoste student engagement and cultivate classroom equity. 

A few final notes…

  • Make sure that you have worked all of the problems and also thought about alternative approaches to solving them.
  • Board work matters. You should have a plan beforehand of what you will write on the board, where, when, what needs to be added, and what can be erased when. If students are going to write their answers on the board, you need to also have a plan for making sure that everyone gets to the correct answer. Students will copy what is on the board and use it as their notes for later study, so correct and logical information must be written there.

For more information...

Tipsheet: Problem Solving in STEM Sections

Tanner, K. D. (2013). Structure matters: twenty-one teaching strategies to promote student engagement and cultivate classroom equity . CBE-Life Sciences Education, 12(3), 322-331.

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A Problem-Solving Experiment

Using Beer’s Law to Find the Concentration of Tartrazine

The Science Teacher—January/February 2022 (Volume 89, Issue 3)

By Kevin Mason, Steve Schieffer, Tara Rose, and Greg Matthias

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A Problem-Solving Experiment

A problem-solving experiment is a learning activity that uses experimental design to solve an authentic problem. It combines two evidence-based teaching strategies: problem-based learning and inquiry-based learning. The use of problem-based learning and scientific inquiry as an effective pedagogical tool in the science classroom has been well established and strongly supported by research ( Akinoglu and Tandogan 2007 ; Areepattamannil 2012 ; Furtak, Seidel, and Iverson 2012 ; Inel and Balim 2010 ; Merritt et al. 2017 ; Panasan and Nuangchalerm 2010 ; Wilson, Taylor, and Kowalski 2010 ).

Floyd James Rutherford, the founder of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Project 2061 once stated, “To separate conceptually scientific content from scientific inquiry,” he underscored, “is to make it highly probable that the student will properly understand neither” (1964, p. 84). A more recent study using randomized control trials showed that teachers that used an inquiry and problem-based pedagogy for seven months improved student performance in math and science ( Bando, Nashlund-Hadley, and Gertler 2019 ). A problem-solving experiment uses problem-based learning by posing an authentic or meaningful problem for students to solve and inquiry-based learning by requiring students to design an experiment to collect and analyze data to solve the problem.

In the problem-solving experiment described in this article, students used Beer’s Law to collect and analyze data to determine if a person consumed a hazardous amount of tartrazine (Yellow Dye #5) for their body weight. The students used their knowledge of solutions, molarity, dilutions, and Beer’s Law to design their own experiment and calculate the amount of tartrazine in a yellow sports drink (or citrus-flavored soda).

According to the Next Generation Science Standards, energy is defined as “a quantitative property of a system that depends on the motion and interactions of matter and radiation with that system” ( NGSS Lead States 2013 ). Interactions of matter and radiation can be some of the most challenging for students to observe, investigate, and conceptually understand. As a result, students need opportunities to observe and investigate the interactions of matter and radiation. Light is one example of radiation that interacts with matter.

Light is electromagnetic radiation that is detectable to the human eye and exhibits properties of both a wave and a particle. When light interacts with matter, light can be reflected at the surface, absorbed by the matter, or transmitted through the matter ( Figure 1 ). When a single beam of light enters a substance at a perpendicularly (at a 90 ° angle to the surface), the amount of reflection is minimal. Therefore, the light will either be absorbed by the substance or be transmitted through the substance. When a given wavelength of light shines into a solution, the amount of light that is absorbed will depend on the identity of the substance, the thickness of the container, and the concentration of the solution.

Light interacting with matter.  (Retrieved from https://etorgerson.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/light-reflect-refract-absorb-label.jpg).

Light interacting with matter.

(Retrieved from https://etorgerson.files.wordpress.com/2011/05/light-reflect-refract-absorb-label.jpg ).

Beer’s Law states the amount of light absorbed is directly proportional to the thickness and concentration of a solution. Beer’s Law is also sometimes known as the Beer-Lambert Law. A solution of a higher concentration will absorb more light and transmit less light ( Figure 2 ). Similarly, if the solution is placed in a thicker container that requires the light to pass through a greater distance, then the solution will absorb more light and transmit less light.

Figure 2 Light transmitted through a solution.  (Retrieved from https://media.springernature.com/original/springer-static/image/chp%3A10.1007%2F978-3-319-57330-4_13/MediaObjects/432946_1_En_13_Fig4_HTML.jpg).

Light transmitted through a solution.

(Retrieved from https://media.springernature.com/original/springer-static/image/chp%3A10.1007%2F978-3-319-57330-4_13/MediaObjects/432946_1_En_13_Fig4_HTML.jpg ).

Definitions of key terms.

Absorbance (A) – the process of light energy being captured by a substance

Beer’s Law (Beer-Lambert Law) – the absorbance (A) of light is directly proportional to the molar absorptivity (ε), thickness (b), and concentration (C) of the solution (A = εbC)

Concentration (C) – the amount of solute dissolved per amount of solution

Cuvette – a container used to hold a sample to be tested in a spectrophotometer

Energy (E) – a quantitative property of a system that depends on motion and interactions of matter and radiation with that system (NGSS Lead States 2013).

Intensity (I) – the amount or brightness of light

Light – electromagnetic radiation that is detectable to the human eye and exhibits properties of both a wave and a particle

Molar Absorptivity (ε) – a property that represents the amount of light absorbed by a given substance per molarity of the solution and per centimeter of thickness (M-1 cm-1)

Molarity (M) – the number of moles of solute per liters of solution (Mol/L)

Reflection – the process of light energy bouncing off the surface of a substance

Spectrophotometer – a device used to measure the absorbance of light by a substance

Tartrazine – widely used food and liquid dye

Transmittance (T) – the process of light energy passing through a substance

The amount of light absorbed by a solution can be measured using a spectrophotometer. The solution of a given concentration is placed in a small container called a cuvette. The cuvette has a known thickness that can be held constant during the experiment. It is also possible to obtain cuvettes of different thicknesses to study the effect of thickness on the absorption of light. The key definitions of the terms related to Beer’s Law and the learning activity presented in this article are provided in Figure 3 .

Overview of the problem-solving experiment

In the problem presented to students, a 140-pound athlete drinks two bottles of yellow sports drink every day ( Figure 4 ; see Online Connections). When she starts to notice a rash on her skin, she reads the label of the sports drink and notices that it contains a yellow dye known as tartrazine. While tartrazine is safe to drink, it may produce some potential side effects in large amounts, including rashes, hives, or swelling. The students must design an experiment to determine the concentration of tartrazine in the yellow sports drink and the number of milligrams of tartrazine in two bottles of the sports drink.

While a sports drink may have many ingredients, the vast majority of ingredients—such as sugar or electrolytes—are colorless when dissolved in water solution. The dyes added to the sports drink are responsible for the color of the sports drink. Food manufacturers may use different dyes to color sports drinks to the desired color. Red dye #40 (allura red), blue dye #1 (brilliant blue), yellow dye #5 (tartrazine), and yellow dye #6 (sunset yellow) are the four most common dyes or colorants in sports drinks and many other commercial food products ( Stevens et al. 2015 ). The concentration of the dye in the sports drink affects the amount of light absorbed.

In this problem-solving experiment, the students used the previously studied concept of Beer’s Law—using serial dilutions and absorbance—to find the concentration (molarity) of tartrazine in the sports drink. Based on the evidence, the students then determined if the person had exceeded the maximum recommended daily allowance of tartrazine, given in mg/kg of body mass. The learning targets for this problem-solving experiment are shown in Figure 5 (see Online Connections).

Pre-laboratory experiences

A problem-solving experiment is a form of guided inquiry, which will generally require some prerequisite knowledge and experience. In this activity, the students needed prior knowledge and experience with Beer’s Law and the techniques in using Beer’s Law to determine an unknown concentration. Prior to the activity, students learned how Beer’s Law is used to relate absorbance to concentration as well as how to use the equation M 1 V 1 = M 2 V 2 to determine concentrations of dilutions. The students had a general understanding of molarity and using dimensional analysis to change units in measurements.

The techniques for using Beer’s Law were introduced in part through a laboratory experiment using various concentrations of copper sulfate. A known concentration of copper sulfate was provided and the students followed a procedure to prepare dilutions. Students learned the technique for choosing the wavelength that provided the maximum absorbance for the solution to be tested ( λ max ), which is important for Beer’s Law to create a linear relationship between absorbance and solution concentration. Students graphed the absorbance of each concentration in a spreadsheet as a scatterplot and added a linear trend line. Through class discussion, the teacher checked for understanding in using the equation of the line to determine the concentration of an unknown copper sulfate solution.

After the students graphed the data, they discussed how the R2 value related to the data set used to construct the graph. After completing this experiment, the students were comfortable making dilutions from a stock solution, calculating concentrations, and using the spectrophotometer to use Beer’s Law to determine an unknown concentration.

Introducing the problem

After the initial experiment on Beer’s Law, the problem-solving experiment was introduced. The problem presented to students is shown in Figure 4 (see Online Connections). A problem-solving experiment provides students with a valuable opportunity to collaborate with other students in designing an experiment and solving a problem. For this activity, the students were assigned to heterogeneous or mixed-ability laboratory groups. Groups should be diversified based on gender; research has shown that gender diversity among groups improves academic performance, while racial diversity has no significant effect ( Hansen, Owan, and Pan 2015 ). It is also important to support students with special needs when assigning groups. The mixed-ability groups were assigned intentionally to place students with special needs with a peer who has the academic ability and disposition to provide support. In addition, some students may need additional accommodations or modifications for this learning activity, such as an outlined lab report, a shortened lab report format, or extended time to complete the analysis. All students were required to wear chemical-splash goggles and gloves, and use caution when handling solutions and glass apparatuses.

Designing the experiment

During this activity, students worked in lab groups to design their own experiment to solve a problem. The teacher used small-group and whole-class discussions to help students understand the problem. Students discussed what information was provided and what they need to know and do to solve the problem. In planning the experiment, the teacher did not provide a procedure and intentionally provided only minimal support to the students as needed. The students designed their own experimental procedure, which encouraged critical thinking and problem solving. The students needed to be allowed to struggle to some extent. The teacher provided some direction and guidance by posing questions for students to consider and answer for themselves. Students were also frequently reminded to review their notes and the previous experiment on Beer’s Law to help them better use their resources to solve the problem. The use of heterogeneous or mixed-ability groups also helped each group be more self-sufficient and successful in designing and conducting the experiment.

Students created a procedure for their experiment with the teacher providing suggestions or posing questions to enhance the experimental design, if needed. Safety was addressed during this consultation to correct safety concerns in the experimental design or provide safety precautions for the experiment. Students needed to wear splash-proof goggles and gloves throughout the experiment. In a few cases, students realized some opportunities to improve their experimental design during the experiment. This was allowed with the teacher’s approval, and the changes to the procedure were documented for the final lab report.

Conducting the experiment

A sample of the sports drink and a stock solution of 0.01 M stock solution of tartrazine were provided to the students. There are many choices of sports drinks available, but it is recommended that the ingredients are checked to verify that tartrazine (yellow dye #5) is the only colorant added. This will prevent other colorants from affecting the spectroscopy results in the experiment. A citrus-flavored soda could also be used as an alternative because many sodas have tartrazine added as well. It is important to note that tartrazine is considered safe to drink, but it may produce some potential side effects in large amounts, including rashes, hives, or swelling. A list of the materials needed for this problem-solving experiment is shown in Figure 6 (see Online Connections).

This problem-solving experiment required students to create dilutions of known concentrations of tartrazine as a reference to determine the unknown concentration of tartrazine in a sports drink. To create the dilutions, the students were provided with a 0.01 M stock solution of tartrazine. The teacher purchased powdered tartrazine, available from numerous vendors, to create the stock solution. The 0.01 M stock solution was prepared by weighing 0.534 g of tartrazine and dissolving it in enough distilled water to make a 100 ml solution. Yellow food coloring could be used as an alternative, but it would take some research to determine its concentration. Since students have previously explored the experimental techniques, they should know to prepare dilutions that are somewhat darker and somewhat lighter in color than the yellow sports drink sample. Students should use five dilutions for best results.

Typically, a good range for the yellow sports drink is standard dilutions ranging from 1 × 10-3 M to 1 × 10-5 M. The teacher may need to caution the students that if a dilution is too dark, it will not yield good results and lower the R2 value. Students that used very dark dilutions often realized that eliminating that data point created a better linear trendline, as long as it didn’t reduce the number of data points to fewer than four data points. Some students even tried to use the 0.01 M stock solution without any dilution. This was much too dark. The students needed to do substantial dilutions to get the solutions in the range of the sports drink.

After the dilutions are created, the absorbance of each dilution was measured using a spectrophotometer. A Vernier SpectroVis (~$400) spectrophotometer was used to measure the absorbance of the prepared dilutions with known concentrations. The students adjusted the spectrophotometer to use different wavelengths of light and selected the wavelength with the highest absorbance reading. The same wavelength was then used for each measurement of absorbance. A wavelength of 650 nanometers (nm) provided an accurate measurement and good linear relationship. After measuring the absorbance of the dilutions of known concentrations, the students measured the absorbance of the sports drink with an unknown concentration of tartrazine using the spectrophotometer at the same wavelength. If a spectrophotometer is not available, a color comparison can be used as a low-cost alternative for completing this problem-solving experiment ( Figure 7 ; see Online Connections).

Analyzing the results

After completing the experiment, the students graphed the absorbance and known tartrazine concentrations of the dilutions on a scatter-plot to create a linear trendline. In this experiment, absorbance was the dependent variable, which should be graphed on the y -axis. Some students mistakenly reversed the axes on the scatter-plot. Next, the students used the graph to find the equation for the line. Then, the students solve for the unknown concentration (molarity) of tartrazine in the sports drink given the linear equation and the absorbance of the sports drink measured experimentally.

To answer the question posed in the problem, the students also calculated the maximum amount of tartrazine that could be safely consumed by a 140 lb. person, using the information given in the problem. A common error in solving the problem was not converting the units of volume given in the problem from ounces to liters. With the molarity and volume in liters, the students then calculated the mass of tartrazine consumed per day in milligrams. A sample of the graph and calculations from one student group are shown in Figure 8 . Finally, based on their calculations, the students answered the question posed in the original problem and determined if the person’s daily consumption of tartrazine exceeded the threshold for safe consumption. In this case, the students concluded that the person did NOT consume more than the allowable daily limit of tartrazine.

Sample graph and calculations from a student group.

Sample graph and calculations from a student group.

Communicating the results

After conducting the experiment, students reported their results in a written laboratory report that included the following sections: title, purpose, introduction, hypothesis, materials and methods, data and calculations, conclusion, and discussion. The laboratory report was assessed using the scoring rubric shown in Figure 9 (see Online Connections). In general, the students did very well on this problem-solving experiment. Students typically scored a three or higher on each criteria of the rubric. Throughout the activity, the students successfully demonstrated their ability to design an experiment, collect data, perform calculations, solve a problem, and effectively communicate those results.

This activity is authentic problem-based learning in science as the true concentration of tartrazine in the sports drink was not provided by the teacher or known by the students. The students were generally somewhat biased as they assumed the experiment would result in exceeding the recommended maximum consumption of tartrazine. Some students struggled with reporting that the recommended limit was far higher than the two sports drinks consumed by the person each day. This allows for a great discussion about the use of scientific methods and evidence to provide unbiased answers to meaningful questions and problems.

The most common errors in this problem-solving experiment were calculation errors, with the most common being calculating the concentrations of the dilutions (perhaps due to the use of very small concentrations). There were also several common errors in communicating the results in the laboratory report. In some cases, students did not provide enough background information in the introduction of the report. When the students communicated the results, some students also failed to reference specific data from the experiment. Finally, in the discussion section, some students expressed concern or doubts in the results, not because there was an obvious error, but because they did not believe the level consumed could be so much less than the recommended consumption limit of tartrazine.

The scientific study and investigation of energy and matter are salient topics addressed in the Next Generation Science Standards ( Figure 10 ; see Online Connections). In a chemistry classroom, students should have multiple opportunities to observe and investigate the interaction of energy and matter. In this problem-solving experiment students used Beer’s Law to collect and analyze data to determine if a person consumed an amount of tartrazine that exceeded the maximum recommended daily allowance. The students correctly concluded that the person in the problem did not consume more than the recommended daily amount of tartrazine for their body weight.

In this activity students learned to work collaboratively to design an experiment, collect and analyze data, and solve a problem. These skills extend beyond any one science subject or class. Through this activity, students had the opportunity to do real-world science to solve a problem without a previously known result. The process of designing an experiment may be difficult for some students that are often accustomed to being given an experimental procedure in their previous science classroom experiences. However, because students sometimes struggled to design their own experiment and perform the calculations, students also learned to persevere in collecting and analyzing data to solve a problem, which is a valuable life lesson for all students. ■

Online Connections

The Beer-Lambert Law at Chemistry LibreTexts: https://bit.ly/3lNpPEi

Beer’s Law – Theoretical Principles: https://teaching.shu.ac.uk/hwb/chemistry/tutorials/molspec/beers1.htm

Beer’s Law at Illustrated Glossary of Organic Chemistry: http://www.chem.ucla.edu/~harding/IGOC/B/beers_law.html

Beer Lambert Law at Edinburgh Instruments: https://www.edinst.com/blog/the-beer-lambert-law/

Beer’s Law Lab at PhET Interactive Simulations: https://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/beers-law-lab

Figure 4. Problem-solving experiment problem statement: https://bit.ly/3pAYHtj

Figure 5. Learning targets: https://bit.ly/307BHtb

Figure 6. Materials list: https://bit.ly/308a57h

Figure 7. The use of color comparison as a low-cost alternative: https://bit.ly/3du1uyO

Figure 9. Summative performance-based assessment rubric: https://bit.ly/31KoZRj

Figure 10. Connecting to the Next Generation Science Standards : https://bit.ly/3GlJnY0

Kevin Mason ( [email protected] ) is Professor of Education at the University of Wisconsin–Stout, Menomonie, WI; Steve Schieffer is a chemistry teacher at Amery High School, Amery, WI; Tara Rose is a chemistry teacher at Amery High School, Amery, WI; and Greg Matthias is Assistant Professor of Education at the University of Wisconsin–Stout, Menomonie, WI.

Akinoglu, O., and R. Tandogan. 2007. The effects of problem-based active learning in science education on students’ academic achievement, attitude and concept learning. Eurasia Journal of Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education 3 (1): 77–81.

Areepattamannil, S. 2012. Effects of inquiry-based science instruction on science achievement and interest in science: Evidence from Qatar. The Journal of Educational Research 105 (2): 134–146.

Bando R., E. Nashlund-Hadley, and P. Gertler. 2019. Effect of inquiry and problem-based pedagogy on learning: Evidence from 10 field experiments in four countries. The National Bureau of Economic Research 26280.

Furtak, E., T. Seidel, and H. Iverson. 2012. Experimental and quasi-experimental studies of inquiry-based science teaching: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research 82 (3): 300–329.

Hansen, Z., H. Owan, and J. Pan. 2015. The impact of group diversity on class performance. Education Economics 23 (2): 238–258.

Inel, D., and A. Balim. 2010. The effects of using problem-based learning in science and technology teaching upon students’ academic achievement and levels of structuring concepts. Pacific Forum on Science Learning and Teaching 11 (2): 1–23.

Merritt, J., M. Lee, P. Rillero, and B. Kinach. 2017. Problem-based learning in K–8 mathematics and science education: A literature review. The Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning 11 (2).

NGSS Lead States. 2013. Next Generation Science Standards: For states, by states. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Panasan, M., and P. Nuangchalerm. 2010. Learning outcomes of project-based and inquiry-based learning activities. Journal of Social Sciences 6 (2): 252–255.

Rutherford, F.J. 1964. The role of inquiry in science teaching. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 2 (2): 80–84.

Stevens, L.J., J.R. Burgess, M.A. Stochelski, and T. Kuczek. 2015. Amounts of artificial food dyes and added sugars in foods and sweets commonly consumed by children. Clinical Pediatrics 54 (4): 309–321.

Wilson, C., J. Taylor, and S. Kowalski. 2010. The relative effects and equity of inquiry-based and commonplace science teaching on students’ knowledge, reasoning, and argumentation. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 47 (3): 276–301.

Chemistry Crosscutting Concepts Curriculum Disciplinary Core Ideas General Science Inquiry Instructional Materials Labs Lesson Plans Mathematics NGSS Pedagogy Science and Engineering Practices STEM Teaching Strategies Technology Three-Dimensional Learning High School

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7 Science Fair Projects that Solve Problems

  • August 5, 2023

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Science fair projects that solve problems are a great way for students to test their interest and aptitude for a career in STEM (science-technology-engineering-math). But they shouldn’t choose just any old topic. To make the most of the opportunity, try to focus on projects with real-world applications. This will give them hands-on experience directly related to a good-paying job field, like  engineering .

With planning and hard work, the right science fair project might bump up a student’s chances for a scholarship or a trip to one of the science competitions sponsored by the Society for Science .

Do your students need help sketching the experimental set-up for a science fair presentation? Check out these resources:
  • No-Prep Worksheets – How to Draw like an Engineer and Isometric Drawing
  • 3D Isometric Drawing and Design for Middle School
  • My Engineering Draw & Write Journal for Kids : 48 Fun Drawing and Writing Prompts to Learn about the Engineering Design Process.

Don’t get me wrong — creating foaming volcanoes or diagramming the human circulatory system are fun and classic ideas for a science fair project. But unless your student plans to go to med school or major in geology, these typical projects won’t do much to advance his or her future career. Far more practical engineering jobs will be available in the 21st century.

In this post you’ll find seven problem-solving science fair projects gleaned from the Education.com website. They provide simple, but realistic, introductions to real-world careers in electronics, robotics & automation, and construction engineering.

For more help with choosing a science fair topic, setting up your experiment, collecting and analyzing the data, and presenting your results, visit NASA’s video page on How to do a Science Fair Project .

Solving problems in Smart Technology

Consider the hottest topic in industry today – Smart Manufacturing, or Industry 4.0, sometimes called the Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT). Industry 4.0 is just one facet of the global push towards Smart Cities, Smart Homes, and Smart Agriculture.

All these concepts center on wireless connectivity between machines using cellular networks. So, for Smart Homes, this means your utilities, fridge, lights, security, HVAC, and other systems would be connected through an app on your smartphone. From there you can track and control these systems to keep your home safe and comfortable, while reducing water and energy use.

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For Industry 4.0, companies are connecting the machines used in their manufacturing and power generation plants at different locations around the world. On top of that, they are creating “digital twins” of each machine, which are 3D animated computer models of the machines.

The idea is to collect real-time data from each machine and then use that data, along with artificial intelligence (AI), machine vision, and even virtual reality simulations, to:

  • Design new products
  • Predict when a machine will need maintenance BEFORE something goes wrong
  • Optimize the output of the machines and harmonize them to work together

Solving problems in Robotics

Another major topic in industry is  robotics and automation . Automation means that machines are programmed to perform tasks without human help. Some robots are standalone, “service” robots, like the Roomba. Others, like robotic arms in factories and warehouses, pick and place items to be processed.

The more human-friendly “collaborative” robots can improve human capacity and are safe to work around. Put together, these technologies allow some manufacturing plants to run “lights out,” without any human input for days.

Real-world science fair projects help students with real-world careers in STEM

Robots are boosting agriculture, both in planting and harvesting fields and in packaging food. With Smart Agriculture technology, farmers collect data in their fields with mobile apps applying artificial intelligence (AI) software to reduce fertilizer needs and optimize water use.

Help students sketch their experimental set-up for science fair presentations with these resources: No-Prep Worksheets – How to Draw like an Engineer and Isometric Drawing 3D Isometric Drawing and Design for Middle School My Engineering Draw & Write Journal for Kids : 48 Fun Drawing and Writing Prompts to Learn about the Engineering Design Process.

Solving Engineering Problems

Most science fair projects on the internet seem to focus on the basic sciences, like biology and chemistry. But in light of the skills gap we are now experiencing between the available job force and manufacturing industry requirements, I believe engineering-focused science fair projects that solve problems in Industry 4.0, robotics, automation, and construction may be better choices for building up tomorrow’s workforce.

Here are 7 science fair project ideas that focus on solving problems:

1. cell phone dead zones science fair project.

https://www.education.com/science-fair/article/cell-phone-dead-zones/

Students learn how wireless networks work, find dead zones where wireless signals are lost, and determine ways to reduce these zones – important preparation for students who hope to work on Smart Homes, Smart Factories, Smart Cities, or Smart Agriculture.

2. App development science fair project

https://www.education.com/science-fair/article/iphone-application-design/

An app on a phone or tablet can be an interactive game, a navigational device, a business software package, or just about anything else you can imagine. This project allows you to get a head start in the growing app design field by designing your own app for popular smartphones.

3. Smoke detector science fair project

https://www.education.com/science-fair/article/smoke-detectors-working/?source=related_materials&order=2

Sensors of all kinds solve problems for smart technologies and robotics engineering. Sensors can detect motion, gases, light, heat, and other changes in the environment to allow robots to avoid collisions or Smart Homes to detect a fire, for example. This project compares the effectiveness of two types of sensors in a smoke detector.

4. Faraday’s experiment science fair project

https://www.education.com/science-fair/article/faraday-experiment-current-generated-magnet/

Electric currents create their own magnetic fields, and the movement of magnets induces , or creates, current in a wire. Motors and generators use magnetic movement to create current and send electricity to do useful work to power machines. In this lab, you will recreate Michael Faraday’s famous experiment by building a solenoid  (a coil of wire) and experiment with moving magnets to produce current.

5 & 6. EMFs science fair projects

https://www.education.com/science-fair/article/smart-card-electromagnetic-fields/

https://www.education.com/science-fair/article/EMF-affect-us/

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is an electronic technology used in credit cards, ID Cards, and theft prevention systems, as well as in manufacturing, warehousing and shipping products. The first project measures the electromagnetic fields (EMFs) given off by various RFID transmitters, which may have harmful effects on people. The second project looks directly at how EMFs can affect us physically.

7. Rust prevention science fair project

https://www.education.com/science-fair/article/bust-that-rust/

Metals rust, and that can be a big problem when it comes to bridges, buildings, cars, and any object exposed to air and water. This project examines the process of oxidation (not just rust) that ultimately breaks down every physical object and looks at ways to prevent that from happening.

For more problem-solving science fair project ideas, follow the STEM-Inspirations Science Fair Projects board on Pinterest.

Copyright © 2017-2021 by Holly B. Martin

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problem solving in science example

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Biology library

Course: biology library   >   unit 1, the scientific method.

  • Controlled experiments
  • The scientific method and experimental design

Introduction

  • Make an observation.
  • Ask a question.
  • Form a hypothesis , or testable explanation.
  • Make a prediction based on the hypothesis.
  • Test the prediction.
  • Iterate: use the results to make new hypotheses or predictions.

Scientific method example: Failure to toast

1. make an observation..

  • Observation: the toaster won't toast.

2. Ask a question.

  • Question: Why won't my toaster toast?

3. Propose a hypothesis.

  • Hypothesis: Maybe the outlet is broken.

4. Make predictions.

  • Prediction: If I plug the toaster into a different outlet, then it will toast the bread.

5. Test the predictions.

  • Test of prediction: Plug the toaster into a different outlet and try again.
  • If the toaster does toast, then the hypothesis is supported—likely correct.
  • If the toaster doesn't toast, then the hypothesis is not supported—likely wrong.

Logical possibility

Practical possibility, building a body of evidence, 6. iterate..

  • Iteration time!
  • If the hypothesis was supported, we might do additional tests to confirm it, or revise it to be more specific. For instance, we might investigate why the outlet is broken.
  • If the hypothesis was not supported, we would come up with a new hypothesis. For instance, the next hypothesis might be that there's a broken wire in the toaster.

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Chemistry LibreTexts

1.2: Scientific Approach for Solving Problems

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Learning Objectives

  • To identify the components of the scientific method

Scientists search for answers to questions and solutions to problems by using a procedure called the scientific method . This procedure consists of making observations, formulating hypotheses, and designing experiments, which in turn lead to additional observations, hypotheses, and experiments in repeated cycles (Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\)).

imageedit_2_5896776795.jpg

Observations can be qualitative or quantitative. Qualitative observations describe properties or occurrences in ways that do not rely on numbers. Examples of qualitative observations include the following: the outside air temperature is cooler during the winter season, table salt is a crystalline solid, sulfur crystals are yellow, and dissolving a penny in dilute nitric acid forms a blue solution and a brown gas. Quantitative observations are measurements, which by definition consist of both a number and a unit. Examples of quantitative observations include the following: the melting point of crystalline sulfur is 115.21 °C, and 35.9 grams of table salt—whose chemical name is sodium chloride—dissolve in 100 grams of water at 20 °C. An example of a quantitative observation was the initial observation leading to the modern theory of the dinosaurs’ extinction: iridium concentrations in sediments dating to 66 million years ago were found to be 20–160 times higher than normal. The development of this theory is a good exemplar of the scientific method in action (see Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\) below).

After deciding to learn more about an observation or a set of observations, scientists generally begin an investigation by forming a hypothesis , a tentative explanation for the observation(s). The hypothesis may not be correct, but it puts the scientist’s understanding of the system being studied into a form that can be tested. For example, the observation that we experience alternating periods of light and darkness corresponding to observed movements of the sun, moon, clouds, and shadows is consistent with either of two hypotheses:

  • Earth rotates on its axis every 24 hours, alternately exposing one side to the sun, or
  • The sun revolves around Earth every 24 hours.

Suitable experiments can be designed to choose between these two alternatives. For the disappearance of the dinosaurs, the hypothesis was that the impact of a large extraterrestrial object caused their extinction. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), this hypothesis does not lend itself to direct testing by any obvious experiment, but scientists collected additional data that either support or refute it.

After a hypothesis has been formed, scientists conduct experiments to test its validity. Experiments are systematic observations or measurements, preferably made under controlled conditions—that is, under conditions in which a single variable changes. For example, in the dinosaur extinction scenario, iridium concentrations were measured worldwide and compared. A properly designed and executed experiment enables a scientist to determine whether the original hypothesis is valid. Experiments often demonstrate that the hypothesis is incorrect or that it must be modified. More experimental data are then collected and analyzed, at which point a scientist may begin to think that the results are sufficiently reproducible (i.e., dependable) to merit being summarized in a law , a verbal or mathematical description of a phenomenon that allows for general predictions. A law simply says what happens; it does not address the question of why.

One example of a law, the Law of Definite Proportions , which was discovered by the French scientist Joseph Proust (1754–1826), states that a chemical substance always contains the same proportions of elements by mass. Thus sodium chloride (table salt) always contains the same proportion by mass of sodium to chlorine, in this case 39.34% sodium and 60.66% chlorine by mass, and sucrose (table sugar) is always 42.11% carbon, 6.48% hydrogen, and 51.41% oxygen by mass. Some solid compounds do not strictly obey the law of definite proportions. The law of definite proportions should seem obvious—we would expect the composition of sodium chloride to be consistent—but the head of the US Patent Office did not accept it as a fact until the early 20th century.

Whereas a law states only what happens, a theory attempts to explain why nature behaves as it does. Laws are unlikely to change greatly over time unless a major experimental error is discovered. In contrast, a theory, by definition, is incomplete and imperfect, evolving with time to explain new facts as they are discovered. The theory developed to explain the extinction of the dinosaurs, for example, is that Earth occasionally encounters small- to medium-sized asteroids, and these encounters may have unfortunate implications for the continued existence of most species. This theory is by no means proven, but it is consistent with the bulk of evidence amassed to date. Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\) summarizes the application of the scientific method in this case.

imageedit_8_3393569312.jpg

Example \(\PageIndex{1}\)

Classify each statement as a law, a theory, an experiment, a hypothesis, a qualitative observation, or a quantitative observation.

  • Ice always floats on liquid water.
  • Birds evolved from dinosaurs.
  • Hot air is less dense than cold air, probably because the components of hot air are moving more rapidly.
  • When 10 g of ice were added to 100 mL of water at 25 °C, the temperature of the water decreased to 15.5 °C after the ice melted.
  • The ingredients of Ivory soap were analyzed to see whether it really is 99.44% pure, as advertised.

Given : components of the scientific method

Asked for : statement classification

Strategy: Refer to the definitions in this section to determine which category best describes each statement.

  • This is a general statement of a relationship between the properties of liquid and solid water, so it is a law.
  • This is a possible explanation for the origin of birds, so it is a hypothesis.
  • This is a statement that tries to explain the relationship between the temperature and the density of air based on fundamental principles, so it is a theory.
  • The temperature is measured before and after a change is made in a system, so these are quantitative observations.
  • This is an analysis designed to test a hypothesis (in this case, the manufacturer’s claim of purity), so it is an experiment.

Exercise \(\PageIndex{1}\)

  • Measured amounts of acid were added to a Rolaids tablet to see whether it really “consumes 47 times its weight in excess stomach acid.”
  • Heat always flows from hot objects to cooler ones, not in the opposite direction.
  • The universe was formed by a massive explosion that propelled matter into a vacuum.
  • Michael Jordan is the greatest pure shooter ever to play professional basketball.
  • Limestone is relatively insoluble in water but dissolves readily in dilute acid with the evolution of a gas.
  • Gas mixtures that contain more than 4% hydrogen in air are potentially explosive.

qualitative observation

quantitative observation

Because scientists can enter the cycle shown in Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\) at any point, the actual application of the scientific method to different topics can take many different forms. For example, a scientist may start with a hypothesis formed by reading about work done by others in the field, rather than by making direct observations.

It is important to remember that scientists have a tendency to formulate hypotheses in familiar terms simply because it is difficult to propose something that has never been encountered or imagined before. As a result, scientists sometimes discount or overlook unexpected findings that disagree with the basic assumptions behind the hypothesis or theory being tested. Fortunately, truly important findings are immediately subject to independent verification by scientists in other laboratories, so science is a self-correcting discipline. When the Alvarezes originally suggested that an extraterrestrial impact caused the extinction of the dinosaurs, the response was almost universal skepticism and scorn. In only 20 years, however, the persuasive nature of the evidence overcame the skepticism of many scientists, and their initial hypothesis has now evolved into a theory that has revolutionized paleontology and geology.

Chemists expand their knowledge by making observations, carrying out experiments, and testing hypotheses to develop laws to summarize their results and theories to explain them. In doing so, they are using the scientific method.

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Teaching Creativity and Inventive Problem Solving in Science

  • Robert L. DeHaan

Division of Educational Studies, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322

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Engaging learners in the excitement of science, helping them discover the value of evidence-based reasoning and higher-order cognitive skills, and teaching them to become creative problem solvers have long been goals of science education reformers. But the means to achieve these goals, especially methods to promote creative thinking in scientific problem solving, have not become widely known or used. In this essay, I review the evidence that creativity is not a single hard-to-measure property. The creative process can be explained by reference to increasingly well-understood cognitive skills such as cognitive flexibility and inhibitory control that are widely distributed in the population. I explore the relationship between creativity and the higher-order cognitive skills, review assessment methods, and describe several instructional strategies for enhancing creative problem solving in the college classroom. Evidence suggests that instruction to support the development of creativity requires inquiry-based teaching that includes explicit strategies to promote cognitive flexibility. Students need to be repeatedly reminded and shown how to be creative, to integrate material across subject areas, to question their own assumptions, and to imagine other viewpoints and possibilities. Further research is required to determine whether college students' learning will be enhanced by these measures.

INTRODUCTION

Dr. Dunne paces in front of his section of first-year college students, today not as their Bio 110 teacher but in the role of facilitator in their monthly “invention session.” For this meeting, the topic is stem cell therapy in heart disease. Members of each team of four students have primed themselves on the topic by reading selected articles from accessible sources such as Science, Nature, and Scientific American, and searching the World Wide Web, triangulating for up-to-date, accurate, background information. Each team knows that their first goal is to define a set of problems or limitations to overcome within the topic and to begin to think of possible solutions. Dr. Dunne starts the conversation by reminding the group of the few ground rules: one speaker at a time, listen carefully and have respect for others' ideas, question your own and others' assumptions, focus on alternative paths or solutions, maintain an atmosphere of collaboration and mutual support. He then sparks the discussion by asking one of the teams to describe a problem in need of solution.

Science in the United States is widely credited as a major source of discovery and economic development. According to the 2005 TAP Report produced by a prominent group of corporate leaders, “To maintain our country's competitiveness in the twenty-first century, we must cultivate the skilled scientists and engineers needed to create tomorrow's innovations.” ( www.tap2015.org/about/TAP_report2.pdf ). A panel of scientists, engineers, educators, and policy makers convened by the National Research Council (NRC) concurred with this view, reporting that the vitality of the nation “is derived in large part from the productivity of well-trained people and the steady stream of scientific and technical innovations they produce” ( NRC, 2007 ).

For many decades, science education reformers have promoted the idea that learners should be engaged in the excitement of science; they should be helped to discover the value of evidence-based reasoning and higher-order cognitive skills, and be taught to become innovative problem solvers (for reviews, see DeHaan, 2005 ; Hake, 2005 ; Nelson, 2008 ; Perkins and Wieman, 2008 ). But the means to achieve these goals, especially methods to promote creative thinking in scientific problem solving, are not widely known or used. An invention session such as that led by the fictional Dr. Dunne, described above, may seem fanciful as a means of teaching students to think about science as something more than a body of facts and terms to memorize. In recent years, however, models for promoting creative problem solving were developed for classroom use, as detailed by Treffinger and Isaksen (2005) , and such techniques are often used in the real world of high technology. To promote imaginative thinking, the advertising executive Alex F. Osborn invented brainstorming ( Osborn, 1948 , 1979 ), a technique that has since been successful in stimulating inventiveness among engineers and scientists. Could such strategies be transferred to a class for college students? Could they serve as a supplement to a high-quality, scientific teaching curriculum that helps students learn the facts and conceptual frameworks of science and make progress along the novice–expert continuum? Could brainstorming or other instructional strategies that are specifically designed to promote creativity teach students to be more adaptive in their growing expertise, more innovative in their problem-solving abilities? To begin to answer those questions, we first need to understand what is meant by “creativity.”

What Is Creativity? Big-C versus Mini-C Creativity

How to define creativity is an age-old question. Justice Potter Stewart's famous dictum regarding obscenity “I know it when I see it” has also long been an accepted test of creativity. But this is not an adequate criterion for developing an instructional approach. A scientist colleague of mine recently noted that “Many of us [in the scientific community] rarely give the creative process a second thought, imagining one either ‘has it’ or doesn't.” We often think of inventiveness or creativity in scientific fields as the kind of gift associated with a Michelangelo or Einstein. This is what Kaufman and Beghetto (2008) call big-C creativity, borrowing the term that earlier workers applied to the talents of experts in various fields who were identified as particularly creative by their expert colleagues ( MacKinnon, 1978 ). In this sense, creativity is seen as the ability of individuals to generate new ideas that contribute substantially to an intellectual domain. Howard Gardner defined such a creative person as one who “regularly solves problems, fashions products, or defines new questions in a domain in a way that is initially considered novel but that ultimately comes to be accepted in a particular cultural setting” ( Gardner, 1993 , p. 35).

But there is another level of inventiveness termed by various authors as “little-c” ( Craft, 2000 ) or “mini-c” ( Kaufman and Beghetto, 2008 ) creativity that is widespread among all populations. This would be consistent with the workplace definition of creativity offered by Amabile and her coworkers: “coming up with fresh ideas for changing products, services and processes so as to better achieve the organization's goals” ( Amabile et al. , 2005 ). Mini-c creativity is based on what Craft calls “possibility thinking” ( Craft, 2000 , pp. 3–4), as experienced when a worker suddenly has the insight to visualize a new, improved way to accomplish a task; it is represented by the “aha” moment when a student first sees two previously disparate concepts or facts in a new relationship, an example of what Arthur Koestler identified as bisociation: “perceiving a situation or event in two habitually incompatible associative contexts” ( Koestler, 1964 , p. 95).

In this essay, I maintain that mini-c creativity is not a mysterious, innate endowment of rare individuals. Instead, I argue that creative thinking is a multicomponent process, mediated through social interactions, that can be explained by reference to increasingly well-understood mental abilities such as cognitive flexibility and cognitive control that are widely distributed in the population. Moreover, I explore some of the recent research evidence (though with no effort at a comprehensive literature review) showing that these mental abilities are teachable; like other higher-order cognitive skills (HOCS), they can be enhanced by explicit instruction.

Creativity Is a Multicomponent Process

Efforts to define creativity in psychological terms go back to J. P. Guilford ( Guilford, 1950 ) and E. P. Torrance ( Torrance, 1974 ), both of whom recognized that underlying the construct were other cognitive variables such as ideational fluency, originality of ideas, and sensitivity to missing elements. Many authors since then have extended the argument that a creative act is not a singular event but a process, an interplay among several interactive cognitive and affective elements. In this view, the creative act has two phases, a generative and an exploratory or evaluative phase ( Finke et al. , 1996 ). During the generative process, the creative mind pictures a set of novel mental models as potential solutions to a problem. In the exploratory phase, we evaluate the multiple options and select the best one. Early scholars of creativity, such as J. P. Guilford, characterized the two phases as divergent thinking and convergent thinking ( Guilford, 1950 ). Guilford defined divergent thinking as the ability to produce a broad range of associations to a given stimulus or to arrive at many solutions to a problem (for overviews of the field from different perspectives, see Amabile, 1996 ; Banaji et al. , 2006 ; Sawyer, 2006 ). In neurocognitive terms, divergent thinking is referred to as associative richness ( Gabora, 2002 ; Simonton, 2004 ), which is often measured experimentally by comparing the number of words that an individual generates from memory in response to stimulus words on a word association test. In contrast, convergent thinking refers to the capacity to quickly focus on the one best solution to a problem.

The idea that there are two stages to the creative process is consistent with results from cognition research indicating that there are two distinct modes of thought, associative and analytical ( Neisser, 1963 ; Sloman, 1996 ). In the associative mode, thinking is defocused, suggestive, and intuitive, revealing remote or subtle connections between items that may be correlated, or may not, and are usually not causally related ( Burton, 2008 ). In the analytical mode, thought is focused and evaluative, more conducive to analyzing relationships of cause and effect (for a review of other cognitive aspects of creativity, see Runco, 2004 ). Science educators associate the analytical mode with the upper levels (analysis, synthesis, and evaluation) of Bloom's taxonomy (e.g., Crowe et al. , 2008 ), or with “critical thinking,” the process that underlies the “purposeful, self-regulatory judgment that drives problem-solving and decision-making” ( Quitadamo et al. , 2008 , p. 328). These modes of thinking are under cognitive control through the executive functions of the brain. The core executive functions, which are thought to underlie all planning, problem solving, and reasoning, are defined ( Blair and Razza, 2007 ) as working memory control (mentally holding and retrieving information), cognitive flexibility (considering multiple ideas and seeing different perspectives), and inhibitory control (resisting several thoughts or actions to focus on one). Readers wishing to delve further into the neuroscience of the creative process can refer to the cerebrocerebellar theory of creativity ( Vandervert et al. , 2007 ) in which these mental activities are described neurophysiologically as arising through interactions among different parts of the brain.

The main point from all of these works is that creativity is not some single hard-to-measure property or act. There is ample evidence that the creative process requires both divergent and convergent thinking and that it can be explained by reference to increasingly well-understood underlying mental abilities ( Haring-Smith, 2006 ; Kim, 2006 ; Sawyer, 2006 ; Kaufman and Sternberg, 2007 ) and cognitive processes ( Simonton, 2004 ; Diamond et al. , 2007 ; Vandervert et al. , 2007 ).

Creativity Is Widely Distributed and Occurs in a Social Context

Although it is understandable to speak of an aha moment as a creative act by the person who experiences it, authorities in the field have long recognized (e.g., Simonton, 1975 ) that creative thinking is not so much an individual trait but rather a social phenomenon involving interactions among people within their specific group or cultural settings. “Creativity isn't just a property of individuals, it is also a property of social groups” ( Sawyer, 2006 , p. 305). Indeed, Osborn introduced his brainstorming method because he was convinced that group creativity is always superior to individual creativity. He drew evidence for this conclusion from activities that demand collaborative output, for example, the improvisations of a jazz ensemble. Although each musician is individually creative during a performance, the novelty and inventiveness of each performer's playing is clearly influenced, and often enhanced, by “social and interactional processes” among the musicians ( Sawyer, 2006 , p. 120). Recently, Brophy (2006) offered evidence that for problem solving, the situation may be more nuanced. He confirmed that groups of interacting individuals were better at solving complex, multipart problems than single individuals. However, when dealing with certain kinds of single-issue problems, individual problem solvers produced a greater number of solutions than interacting groups, and those solutions were judged to be more original and useful.

Consistent with the findings of Brophy (2006) , many scholars acknowledge that creative discoveries in the real world such as solving the problems of cutting-edge science—which are usually complex and multipart—are influenced or even stimulated by social interaction among experts. The common image of the lone scientist in the laboratory experiencing a flash of creative inspiration is probably a myth from earlier days. As a case in point, the science historian Mara Beller analyzed the social processes that underlay some of the major discoveries of early twentieth-century quantum physics. Close examination of successive drafts of publications by members of the Copenhagen group revealed a remarkable degree of influence and collaboration among 10 or more colleagues, although many of these papers were published under the name of a single author ( Beller, 1999 ). Sociologists Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar's study ( Latour and Woolgar, 1986 ) of a neuroendocrinology laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies make the related point that social interactions among the participating scientists determined to a remarkable degree what discoveries were made and how they were interpreted. In the laboratory, researchers studied the chemical structure of substances released by the brain. By analysis of the Salk scientists' verbalizations of concepts, theories, formulas, and results of their investigations, Latour and Woolgar showed that the structures and interpretations that were agreed upon, that is, the discoveries announced by the laboratory, were mediated by social interactions and power relationships among members of the laboratory group. By studying the discovery process in other fields of the natural sciences, sociologists and anthropologists have provided more cases that further illustrate how social and cultural dimensions affect scientific insights (for a thoughtful review, see Knorr Cetina, 1995 ).

In sum, when an individual experiences an aha moment that feels like a singular creative act, it may rather have resulted from a multicomponent process, under the influence of group interactions and social context. The process that led up to what may be sensed as a sudden insight will probably have included at least three diverse, but testable elements: 1) divergent thinking, including ideational fluency or cognitive flexibility, which is the cognitive executive function that underlies the ability to visualize and accept many ideas related to a problem; 2) convergent thinking or the application of inhibitory control to focus and mentally evaluate ideas; and 3) analogical thinking, the ability to understand a novel idea in terms of one that is already familiar.

LITERATURE REVIEW

What do we know about how to teach creativity.

The possibility of teaching for creative problem solving gained credence in the 1960s with the studies of Jerome Bruner, who argued that children should be encouraged to “treat a task as a problem for which one invents an answer, rather than finding one out there in a book or on the blackboard” ( Bruner, 1965 , pp. 1013–1014). Since that time, educators and psychologists have devised programs of instruction designed to promote creativity and inventiveness in virtually every student population: pre–K, elementary, high school, and college, as well as in disadvantaged students, athletes, and students in a variety of specific disciplines (for review, see Scott et al. , 2004 ). Smith (1998) identified 172 instructional approaches that have been applied at one time or another to develop divergent thinking skills.

Some of the most convincing evidence that elements of creativity can be enhanced by instruction comes from work with young children. Bodrova and Leong (2001) developed the Tools of the Mind (Tools) curriculum to improve all of the three core mental executive functions involved in creative problem solving: cognitive flexibility, working memory, and inhibitory control. In a year-long randomized study of 5-yr-olds from low-income families in 21 preschool classrooms, half of the teachers applied the districts' balanced literacy curriculum (literacy), whereas the experimenters trained the other half to teach the same academic content by using the Tools curriculum ( Diamond et al. , 2007 ). At the end of the year, when the children were tested with a battery of neurocognitive tests including a test for cognitive flexibility ( Durston et al. , 2003 ; Davidson et al. , 2006 ), those exposed to the Tools curriculum outperformed the literacy children by as much as 25% ( Diamond et al. , 2007 ). Although the Tools curriculum and literacy program were similar in academic content and in many other ways, they differed primarily in that Tools teachers spent 80% of their time explicitly reminding the children to think of alternative ways to solve a problem and building their executive function skills.

Teaching older students to be innovative also demands instruction that explicitly promotes creativity but is rigorously content-rich as well. A large body of research on the differences between novice and expert cognition indicates that creative thinking requires at least a minimal level of expertise and fluency within a knowledge domain ( Bransford et al. , 2000 ; Crawford and Brophy, 2006 ). What distinguishes experts from novices, in addition to their deeper knowledge of the subject, is their recognition of patterns in information, their ability to see relationships among disparate facts and concepts, and their capacity for organizing content into conceptual frameworks or schemata ( Bransford et al. , 2000 ; Sawyer, 2005 ).

Such expertise is often lacking in the traditional classroom. For students attempting to grapple with new subject matter, many kinds of problems that are presented in high school or college courses or that arise in the real world can be solved merely by applying newly learned algorithms or procedural knowledge. With practice, problem solving of this kind can become routine and is often considered to represent mastery of a subject, producing what Sternberg refers to as “pseudoexperts” ( Sternberg, 2003 ). But beyond such routine use of content knowledge the instructor's goal must be to produce students who have gained the HOCS needed to apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate knowledge ( Crowe et al. , 2008 ). The aim is to produce students who know enough about a field to grasp meaningful patterns of information, who can readily retrieve relevant knowledge from memory, and who can apply such knowledge effectively to novel problems. This condition is referred to as adaptive expertise ( Hatano and Ouro, 2003 ; Schwartz et al. , 2005 ). Instead of applying already mastered procedures, adaptive experts are able to draw on their knowledge to invent or adapt strategies for solving unique or novel problems within a knowledge domain. They are also able, ideally, to transfer conceptual frameworks and schemata from one domain to another (e.g., Schwartz et al. , 2005 ). Such flexible, innovative application of knowledge is what results in inventive or creative solutions to problems ( Crawford and Brophy, 2006 ; Crawford, 2007 ).

Promoting Creative Problem Solving in the College Classroom

In most college courses, instructors teach science primarily through lectures and textbooks that are dominated by facts and algorithmic processing rather than by concepts, principles, and evidence-based ways of thinking. This is despite ample evidence that many students gain little new knowledge from traditional lectures ( Hrepic et al. , 2007 ). Moreover, it is well documented that these methods engender passive learning rather than active engagement, boredom instead of intellectual excitement, and linear thinking rather than cognitive flexibility (e.g., Halpern and Hakel, 2003 ; Nelson, 2008 ; Perkins and Wieman, 2008 ). Cognitive flexibility, as noted, is one of the three core mental executive functions involved in creative problem solving ( Ausubel, 1963 , 2000 ). The capacity to apply ideas creatively in new contexts, referred to as the ability to “transfer” knowledge (see Mestre, 2005 ), requires that learners have opportunities to actively develop their own representations of information to convert it to a usable form. Especially when a knowledge domain is complex and fraught with ill-structured information, as in a typical introductory college biology course, instruction that emphasizes active-learning strategies is demonstrably more effective than traditional linear teaching in reducing failure rates and in promoting learning and transfer (e.g., Freeman et al. , 2007 ). Furthermore, there is already some evidence that inclusion of creativity training as part of a college curriculum can have positive effects. Hunsaker (2005) has reviewed a number of such studies. He cites work by McGregor (2001) , for example, showing that various creativity training programs including brainstorming and creative problem solving increase student scores on tests of creative-thinking abilities.

Model creativity—students develop creativity when instructors model creative thinking and inventiveness.

Repeatedly encourage idea generation—students need to be reminded to generate their own ideas and solutions in an environment free of criticism.

Cross-fertilize ideas—where possible, avoid teaching in subject-area boxes: a math box, a social studies box, etc; students' creative ideas and insights often result from learning to integrate material across subject areas.

Build self-efficacy—all students have the capacity to create and to experience the joy of having new ideas, but they must be helped to believe in their own capacity to be creative.

Constantly question assumptions—make questioning a part of the daily classroom exchange; it is more important for students to learn what questions to ask and how to ask them than to learn the answers.

Imagine other viewpoints—students broaden their perspectives by learning to reflect upon ideas and concepts from different points of view.

How Is Creativity Related to Critical Thinking and the Higher-Order Cognitive Skills?

It is not uncommon to associate creativity and ingenuity with scientific reasoning ( Sawyer, 2005 ; 2006 ). When instructors apply scientific teaching strategies ( Handelsman et al. , 2004 ; DeHaan, 2005 ; Wood, 2009 ) by using instructional methods based on learning research, according to Ebert-May and Hodder ( 2008 ), “we see students actively engaged in the thinking, creativity, rigor, and experimentation we associate with the practice of science—in much the same way we see students learn in the field and in laboratories” (p. 2). Perkins and Wieman (2008) note that “To be successful innovators in science and engineering, students must develop a deep conceptual understanding of the underlying science ideas, an ability to apply these ideas and concepts broadly in different contexts, and a vision to see their relevance and usefulness in real-world applications … An innovator is able to perceive and realize potential connections and opportunities better than others” (pp. 181–182). The results of Scott et al. (2004) suggest that nontraditional courses in science that are based on constructivist principles and that use strategies of scientific teaching to promote the HOCS and enhance content mastery and dexterity in scientific thinking ( Handelsman et al. , 2007 ; Nelson, 2008 ) also should be effective in promoting creativity and cognitive flexibility if students are explicitly guided to learn these skills.

Creativity is an essential element of problem solving ( Mumford et al. , 1991 ; Runco, 2004 ) and of critical thinking ( Abrami et al. , 2008 ). As such, it is common to think of applications of creativity such as inventiveness and ingenuity among the HOCS as defined in Bloom's taxonomy ( Crowe et al. , 2008 ). Thus, it should come as no surprise that creativity, like other elements of the HOCS, can be taught most effectively through inquiry-based instruction, informed by constructivist theory ( Ausubel, 1963 , 2000 ; Duch et al. , 2001 ; Nelson, 2008 ). In a survey of 103 instructors who taught college courses that included creativity instruction, Bull et al. (1995) asked respondents to rate the importance of various course characteristics for enhancing student creativity. Items ranking high on the list were: providing a social climate in which students feels safe, an open classroom environment that promotes tolerance for ambiguity and independence, the use of humor, metaphorical thinking, and problem defining. Many of the responses emphasized the same strategies as those advanced to promote creative problem solving (e.g., Mumford et al. , 1991 ; McFadzean, 2002 ; Treffinger and Isaksen, 2005 ) and critical thinking ( Abrami et al. , 2008 ).

In a careful meta-analysis, Scott et al. (2004) examined 70 instructional interventions designed to enhance and measure creative performance. The results were striking. Courses that stressed techniques such as critical thinking, convergent thinking, and constraint identification produced the largest positive effect sizes. More open techniques that provided less guidance in strategic approaches had less impact on the instructional outcomes. A striking finding was the effectiveness of being explicit; approaches that clearly informed students about the nature of creativity and offered clear strategies for creative thinking were most effective. Approaches such as social modeling, cooperative learning, and case-based (project-based) techniques that required the application of newly acquired knowledge were found to be positively correlated to high effect sizes. The most clear-cut result to emerge from the Scott et al. (2004) study was simply to confirm that creativity instruction can be highly successful in enhancing divergent thinking, problem solving, and imaginative performance. Most importantly, of the various cognitive processes examined, those linked to the generation of new ideas such as problem finding, conceptual combination, and idea generation showed the greatest improvement. The success of creativity instruction, the authors concluded, can be attributed to “developing and providing guidance concerning the application of requisite cognitive capacities … [and] a set of heuristics or strategies for working with already available knowledge” (p. 382).

Many of the scientific teaching practices that have been shown by research to foster content mastery and HOCS, and that are coming more widely into use, also would be consistent with promoting creativity. Wood (2009) has recently reviewed examples of such practices and how to apply them. These include relatively small modifications of the traditional lecture to engender more active learning, such as the use of concept tests and peer instruction ( Mazur, 1996 ), Just-in-Time-Teaching techniques ( Novak et al. , 1999 ), and student response systems known as “clickers” ( Knight and Wood, 2005 ; Crossgrove and Curran, 2008 ), all designed to allow the instructor to frequently and effortlessly elicit and respond to student thinking. Other strategies can transform the lecture hall into a workshop or studio classroom ( Gaffney et al. , 2008 ) where the teaching curriculum may emphasize problem-based (also known as project-based or case-based) learning strategies ( Duch et al. , 2001 ; Ebert-May and Hodder, 2008 ) or “community-based inquiry” in which students engage in research that enhances their critical-thinking skills ( Quitadamo et al. , 2008 ).

Another important approach that could readily subserve explicit creativity instruction is the use of computer-based interactive simulations, or “sims” ( Perkins and Wieman, 2008 ) to facilitate inquiry learning and effective, easy self-assessment. An example in the biological sciences would be Neurons in Action ( http://neuronsinaction.com/home/main ). In such educational environments, students gain conceptual understanding of scientific ideas through interactive engagement with materials (real or virtual), with each other, and with instructors. Following the tenets of scientific teaching, students are encouraged to pose and answer their own questions, to make sense of the materials, and to construct their own understanding. The question I pose here is whether an additional focus—guiding students to meet these challenges in a context that explicitly promotes creativity—would enhance learning and advance students' progress toward adaptive expertise?

Assessment of Creativity

To teach creativity, there must be measurable indicators to judge how much students have gained from instruction. Educational programs intended to teach creativity became popular after the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT) was introduced in the 1960s ( Torrance, 1974 ). But it soon became apparent that there were major problems in devising tests for creativity, both because of the difficulty of defining the construct and because of the number and complexity of elements that underlie it. Tests of intelligence and other personality characteristics on creative individuals revealed a host of related traits such as verbal fluency, metaphorical thinking, flexible decision making, tolerance of ambiguity, willingness to take risks, autonomy, divergent thinking, self-confidence, problem finding, ideational fluency, and belief in oneself as being “creative” ( Barron and Harrington, 1981 ; Tardif and Sternberg, 1988 ; Runco and Nemiro, 1994 ; Snyder et al. , 2004 ). Many of these traits have been the focus of extensive research of recent decades, but, as noted above, creativity is not defined by any one trait; there is now reason to believe that it is the interplay among the cognitive and affective processes that underlie inventiveness and the ability to find novel solutions to a problem.

Although the early creativity researchers recognized that assessing divergent thinking as a measure of creativity required tests for other underlying capacities ( Guilford, 1950 ; Torrance, 1974 ), these workers and their colleagues nonetheless believed that a high score for divergent thinking alone would correlate with real creative output. Unfortunately, no such correlation was shown ( Barron and Harrington, 1981 ). Results produced by many of the instruments initially designed to measure various aspects of creative thinking proved to be highly dependent on the test itself. A review of several hundred early studies showed that an individual's creativity score could be affected by simple test variables, for example, how the verbal pretest instructions were worded ( Barron and Harrington, 1981 , pp. 442–443). Most scholars now agree that divergent thinking, as originally defined, was not an adequate measure of creativity. The process of creative thinking requires a complex combination of elements that include cognitive flexibility, memory control, inhibitory control, and analogical thinking, enabling the mind to free-range and analogize, as well as to focus and test.

More recently, numerous psychometric measures have been developed and empirically tested (see Plucker and Renzulli, 1999 ) that allow more reliable and valid assessment of specific aspects of creativity. For example, the creativity quotient devised by Snyder et al. (2004) tests the ability of individuals to link different ideas and different categories of ideas into a novel synthesis. The Wallach–Kogan creativity test ( Wallach and Kogan, 1965 ) explores the uniqueness of ideas associated with a stimulus. For a more complete list and discussion, see the Creativity Tests website ( www.indiana.edu/∼bobweb/Handout/cretv_6.html ).

The most widely used measure of creativity is the TTCT, which has been modified four times since its original version in 1966 to take into account subsequent research. The TTCT-Verbal and the TTCT-Figural are two versions ( Torrance, 1998 ; see http://ststesting.com/2005giftttct.html ). The TTCT-Verbal consists of five tasks; the “stimulus” for each task is a picture to which the test-taker responds briefly in writing. A sample task that can be viewed from the TTCT Demonstrator website asks, “Suppose that people could transport themselves from place to place with just a wink of the eye or a twitch of the nose. What might be some things that would happen as a result? You have 3 min.” ( www.indiana.edu/∼bobweb/Handout/d3.ttct.htm ).

In the TTCT-Figural, participants are asked to construct a picture from a stimulus in the form of a partial line drawing given on the test sheet (see example below; Figure 1 ). Specific instructions are to “Add lines to the incomplete figures below to make pictures out of them. Try to tell complete stories with your pictures. Give your pictures titles. You have 3 min.” In the introductory materials, test-takers are urged to “… think of a picture or object that no one else will think of. Try to make it tell as complete and as interesting a story as you can …” ( Torrance et al. , 2008 , p. 2).

Figure 1.

Figure 1. Sample figural test item from the TTCT Demonstrator website ( www.indiana.edu/∼bobweb/Handout/d3.ttct.htm ).

How would an instructor in a biology course judge the creativity of students' responses to such an item? To assist in this task, the TTCT has scoring and norming guides ( Torrance, 1998 ; Torrance et al. , 2008 ) with numerous samples and responses representing different levels of creativity. The guides show sample evaluations based upon specific indicators such as fluency, originality, elaboration (or complexity), unusual visualization, extending or breaking boundaries, humor, and imagery. These examples are easy to use and provide a high degree of validity and generalizability to the tests. The TTCT has been more intensively researched and analyzed than any other creativity instrument, and the norming samples have longitudinal validations and high predictive validity over a wide age range. In addition to global creativity scores, the TTCT is designed to provide outcome measures in various domains and thematic areas to allow for more insightful analysis ( Kaufman and Baer, 2006 ). Kim (2006) has examined the characteristics of the TTCT, including norms, reliability, and validity, and concludes that the test is an accurate measure of creativity. When properly used, it has been shown to be fair in terms of gender, race, community status, and language background. According to Kim (2006) and other authorities in the field ( McIntyre et al. , 2003 ; Scott et al. , 2004 ), Torrance's research and the development of the TTCT have provided groundwork for the idea that creative levels can be measured and then increased through instruction and practice.

SCIENTIFIC TEACHING TO PROMOTE CREATIVITY

How could creativity instruction be integrated into scientific teaching.

Guidelines for designing specific course units that emphasize HOCS by using strategies of scientific teaching are now available from the current literature. As an example, Karen Cloud-Hansen and colleagues ( Cloud-Hansen et al. , 2008 ) describe a course titled, “Ciprofloxacin Resistance in Neisseria gonorrhoeae .” They developed this undergraduate seminar to introduce college freshmen to important concepts in biology within a real-world context and to increase their content knowledge and critical-thinking skills. The centerpiece of the unit is a case study in which teams of students are challenged to take the role of a director of a local public health clinic. One of the county commissioners overseeing the clinic is an epidemiologist who wants to know “how you plan to address the emergence of ciprofloxacin resistance in Neisseria gonorrhoeae ” (p. 304). State budget cuts limit availability of expensive antibiotics and some laboratory tests to patients. Student teams are challenged to 1) develop a plan to address the medical, economic, and political questions such a clinic director would face in dealing with ciprofloxacin-resistant N. gonorrhoeae ; 2) provide scientific data to support their conclusions; and 3) describe their clinic plan in a one- to two-page referenced written report.

Throughout the 3-wk unit, in accordance with the principles of problem-based instruction ( Duch et al. , 2001 ), course instructors encourage students to seek, interpret, and synthesize their own information to the extent possible. Students have access to a variety of instructional formats, and active-learning experiences are incorporated throughout the unit. These activities are interspersed among minilectures and give the students opportunities to apply new information to their existing base of knowledge. The active-learning activities emphasize the key concepts of the minilectures and directly confront common misconceptions about antibiotic resistance, gene expression, and evolution. Weekly classes include question/answer/discussion sessions to address student misconceptions and 20-min minilectures on such topics as antibiotic resistance, evolution, and the central dogma of molecular biology. Students gather information about antibiotic resistance in N. gonorrhoeae , epidemiology of gonorrhea, and treatment options for the disease, and each team is expected to formulate a plan to address ciprofloxacin resistance in N. gonorrhoeae .

In this project, the authors assessed student gains in terms of content knowledge regarding topics covered such as the role of evolution in antibiotic resistance, mechanisms of gene expression, and the role of oncogenes in human disease. They also measured HOCS as gains in problem solving, according to a rubric that assessed self-reported abilities to communicate ideas logically, solve difficult problems about microbiology, propose hypotheses, analyze data, and draw conclusions. Comparing the pre- and posttests, students reported significant learning of scientific content. Among the thinking skill categories, students demonstrated measurable gains in their ability to solve problems about microbiology but the unit seemed to have little impact on their more general perceived problem-solving skills ( Cloud-Hansen et al. , 2008 ).

What would such a class look like with the addition of explicit creativity-promoting approaches? Would the gains in problem-solving abilities have been greater if during the minilectures and other activities, students had been introduced explicitly to elements of creative thinking from the Sternberg and Williams (1998) list described above? Would the students have reported greater gains if their instructors had encouraged idea generation with weekly brainstorming sessions; if they had reminded students to cross-fertilize ideas by integrating material across subject areas; built self-efficacy by helping students believe in their own capacity to be creative; helped students question their own assumptions; and encouraged students to imagine other viewpoints and possibilities? Of most relevance, could the authors have been more explicit in assessing the originality of the student plans? In an experiment that required college students to develop plans of a different, but comparable, type, Osborn and Mumford (2006) created an originality rubric ( Figure 2 ) that could apply equally to assist instructors in judging student plans in any course. With such modifications, would student gains in problem-solving abilities or other HOCS have been greater? Would their plans have been measurably more imaginative?

Figure 2.

Figure 2. Originality rubric (adapted from Osburn and Mumford, 2006 , p. 183).

Answers to these questions can only be obtained when a course like that described by Cloud-Hansen et al. (2008) is taught with explicit instruction in creativity of the type I described above. But, such answers could be based upon more than subjective impressions of the course instructors. For example, students could be pretested with items from the TTCT-Verbal or TTCT-Figural like those shown. If, during minilectures and at every contact with instructors, students were repeatedly reminded and shown how to be as creative as possible, to integrate material across subject areas, to question their own assumptions and imagine other viewpoints and possibilities, would their scores on TTCT posttest items improve? Would the plans they formulated to address ciprofloxacin resistance become more imaginative?

Recall that in their meta-analysis, Scott et al. (2004) found that explicitly informing students about the nature of creativity and offering strategies for creative thinking were the most effective components of instruction. From their careful examination of 70 experimental studies, they concluded that approaches such as social modeling, cooperative learning, and case-based (project-based) techniques that required the application of newly acquired knowledge were positively correlated with high effect sizes. The study was clear in confirming that explicit creativity instruction can be successful in enhancing divergent thinking and problem solving. Would the same strategies work for courses in ecology and environmental biology, as detailed by Ebert-May and Hodder (2008) , or for a unit elaborated by Knight and Wood (2005) that applies classroom response clickers?

Finally, I return to my opening question with the fictional Dr. Dunne. Could a weekly brainstorming “invention session” included in a course like those described here serve as the site where students are introduced to concepts and strategies of creative problem solving? As frequently applied in schools of engineering ( Paulus and Nijstad, 2003 ), brainstorming provides an opportunity for the instructor to pose a problem and to ask the students to suggest as many solutions as possible in a brief period, thus enhancing ideational fluency. Here, students can be encouraged explicitly to build on the ideas of others and to think flexibly. Would brainstorming enhance students' divergent thinking or creative abilities as measured by TTCT items or an originality rubric? Many studies have demonstrated that group interactions such as brainstorming, under the right conditions, can indeed enhance creativity ( Paulus and Nijstad, 2003 ; Scott et al. , 2004 ), but there is little information from an undergraduate science classroom setting. Intellectual Ventures, a firm founded by Nathan Myhrvold, the creator of Microsoft's Research Division, has gathered groups of engineers and scientists around a table for day-long sessions to brainstorm about a prearranged topic. Here, the method seems to work. Since it was founded in 2000, Intellectual Ventures has filed hundreds of patent applications in more than 30 technology areas, applying the “invention session” strategy ( Gladwell, 2008 ). Currently, the company ranks among the top 50 worldwide in number of patent applications filed annually. Whether such a technique could be applied successfully in a college science course will only be revealed by future research.

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  • Problem Çözme Becerileri Eğitim Programının Çocukların Karar Verme Becerileri Üzerindeki Etkisi 30 December 2019 | Erzincan Üniversitesi Eğitim Fakültesi Dergisi, Vol. 21, No. 3
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  • Using the International Classification of Functioning, Disability, and Health to Guide Students' Clinical Approach to Aging With Pathology Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation, Vol. 35, No. 3
  • Impact of Brainstorming Strategy in Dealing With Knowledge Retention Skill: An Insight Into Special Learners' Needs In Saudi Arabia 1 January 2021 | MIER Journal of Educational Studies Trends & Practices
  • The potential of students’ creative disposition as a perspective to develop creative teaching and learning for senior high school biological science 12 March 2019 | Journal of Physics: Conference Series, Vol. 1157
  • Evaluating Remote Experiment from a Divergent Thinking Point of View 25 July 2018
  • Exploring Creative Education Practices and Implications: A Case study of National Chengchi University, Taiwan 4 April 2022 | Journal of Business and Economic Analysis, Vol. 02, No. 02
  • Exploring Creative Education Practices and Implications: A Case study of National Chengchi University, Taiwan 1 January 2020 | Journal of Business and Economic Analysis, Vol. 02, No. 02
  • Diverging from the Dogma: A Call to Train Creative Thinkers in Science 14 September 2018 | The Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America, Vol. 100, No. 1
  • Comparison of German and Japanese student teachers’ views on creativity in chemistry class 16 May 2018 | Asia-Pacific Science Education, Vol. 4, No. 1
  • The use of humour during a collaborative inquiry 27 August 2018 | International Journal of Science Education, Vol. 40, No. 14
  • Connecting creative coursework exposure and college student engagement across academic disciplines 29 August 2019 | Gifted and Talented International, Vol. 33, No. 1-2
  • Views of German chemistry teachers on creativity in chemistry classes and in general 1 January 2018 | Chemistry Education Research and Practice, Vol. 19, No. 3
  • Embedding Critical and Creative Thinking in Chemical Engineering Practice
  • Introducing storytelling to educational robotic activities
  • Investigating Undergraduates’ Perceptions of Science in Courses Taught Using the CREATE Strategy Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education, Vol. 19, No. 1
  • Teachers’ learning on the workshop of STS approach as a way of enhancing inventive thinking skills
  • Creativity Development Through Inquiry-Based Learning in Biomedical Sciences
  • The right tool for the right task: Structured techniques prove less effective on an ill-defined problem finding task Thinking Skills and Creativity, Vol. 26
  • The influential factors and hierarchical structure of college students’ creative capabilities—An empirical study in Taiwan Thinking Skills and Creativity, Vol. 26
  • Teacher perceptions of professional role and innovative teaching at elementary schools in Taiwan 10 November 2017 | Educational Research and Reviews, Vol. 12, No. 21
  • Evaluation of creative problem-solving abilities in undergraduate structural engineers through interdisciplinary problem-based learning 28 July 2016 | European Journal of Engineering Education, Vol. 42, No. 6
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  • Inquiry-based Laboratory Activities on Drugs Analysis for High School Chemistry Learning 3 October 2017 | Journal of Physics: Conference Series, Vol. 895
  • BARRIERS TO STUDENTS’ CREATIVE EVALUATION OF UNEXPECTED EXPERIMENTAL FINDINGS 25 June 2017 | Journal of Baltic Science Education, Vol. 16, No. 3
  • Kyle J. Frantz ,
  • Melissa K. Demetrikopoulos ,
  • Shari L. Britner ,
  • Laura L. Carruth ,
  • Brian A. Williams ,
  • John L. Pecore ,
  • Robert L. DeHaan , and
  • Christopher T. Goode
  • Elizabeth Ambos, Monitoring Editor
  • A present absence: undergraduate course outlines and the development of student creativity across disciplines 3 October 2016 | Teaching in Higher Education, Vol. 22, No. 2
  • Exploring differences in creativity across academic majors for high-ability college students 16 February 2018 | Gifted and Talented International, Vol. 32, No. 1
  • Creativity in chemistry class and in general – German student teachers’ views 1 January 2017 | Chemistry Education Research and Practice, Vol. 18, No. 2
  • IMPORTANCE OF CREATIVITY IN ENTREPRENEURSHIP 1 January 2017
  • Accessing the Finest Minds
  • Science and Innovative Thinking for Technical and Organizational Development
  • Learning High School Biology in a Social Context Creative Education, Vol. 08, No. 15
  • Possibilities and limitations of integrating peer instruction into technical creativity education 6 September 2016 | Instructional Science, Vol. 44, No. 6
  • Creative Cognitive Processes in Higher Education 20 November 2014 | The Journal of Creative Behavior, Vol. 50, No. 4
  • An Evidence-Based Review of Creative Problem Solving Tools 6 April 2016 | Human Resource Development Review, Vol. 15, No. 2
  • Case-based exams for learning and assessment: Experiences in an information systems course
  • Case exams for assessing higher order learning: A comparative social media analytics usage exam
  • Beyond belief: Structured techniques prove more effective than a placebo intervention in a problem construction task Thinking Skills and Creativity, Vol. 19
  • A Belief System at the Core of Learning Science
  • Student Research Work and Modeled Situations in Order to Bridge the Gap between Basic Science Concepts and Those from Preventive and Clinical Practice. Meaningful Learning and Informed beneficience Creative Education, Vol. 07, No. 07
  • FOSTERING FIFTH GRADERS’ SCIENTIFIC CREATIVITY THROUGH PROBLEM-BASED LEARNING 25 October 2015 | Journal of Baltic Science Education, Vol. 14, No. 5
  • Scaffolding for Creative Product Possibilities in a Design-Based STEM Activity 16 November 2014 | Research in Science Education, Vol. 45, No. 5
  • Intuition and insight: two concepts that illuminate the tacit in science education 18 June 2015 | Studies in Science Education, Vol. 51, No. 2
  • Arts and crafts as adjuncts to STEM education to foster creativity in gifted and talented students 28 March 2015 | Asia Pacific Education Review, Vol. 16, No. 2
  • Initiatives Towards an Education for Creativity Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, Vol. 180
  • Brian A. Couch ,
  • Tanya L. Brown ,
  • Tyler J. Schelpat ,
  • Mark J. Graham , and
  • Jennifer K. Knight
  • Michèle Shuster, Monitoring Editor
  • Kim Quillin , and
  • Stephen Thomas
  • Mary Lee Ledbetter, Monitoring Editor
  • The Design of IdeaWorks: Applying Social Learning Networks to Support Tertiary Education 21 July 2015
  • Video Games and Malevolent Creativity
  • Modelling a Laboratory for Ideas as a New Tool for Fostering Engineering Creativity Procedia Engineering, Vol. 100
  • “Development of Thinking Skills” Course: Teaching TRIZ in Academic Setting Procedia Engineering, Vol. 131
  • Leadership in the Future Experts’ Creativity Development with Scientific Research Activities 4 November 2014
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  • Leslie M. Stevens , and
  • Sally G. Hoskins
  • Nancy Pelaez, Monitoring Editor
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  • A Sociotechnological Theory of Discursive Change and Entrepreneurial Capacity: Novelty and Networks SSRN Electronic Journal, Vol. 3
  • GEOverse: An Undergraduate Research Journal: Research Dissemination Within and Beyond the Curriculum 1 August 2013
  • Learning by Practice, High-Pressure Student Ateliers 2 August 2013
  • Relating Inter-Individual Differences in Verbal Creative Thinking to Cerebral Structures: An Optimal Voxel-Based Morphometry Study 5 November 2013 | PLoS ONE, Vol. 8, No. 11
  • 21st Century Biology: An Interdisciplinary Approach of Biology, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, Vol. 102
  • Reclaiming creativity in the era of impact: exploring ideas about creative research in science and engineering Studies in Higher Education, Vol. 38, No. 9
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  • A.-M. Hoskinson ,
  • M. D. Caballero , and
  • J. K. Knight
  • Eric Brewe, Monitoring Editor
  • Understanding, attitude and environment International Journal for Researcher Development, Vol. 4, No. 1
  • Promoting Student Creativity and Inventiveness in Science and Engineering
  • Building creative thinking in the classroom: From research to practice International Journal of Educational Research, Vol. 62
  • A Demonstration of a Mastery Goal Driven Learning Environment to Foster Creativity in Engineering Design SSRN Electronic Journal, Vol. 111
  • The development of creative cognition across adolescence: distinct trajectories for insight and divergent thinking 8 October 2012 | Developmental Science, Vol. 16, No. 1
  • A CROSS-NATIONAL STUDY OF PROSPECTIVE ELEMENTARY AND SCIENCE TEACHERS’ CREATIVITY STYLES 10 September 2012 | Journal of Baltic Science Education, Vol. 11, No. 3
  • Evaluation of fostering students' creativity in preparing aided recalls for revision courses using electronic revision and recapitulation tools 2.0 Behaviour & Information Technology, Vol. 31, No. 8
  • Scientific Creativity: The Missing Ingredient in Slovenian Science Education 15 April 2012 | European Journal of Educational Research, Vol. volume-1-2012, No. volume1-issue2.html
  • Could the ‘evolution’ from biology to life sciences prevent ‘extinction’ of the subject field? 6 March 2012 | Suid-Afrikaanse Tydskrif vir Natuurwetenskap en Tegnologie, Vol. 31, No. 1
  • Mobile innovations, executive functions, and educational developments in conflict zones: a case study from Palestine 1 October 2011 | Educational Technology Research and Development, Vol. 60, No. 1
  • Informing Pedagogy Through the Brain-Targeted Teaching Model Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education, Vol. 13, No. 1
  • Teaching Creative Science Thinking Science, Vol. 334, No. 6062
  • Sally G. Hoskins ,
  • David Lopatto , and
  • Leslie M. Stevens
  • Diane K. O'Dowd, Monitoring Editor
  • Embedding Research-Based Learning Early in the Undergraduate Geography Curriculum Journal of Geography in Higher Education, Vol. 35, No. 3
  • Jared L. Taylor ,
  • Karen M. Smith ,
  • Adrian P. van Stolk , and
  • George B. Spiegelman
  • Debra Tomanek, Monitoring Editor
  • IFAC Proceedings Volumes, Vol. 43, No. 17
  • Critical and Creative Thinking Activities for Engaged Learning in Graphics and Visualization Course
  • Creativity Development through Inquiry-Based Learning in Biomedical Sciences

Submitted: 31 December 2008 Revised: 14 May 2009 Accepted: 28 May 2009

© 2009 by The American Society for Cell Biology

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How to Embed Video in Email: 11 Steps

How to dial international: a 10-step guide, how to open dxf files: 5 simple steps, 3 ways to transfer an electric bill to a new tenant, how to become a sports analyst: 12 steps, 3 ways to book restaurant reservations, 4 easy ways to close blackhead holes, how to buy silver bars: 14 steps, how to calculate cash flow: 15 steps, 3 ways to log out of spotify, 14 project-based learning activities for the science classroom.

problem solving in science example

One of the most popular methods of facilitating deep learning in K-12 schools in problem-based learning. It starts, as the name suggests, with a problem. In this model, students are presented with an open-ended problem. Students must search through a variety of resources, called trigger material, to help them understand the problem from all angles. What would project-based learning look like in a subject like science? That’s what I plan to explore in this piece. Below you will find a list of 14 project-based learning activities for the K-12 science classroom.

  • Student Farm. Students will learn lessons about science, social studies, math, and economics through planting their organic farm. They can begin by researching the crops they want, figure out what kind of care is needed, and then use a budget to determine what materials they must purchase. They can even sell food from their farm to contribute to a cause or fundraiser.
  • Bridge Building. Students begin by studying the engineering of bridge building, comparing the construction of famous bridges such as the Golden Gate Bridge or Tower Bridge in London. Then they work in teams to construct bridges out of Popsicle sticks. The challenge is to get their bridge to hold five pounds (for younger students) or twenty pounds (for more advanced students).
  • Shrinking Potato Chip Bags in the Microwave. Students can learn about polymers through hands-on activities using some of their favorite products, like shoes and sporting equipment. As a culminating activity, they can put a wrapper from their favorite chips or candy bar into the microwave for five seconds to learn about how polymers return to their natural state when exposed to the heat.
  • Design an App. Students love using the newest apps and games, so take it to the next level by having them design their own! With Apple developer tools, kids can learn how to create an app or online game. They can learn about technology and problem-solving skills while engaged in what they love.
  • Gummy Bear: Shrink or Grow? For a project-based lesson on osmosis and solubility, you will just need gummi bears and different liquids and solutions (water, salt water, vinegar, etc.). Children will place a gummi bear in each solution overnight and then measure the results.
  • The Old Egg in a Bottle Trick . This old trick is an impressive PBL activity for kids to learn about the correlation between temperature and pressure,. Using just eggs, a wide mouth glass bottle, matches, and strips of paper, children will be able to make an egg “magically” fit through the bottle’s opening.
  • Cabbage Acid-Base Indicator . Children will love this hands-on approach to learning how to identify an acid or a base just using purple cabbage and seeing colors change.
  • Carnation Color Wonders . An uncomplicated way to teach the importance of the various parts of the flower, the carnation color experiment shows kids how stems provide nourishment to the whole plant.
  • Polymers & Pampers . If your middle school scientist has a younger sibling at home in diapers, this is a great PBL activity to teach how polymers are essential for products like diapers.
  • Make a Battery Using… Anytime a kid can turn produce into a battery, it is fun! So, why not compare a lemon battery to a potato battery to see which one works better?
  • Helmet Drop Test . The helmet drop test is a practical PBL project to teach kids the importance of safety helmets. Simply gather different types of helmets and a several melons. Strap the helmets to the melons and drop each from the same height and measure the results.
  • How Much Sugar is in that Soda? . Health-conscious parents will love this PBL activity because it teaches kids how much sugar is in their soft drinks. If you have soft drinks, sugar, and measuring cups, you can do this experiment in your kitchen.
  • Ways to Clean a Penny . To teach children how acid reacts with salt works to remove the dullness of pennies, kids can do a simple PBL activity using salt and vinegar. They can also test other acids to compare results.
  • Oranges: Float or Sink? . To teach kids about density, all you need are oranges and a bowl of water. You can add to this experiment by testing other fruits with peels.

Did we miss any. Please share your favorite project-based learning activities in the comments below.

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Problem-Solving in Science and Technology Education

  • First Online: 25 February 2023

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  • Bulent Çavaş 13 ,
  • Pınar Çavaş 14 &
  • Yasemin Özdem Yılmaz 15  

Part of the book series: Contemporary Trends and Issues in Science Education ((CTISE,volume 56))

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This chapter focuses on problem-solving, which involves describing a problem, figuring out its root cause, locating, ranking and choosing potential solutions, as well as putting those solutions into action in science and technology education. This chapter covers (1) what problem-solving means for science and technology education; (2) what the problem-solving processes are and how these processes can be used step-by-step for effective problem-solving and (3) the use of problem-solving in citizen science projects supported by the European Union. The chapter also includes discussion of and recommendations for future scientific research in the field of science and technology education.

  • Problem-solving
  • Citizen science
  • Science and technology education

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Çavaş, B., Çavaş, P., Yılmaz, Y.Ö. (2023). Problem-Solving in Science and Technology Education. In: Akpan, B., Cavas, B., Kennedy, T. (eds) Contemporary Issues in Science and Technology Education. Contemporary Trends and Issues in Science Education, vol 56. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-24259-5_18

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Identifying problems and solutions in scientific text

Kevin heffernan.

Department of Computer Science and Technology, University of Cambridge, 15 JJ Thomson Avenue, Cambridge, CB3 0FD UK

Simone Teufel

Research is often described as a problem-solving activity, and as a result, descriptions of problems and solutions are an essential part of the scientific discourse used to describe research activity. We present an automatic classifier that, given a phrase that may or may not be a description of a scientific problem or a solution, makes a binary decision about problemhood and solutionhood of that phrase. We recast the problem as a supervised machine learning problem, define a set of 15 features correlated with the target categories and use several machine learning algorithms on this task. We also create our own corpus of 2000 positive and negative examples of problems and solutions. We find that we can distinguish problems from non-problems with an accuracy of 82.3%, and solutions from non-solutions with an accuracy of 79.7%. Our three most helpful features for the task are syntactic information (POS tags), document and word embeddings.

Introduction

Problem solving is generally regarded as the most important cognitive activity in everyday and professional contexts (Jonassen 2000 ). Many studies on formalising the cognitive process behind problem-solving exist, for instance (Chandrasekaran 1983 ). Jordan ( 1980 ) argues that we all share knowledge of the thought/action problem-solution process involved in real life, and so our writings will often reflect this order. There is general agreement amongst theorists that state that the nature of the research process can be viewed as a problem-solving activity (Strübing 2007 ; Van Dijk 1980 ; Hutchins 1977 ; Grimes 1975 ).

One of the best-documented problem-solving patterns was established by Winter ( 1968 ). Winter analysed thousands of examples of technical texts, and noted that these texts can largely be described in terms of a four-part pattern consisting of Situation, Problem, Solution and Evaluation. This is very similar to the pattern described by Van Dijk ( 1980 ), which consists of Introduction-Theory, Problem-Experiment-Comment and Conclusion. The difference is that in Winter’s view, a solution only becomes a solution after it has been evaluated positively. Hoey changes Winter’s pattern by introducing the concept of Response in place of Solution (Hoey 2001 ). This seems to describe the situation in science better, where evaluation is mandatory for research solutions to be accepted by the community. In Hoey’s pattern, the Situation (which is generally treated as optional) provides background information; the Problem describes an issue which requires attention; the Response provides a way to deal with the issue, and the Evaluation assesses how effective the response is.

An example of this pattern in the context of the Goldilocks story can be seen in Fig.  1 . In this text, there is a preamble providing the setting of the story (i.e. Goldilocks is lost in the woods), which is called the Situation in Hoey’s system. A Problem in encountered when Goldilocks becomes hungry. Her first Response is to try the porridge in big bear’s bowl, but she gives this a negative Evaluation (“too hot!”) and so the pattern returns to the Problem. This continues in a cyclic fashion until the Problem is finally resolved by Goldilocks giving a particular Response a positive Evaluation of baby bear’s porridge (“it’s just right”).

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Example of problem-solving pattern when applied to the Goldilocks story.

Reproduced with permission from Hoey ( 2001 )

It would be attractive to detect problem and solution statements automatically in text. This holds true both from a theoretical and a practical viewpoint. Theoretically, we know that sentiment detection is related to problem-solving activity, because of the perception that “bad” situations are transformed into “better” ones via problem-solving. The exact mechanism of how this can be detected would advance the state of the art in text understanding. In terms of linguistic realisation, problem and solution statements come in many variants and reformulations, often in the form of positive or negated statements about the conditions, results and causes of problem–solution pairs. Detecting and interpreting those would give us a reasonably objective manner to test a system’s understanding capacity. Practically, being able to detect any mention of a problem is a first step towards detecting a paper’s specific research goal. Being able to do this has been a goal for scientific information retrieval for some time, and if successful, it would improve the effectiveness of scientific search immensely. Detecting problem and solution statements of papers would also enable us to compare similar papers and eventually even lead to automatic generation of review articles in a field.

There has been some computational effort on the task of identifying problem-solving patterns in text. However, most of the prior work has not gone beyond the usage of keyword analysis and some simple contextual examination of the pattern. Flowerdew ( 2008 ) presents a corpus-based analysis of lexio-grammatical patterns for problem and solution clauses using articles from professional and student reports. Problem and solution keywords were used to search their corpora, and each occurrence was analysed to determine grammatical usage of the keyword. More interestingly, the causal category associated with each keyword in their context was also analysed. For example, Reason–Result or Means-Purpose were common causal categories found to be associated with problem keywords.

The goal of the work by Scott ( 2001 ) was to determine words which are semantically similar to problem and solution, and to determine how these words are used to signal problem-solution patterns. However, their corpus-based analysis used articles from the Guardian newspaper. Since the domain of newspaper text is very different from that of scientific text, we decided not to consider those keywords associated with problem-solving patterns for use in our work.

Instead of a keyword-based approach, Charles ( 2011 ) used discourse markers to examine how the problem-solution pattern was signalled in text. In particular, they examined how adverbials associated with a result such as “thus, therefore, then, hence” are used to signal a problem-solving pattern.

Problem solving also has been studied in the framework of discourse theories such as Rhetorical Structure Theory (Mann and Thompson 1988 ) and Argumentative Zoning (Teufel et al. 2000 ). Problem- and solutionhood constitute two of the original 23 relations in RST (Mann and Thompson 1988 ). While we concentrate solely on this aspect, RST is a general theory of discourse structure which covers many intentional and informational relations. The relationship to Argumentative Zoning is more complicated. The status of certain statements as problem or solutions is one important dimension in the definitions of AZ categories. AZ additionally models dimensions other than problem-solution hood (such as who a scientific idea belongs to, or which intention the authors might have had in stating a particular negative or positive statement). When forming categories, AZ combines aspects of these dimensions, and “flattens” them out into only 7 categories. In AZ it is crucial who it is that experiences the problems or contributes a solution. For instance, the definition of category “CONTRAST” includes statements that some research runs into problems, but only if that research is previous work (i.e., not if it is the work contributed in the paper itself). Similarly, “BASIS” includes statements of successful problem-solving activities, but only if they are achieved by previous work that the current paper bases itself on. Our definition is simpler in that we are interested only in problem solution structure, not in the other dimensions covered in AZ. Our definition is also more far-reaching than AZ, in that we are interested in all problems mentioned in the text, no matter whose problems they are. Problem-solution recognition can therefore be seen as one aspect of AZ which can be independently modelled as a “service task”. This means that good problem solution structure recognition should theoretically improve AZ recognition.

In this work, we approach the task of identifying problem-solving patterns in scientific text. We choose to use the model of problem-solving described by Hoey ( 2001 ). This pattern comprises four parts: Situation, Problem, Response and Evaluation. The Situation element is considered optional to the pattern, and so our focus centres on the core pattern elements.

Goal statement and task

Many surface features in the text offer themselves up as potential signals for detecting problem-solving patterns in text. However, since Situation is an optional element, we decided to focus on either Problem or Response and Evaluation as signals of the pattern. Moreover, we decide to look for each type in isolation. Our reasons for this are as follows: It is quite rare for an author to introduce a problem without resolving it using some sort of response, and so this is a good starting point in identifying the pattern. There are exceptions to this, as authors will sometimes introduce a problem and then leave it to future work, but overall there should be enough signal in the Problem element to make our method of looking for it in isolation worthwhile. The second signal we look for is the use of Response and Evaluation within the same sentence. Similar to Problem elements, we hypothesise that this formulation is well enough signalled externally to help us in detecting the pattern. For example, consider the following Response and Evaluation: “One solution is to use smoothing”. In this statement, the author is explicitly stating that smoothing is a solution to a problem which must have been mentioned in a prior statement. In scientific text, we often observe that solutions implicitly contain both Response and Evaluation (positive) elements. Therefore, due to these reasons there should be sufficient external signals for the two pattern elements we concentrate on here.

When attempting to find Problem elements in text, we run into the issue that the word “problem” actually has at least two word senses that need to be distinguished. There is a word sense of “problem” that means something which must be undertaken (i.e. task), while another sense is the core sense of the word, something that is problematic and negative. Only the latter sense is aligned with our sense of problemhood. This is because the simple description of a task does not predispose problemhood, just a wish to perform some act. Consider the following examples, where the non-desired word sense is being used:

  • “Das and Petrov (2011) also consider the problem of unsupervised bilingual POS induction”. (Chen et al. 2011 ).
  • “In this paper, we describe advances on the problem of NER in Arabic Wikipedia”. (Mohit et al. 2012 ).

Here, the author explicitly states that the phrases in orange are problems, they align with our definition of research tasks and not with what we call here ‘problematic problems’. We will now give some examples from our corpus for the desired, core word sense:

  • “The major limitation of supervised approaches is that they require annotations for example sentences.” (Poon and Domingos 2009 ).
  • “To solve the problem of high dimensionality we use clustering to group the words present in the corpus into much smaller number of clusters”. (Saha et al. 2008 ).

When creating our corpus of positive and negative examples, we took care to select only problem strings that satisfy our definition of problemhood; “ Corpus creation ” section will explain how we did that.

Corpus creation

Our new corpus is a subset of the latest version of the ACL anthology released in March, 2016 1 which contains 22,878 articles in the form of PDFs and OCRed text. 2

The 2016 version was also parsed using ParsCit (Councill et al. 2008 ). ParsCit recognises not only document structure, but also bibliography lists as well as references within running text. A random subset of 2500 papers was collected covering the entire ACL timeline. In order to disregard non-article publications such as introductions to conference proceedings or letters to the editor, only documents containing abstracts were considered. The corpus was preprocessed using tokenisation, lemmatisation and dependency parsing with the Rasp Parser (Briscoe et al. 2006 ).

Definition of ground truth

Our goal was to define a ground truth for problem and solution strings, while covering as wide a range as possible of syntactic variations in which such strings naturally occur. We also want this ground truth to cover phenomena of problem and solution status which are applicable whether or not the problem or solution status is explicitly mentioned in the text.

To simplify the task, we only consider here problem and solution descriptions that are at most one sentence long. In reality, of course, many problem descriptions and solution descriptions go beyond single sentence, and require for instance an entire paragraph. However, we also know that short summaries of problems and solutions are very prevalent in science, and also that these tend to occur in the most prominent places in a paper. This is because scientists are trained to express their contribution and the obstacles possibly hindering their success, in an informative, succinct manner. That is the reason why we can afford to only look for shorter problem and solution descriptions, ignoring those that cross sentence boundaries.

To define our ground truth, we examined the parsed dependencies and looked for a target word (“problem/solution”) in subject position, and then chose its syntactic argument as our candidate problem or solution phrase. To increase the variation, i.e., to find as many different-worded problem and solution descriptions as possible, we additionally used semantically similar words (near-synonyms) of the target words “problem” or “solution” for the search. Semantic similarity was defined as cosine in a deep learning distributional vector space, trained using Word2Vec (Mikolov et al. 2013 ) on 18,753,472 sentences from a biomedical corpus based on all full-text Pubmed articles (McKeown et al. 2016 ). From the 200 words which were semantically closest to “problem”, we manually selected 28 clear synonyms. These are listed in Table  1 . From the 200 semantically closest words to “solution” we similarly chose 19 (Table  2 ). Of the sentences matching our dependency search, a subset of problem and solution candidate sentences were randomly selected.

Selected words for use in problem candidate phrase extraction

Selected words for use in solution candidate phrase extraction

An example of this is shown in Fig.  2 . Here, the target word “drawback” is in subject position (highlighted in red), and its clausal argument (ccomp) is “(that) it achieves low performance” (highlighted in purple). Examples of other arguments we searched for included copula constructions and direct/indirect objects.

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Example of our extraction method for problems using dependencies. (Color figure online)

If more than one candidate was found in a sentence, one was chosen at random. Non-grammatical sentences were excluded; these might appear in the corpus as a result of its source being OCRed text.

800 candidates phrases expressing problems and solutions were automatically extracted (1600 total) and then independently checked for correctness by two annotators (the two authors of this paper). Both authors found the task simple and straightforward. Correctness was defined by two criteria:

  • An unexplained phenomenon or a problematic state in science; or
  • A research question; or
  • An artifact that does not fulfil its stated specification.
  • The phrase must not lexically give away its status as problem or solution phrase.

The second criterion saves us from machine learning cues that are too obvious. If for instance, the phrase itself contained the words “lack of” or “problematic” or “drawback”, our manual check rejected it, because it would be too easy for the machine learner to learn such cues, at the expense of many other, more generally occurring cues.

Sampling of negative examples

We next needed to find negative examples for both cases. We wanted them not to stand out on the surface as negative examples, so we chose them so as to mimic the obvious characteristics of the positive examples as closely as possible. We call the negative examples ‘non-problems’ and ‘non-solutions’ respectively. We wanted the only differences between problems and non-problems to be of a semantic nature, nothing that could be read off on the surface. We therefore sampled a population of phrases that obey the same statistical distribution as our problem and solution strings while making sure they really are negative examples. We started from sentences not containing any problem/solution words (i.e. those used as target words). From each such sentence, we at random selected one syntactic subtree contained in it. From these, we randomly selected a subset of negative examples of problems and solutions that satisfy the following conditions:

  • The distribution of the head POS tags of the negative strings should perfectly match the head POS tags 3 of the positive strings. This has the purpose of achieving the same proportion of surface syntactic constructions as observed in the positive cases.
  • The average lengths of the negative strings must be within a tolerance of the average length of their respective positive candidates e.g., non-solutions must have an average length very similar (i.e. + / -  small tolerance) to solutions. We chose a tolerance value of 3 characters.

Again, a human quality check was performed on non-problems and non-solutions. For each candidate non-problem statement, the candidate was accepted if it did not contain a phenomenon, a problematic state, a research question or a non-functioning artefact. If the string expressed a research task, without explicit statement that there was anything problematic about it (i.e., the ‘wrong’ sense of “problem”, as described above), it was allowed as a non-problem. A clause was confirmed as a non-solution if the string did not represent both a response and positive evaluation.

If the annotator found that the sentence had been slightly mis-parsed, but did contain a candidate, they were allowed to move the boundaries for the candidate clause. This resulted in cleaner text, e.g., in the frequent case of coordination, when non-relevant constituents could be removed.

From the set of sentences which passed the quality-test for both independent assessors, 500 instances of positive and negative problems/solutions were randomly chosen (i.e. 2000 instances in total). When checking for correctness we found that most of the automatically extracted phrases which did not pass the quality test for problem-/solution-hood were either due to obvious learning cues or instances where the sense of problem-hood used is relating to tasks (cf. “ Goal statement and task ” section).

Experimental design

In our experiments, we used three classifiers, namely Naïve Bayes, Logistic Regression and a Support Vector Machine. For all classifiers an implementation from the WEKA machine learning library (Hall et al. 2009 ) was chosen. Given that our dataset is small, tenfold cross-validation was used instead of a held out test set. All significance tests were conducted using the (two-tailed) Sign Test (Siegel 1956 ).

Linguistic correlates of problem- and solution-hood

We first define a set of features without taking the phrase’s context into account. This will tell us about the disambiguation ability of the problem/solution description’s semantics alone. In particular, we cut out the rest of the sentence other than the phrase and never use it for classification. This is done for similar reasons to excluding certain ‘give-away’ phrases inside the phrases themselves (as explained above). As the phrases were found using templates, we know that the machine learner would simply pick up on the semantics of the template, which always contains a synonym of “problem” or “solution”, thus drowning out the more hidden features hopefully inherent in the semantics of the phrases themselves. If we allowed the machine learner to use these stronger features, it would suffer in its ability to generalise to the real task.

ngrams Bags of words are traditionally successfully used for classification tasks in NLP, so we included bags of words (lemmas) within the candidate phrases as one of our features (and treat it as a baseline later on). We also include bigrams and trigrams as multi-word combinations can be indicative of problems and solutions e.g., “combinatorial explosion”.

Polarity Our second feature concerns the polarity of each word in the candidate strings. Consider the following example of a problem taken from our dataset: “very conservative approaches to exact and partial string matches overgenerate badly”. In this sentence, words such as “badly” will be associated with negative polarity, therefore being useful in determining problem-hood. Similarly, solutions will often be associated with a positive sentiment e.g. “smoothing is a good way to overcome data sparsity” . To do this, we perform word sense disambiguation of each word using the Lesk algorithm (Lesk 1986 ). The polarity of the resulting synset in SentiWordNet (Baccianella et al. 2010 ) was then looked up and used as a feature.

Syntax Next, a set of syntactic features were defined by using the presence of POS tags in each candidate. This feature could be helpful in finding syntactic patterns in problems and solutions. We were careful not to base the model directly on the head POS tag and the length of each candidate phrase, as these are defining characteristics used for determining the non-problem and non-solution candidate set.

Negation Negation is an important property that can often greatly affect the polarity of a phrase. For example, a phrase containing a keyword pertinent to solution-hood may be a good indicator but with the presence of negation may flip the polarity to problem-hood e.g., “this can’t work as a solution”. Therefore, presence of negation is determined.

Exemplification and contrast Problems and solutions are often found to be coupled with examples as they allow the author to elucidate their point. For instance, consider the following solution: “Once the translations are generated, an obvious solution is to pick the most fluent alternative, e.g., using an n-gram language model”. (Madnani et al. 2012 ). To acknowledge this, we check for presence of exemplification. In addition to examples, problems in particular are often found when contrast is signalled by the author (e.g. “however, “but”), therefore we also check for presence of contrast in the problem and non-problem candidates only.

Discourse Problems and solutions have also been found to have a correlation with discourse properties. For example, problem-solving patterns often occur in the background sections of a paper. The rationale behind this is that the author is conventionally asked to objectively criticise other work in the background (e.g. describing research gaps which motivate the current paper). To take this in account, we examine the context of each string and capture the section header under which it is contained (e.g. Introduction, Future work). In addition, problems and solutions are often found following the Situation element in the problem-solving pattern (cf. “ Introduction ” section). This preamble setting up the problem or solution means that these elements are likely not to be found occurring at the beginning of a section (i.e. it will usually take some sort of introduction to detail how something is problematic and why a solution is needed). Therefore we record the distance from the candidate string to the nearest section header.

Subcategorisation and adverbials Solutions often involve an activity (e.g. a task). We also model the subcategorisation properties of the verbs involved. Our intuition was that since problematic situations are often described as non-actions, then these are more likely to be intransitive. Conversely solutions are often actions and are likely to have at least one argument. This feature was calculated by running the C&C parser (Curran et al. 2007 ) on each sentence. C&C is a supertagger and parser that has access to subcategorisation information. Solutions are also associated with resultative adverbial modification (e.g. “thus, therefore, consequently”) as it expresses the solutionhood relation between the problem and the solution. It has been seen to occur frequently in problem-solving patterns, as studied by Charles ( 2011 ). Therefore, we check for presence of resultative adverbial modification in the solution and non-solution candidate only.

Embeddings We also wanted to add more information using word embeddings. This was done in two different ways. Firstly, we created a Doc2Vec model (Le and Mikolov 2014 ), which was trained on  ∼  19  million sentences from scientific text (no overlap with our data set). An embedding was created for each candidate sentence. Secondly, word embeddings were calculated using the Word2Vec model (cf. “ Corpus creation ” section). For each candidate head, the full word embedding was included as a feature. Lastly, when creating our polarity feature we query SentiWordNet using synsets assigned by the Lesk algorithm. However, not all words are assigned a sense by Lesk, so we need to take care when that happens. In those cases, the distributional semantic similarity of the word is compared to two words with a known polarity, namely “poor” and “excellent”. These particular words have traditionally been consistently good indicators of polarity status in many studies (Turney 2002 ; Mullen and Collier 2004 ). Semantic similarity was defined as cosine similarity on the embeddings of the Word2Vec model (cf. “ Corpus creation ” section).

Modality Responses to problems in scientific writing often express possibility and necessity, and so have a close connection with modality. Modality can be broken into three main categories, as described by Kratzer ( 1991 ), namely epistemic (possibility), deontic (permission / request / wish) and dynamic (expressing ability).

Problems have a strong relationship to modality within scientific writing. Often, this is due to a tactic called “hedging” (Medlock and Briscoe 2007 ) where the author uses speculative language, often using Epistemic modality, in an attempt to make either noncommital or vague statements. This has the effect of allowing the author to distance themselves from the statement, and is often employed when discussing negative or problematic topics. Consider the following example of Epistemic modality from Nakov and Hearst ( 2008 ): “A potential drawback is that it might not work well for low-frequency words”.

To take this linguistic correlate into account as a feature, we replicated a modality classifier as described by (Ruppenhofer and Rehbein 2012 ). More sophisticated modality classifiers have been recently introduced, for instance using a wide range of features and convolutional neural networks, e.g, (Zhou et al. 2015 ; Marasović and Frank 2016 ). However, we wanted to check the effect of a simpler method of modality classification on the final outcome first before investing heavily into their implementation. We trained three classifiers using the subset of features which Ruppenhofer et al. reported as performing best, and evaluated them on the gold standard dataset provided by the authors 4 . The results of the are shown in Table  3 . The dataset contains annotations of English modal verbs on the 535 documents of the first MPQA corpus release (Wiebe et al. 2005 ).

Modality classifier results (precision/recall/f-measure) using Naïve Bayes (NB), logistic regression, and a support vector machine (SVM)

Italicized results reflect highest f-measure reported per modal category

Logistic Regression performed best overall and so this model was chosen for our upcoming experiments. With regards to the optative and concessive modal categories, they can be seen to perform extremely poorly, with the optative category receiving a null score across all three classifiers. This is due to a limitation in the dataset, which is unbalanced and contains very few instances of these two categories. This unbalanced data also is the reason behind our decision of reporting results in terms of recall, precision and f-measure in Table  3 .

The modality classifier was then retrained on the entirety of the dataset used by Ruppenhofer and Rehbein ( 2012 ) using the best performing model from training (Logistic Regression). This new model was then used in the upcoming experiment to predict modality labels for each instance in our dataset.

As can be seen from Table  4 , we are able to achieve good results for distinguishing a problematic statement from non-problematic one. The bag-of-words baseline achieves a very good performance of 71.0% for the Logistic Regression classifier, showing that there is enough signal in the candidate phrases alone to distinguish them much better than random chance.

Results distinguishing problems from non-problems using Naïve Bayes (NB), logistic regression (LR) and a support vector machine (SVM)

Each feature set’s performance is shown in isolation followed by combinations with other features. Tenfold stratified cross-validation was used across all experiments. Statistical significance with respect to the baseline at the p  < 0.05 , 0.01, 0.001 levels is denoted by *, ** and *** respectively

Taking a look at Table  5 , which shows the information gain for the top lemmas,

Information gain (IG) in bits of top lemmas from the bag-of-words baseline in Table  4

we can see that the top lemmas are indeed indicative of problemhood (e.g. “limit”,“explosion”). Bigrams achieved good performance on their own (as did negation and discourse) but unfortunately performance deteriorated when using trigrams, particularly with the SVM and LR. The subcategorisation feature was the worst performing feature in isolation. Upon taking a closer look at our data, we saw that our hypothesis that intransitive verbs are commonly used in problematic statements was true, with over 30% of our problems (153) using them. However, due to our sampling method for the negative cases we also picked up many intransitive verbs (163). This explains the almost random chance performance (i.e.  50%) given that the distribution of intransitive verbs amongst the positive and negative candidates was almost even.

The modality feature was the most expensive to produce, but also didn’t perform very well is isolation. This surprising result may be partly due to a data sparsity issue

where only a small portion (169) of our instances contained modal verbs. The breakdown of how many types of modal senses which occurred is displayed in Table  6 . The most dominant modal sense was epistemic. This is a good indicator of problemhood (e.g. hedging, cf. “ Linguistic correlates of problem- and solution-hood ” section) but if the accumulation of additional data was possible, we think that this feature may have the potential to be much more valuable in determining problemhood. Another reason for the performance may be domain dependence of the classifier since it was trained on text from different domains (e.g. news). Additionally, modality has also shown to be helpful in determining contextual polarity (Wilson et al. 2005 ) and argumentation (Becker et al. 2016 ), so using the output from this modality classifier may also prove useful for further feature engineering taking this into account in future work.

Number of instances of modal senses

Polarity managed to perform well but not as good as we hoped. However, this feature also suffers from a sparsity issue resulting from cases where the Lesk algorithm (Lesk 1986 ) is not able to resolve the synset of the syntactic head.

Knowledge of syntax provides a big improvement with a significant increase over the baseline results from two of the classifiers.

Examining this in greater detail, POS tags with high information gain mostly included tags from open classes (i.e. VB-, JJ-, NN- and RB-). These tags are often more associated with determining polarity status than tags such as prepositions and conjunctions (i.e. adverbs and adjectives are more likely to be describing something with a non-neutral viewpoint).

The embeddings from Doc2Vec allowed us to obtain another significant increase in performance (72.9% with Naïve Bayes) over the baseline and polarity using Word2Vec provided the best individual feature result (77.2% with SVM).

Combining all features together, each classifier managed to achieve a significant result over the baseline with the best result coming from the SVM (81.8%). Problems were also better classified than non-problems as shown in the confusion matrix in Table  7 . The addition of the Word2Vec vectors may be seen as a form of smoothing in cases where previous linguistic features had a sparsity issue i.e., instead of a NULL entry, the embeddings provide some sort of value for each candidate. Particularly wrt. the polarity feature, cases where Lesk was unable to resolve a synset meant that a ZERO entry was added to the vector supplied to the machine learner. Amongst the possible combinations, the best subset of features was found by combining all features with the exception of bigrams, trigrams, subcategorisation and modality. This subset of features managed to improve results in both the Naïve Bayes and SVM classifiers with the highest overall result coming from the SVM (82.3%).

Confusion matrix for problems

The results for disambiguation of solutions from non-solutions can be seen in Table  8 . The bag-of-words baseline performs much better than random, with the performance being quite high with regard to the SVM (this result was also higher than any of the baseline performances from the problem classifiers). As shown in Table  9 , the top ranked lemmas from the best performing model (using information gain) included “use” and “method”. These lemmas are very indicative of solutionhood and so give some insight into the high baseline returned from the machine learners. Subcategorisation and the result adverbials were the two worst performing features. However, the low performance for subcategorisation is due to the sampling of the non-solutions (the same reason for the low performance of the problem transitivity feature). When fitting the POS-tag distribution for the negative samples, we noticed that over 80% of the head POS-tags were verbs (much higher than the problem heads). The most frequent verb type being the infinite form.

Results distinguishing solutions from non-solutions using Naïve Bayes (NB), logistic regression (LR) and a support vector machine (SVM)

Each feature set’s performance is shown in isolation followed by combinations with other features. Tenfold stratified cross-validation was used across all experiments

Information gain (IG) in bits of top lemmas from the bag-of-words baseline in Table  8

This is not surprising given that a very common formulation to describe a solution is to use the infinitive “TO” since it often describes a task e.g., “One solution is to find the singletons and remove them”. Therefore, since the head POS tags of the non-solutions had to match this high distribution of infinitive verbs present in the solution, the subcategorisation feature is not particularly discriminatory. Polarity, negation, exemplification and syntactic features were slightly more discriminate and provided comparable results. However, similar to the problem experiment, the embeddings from Word2Vec and Doc2Vec proved to be the best features, with polarity using Word2Vec providing the best individual result (73.4% with SVM).

Combining all features together managed to improve over each feature in isolation and beat the baseline using all three classifiers. Furthermore, when looking at the confusion matrix in Table  10 the solutions were classified more accurately than the non-solutions. The best subset of features was found by combining all features without adverbial of result, bigrams, exemplification, negation, polarity and subcategorisation. The best result using this subset of features was achieved by the SVM with 79.7%. It managed to greatly improve upon the baseline but was just shy of achieving statistical significance ( p = 0.057 ).

Confusion matrix for solutions

In this work, we have presented new supervised classifiers for the task of identifying problem and solution statements in scientific text. We have also introduced a new corpus for this task and used it for evaluating our classifiers. Great care was taken in constructing the corpus by ensuring that the negative and positive samples were closely matched in terms of syntactic shape. If we had simply selected random subtrees for negative samples without regard for any syntactic similarity with our positive samples, the machine learner may have found easy signals such as sentence length. Additionally, since we did not allow the machine learner to see the surroundings of the candidate string within the sentence, this made our task even harder. Our performance on the corpus shows promise for this task, and proves that there are strong signals for determining both the problem and solution parts of the problem-solving pattern independently.

With regard to classifying problems from non-problems, features such as the POS tag, document and word embeddings provide the best features, with polarity using the Word2Vec embeddings achieving the highest feature performance. The best overall result was achieved using an SVM with a subset of features (82.3%). Classifying solutions from non-solutions also performs well using the embedding features, with the best feature also being polarity using the Word2Vec embeddings, and the highest result also coming from the SVM with a feature subset (79.7%).

In future work, we plan to link problem and solution statements which were found independently during our corpus creation. Given that our classifiers were trained on data solely from the ACL anthology, we also hope to investigate the domain specificity of our classifiers and see how well they can generalise to domains other than ACL (e.g. bioinformatics). Since we took great care at removing the knowledge our classifiers have of the explicit statements of problem and solution (i.e. the classifiers were trained only on the syntactic argument of the explicit statement of problem-/solution-hood), our classifiers should in principle be in a good position to generalise, i.e., find implicit statements too. In future work, we will measure to which degree this is the case.

To facilitate further research on this topic, all code and data used in our experiments can be found here: www.cl.cam.ac.uk/~kh562/identifying-problems-and-solutions.html

Acknowledgements

The first author has been supported by an EPSRC studentship (Award Ref: 1641528). We thank the reviewers for their helpful comments.

1 http://acl-arc.comp.nus.edu.sg/ .

2 The corpus comprises 3,391,198 sentences, 71,149,169 words and 451,996,332 characters.

3 The head POS tags were found using a modification of the Collins’ Head Finder. This modified algorithm addresses some of the limitations of the head finding heuristics described by Collins ( 2003 ) and can be found here: http://nlp.stanford.edu/nlp/javadoc/javanlp/edu/stanford/nlp/trees/ModCollinsHeadFinder.html .

4 https://www.uni-hildesheim.de/ruppenhofer/data/modalia_release1.0.tgz.

Contributor Information

Kevin Heffernan, Email: [email protected] .

Simone Teufel, Email: [email protected] .

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Using the Scientific Method to Solve Problems

How the scientific method and reasoning can help simplify processes and solve problems.

By the Mind Tools Content Team

The processes of problem-solving and decision-making can be complicated and drawn out. In this article we look at how the scientific method, along with deductive and inductive reasoning can help simplify these processes.

problem solving in science example

‘It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has information. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit our theories, instead of theories to suit facts.’ Sherlock Holmes

The Scientific Method

The scientific method is a process used to explore observations and answer questions. Originally used by scientists looking to prove new theories, its use has spread into many other areas, including that of problem-solving and decision-making.

The scientific method is designed to eliminate the influences of bias, prejudice and personal beliefs when testing a hypothesis or theory. It has developed alongside science itself, with origins going back to the 13th century. The scientific method is generally described as a series of steps.

  • observations/theory
  • explanation/conclusion

The first step is to develop a theory about the particular area of interest. A theory, in the context of logic or problem-solving, is a conjecture or speculation about something that is not necessarily fact, often based on a series of observations.

Once a theory has been devised, it can be questioned and refined into more specific hypotheses that can be tested. The hypotheses are potential explanations for the theory.

The testing, and subsequent analysis, of these hypotheses will eventually lead to a conclus ion which can prove or disprove the original theory.

Applying the Scientific Method to Problem-Solving

How can the scientific method be used to solve a problem, such as the color printer is not working?

1. Use observations to develop a theory.

In order to solve the problem, it must first be clear what the problem is. Observations made about the problem should be used to develop a theory. In this particular problem the theory might be that the color printer has run out of ink. This theory is developed as the result of observing the increasingly faded output from the printer.

2. Form a hypothesis.

Note down all the possible reasons for the problem. In this situation they might include:

  • The printer is set up as the default printer for all 40 people in the department and so is used more frequently than necessary.
  • There has been increased usage of the printer due to non-work related printing.
  • In an attempt to reduce costs, poor quality ink cartridges with limited amounts of ink in them have been purchased.
  • The printer is faulty.

All these possible reasons are hypotheses.

3. Test the hypothesis.

Once as many hypotheses (or reasons) as possible have been thought of, then each one can be tested to discern if it is the cause of the problem. An appropriate test needs to be devised for each hypothesis. For example, it is fairly quick to ask everyone to check the default settings of the printer on each PC, or to check if the cartridge supplier has changed.

4. Analyze the test results.

Once all the hypotheses have been tested, the results can be analyzed. The type and depth of analysis will be dependant on each individual problem, and the tests appropriate to it. In many cases the analysis will be a very quick thought process. In others, where considerable information has been collated, a more structured approach, such as the use of graphs, tables or spreadsheets, may be required.

5. Draw a conclusion.

Based on the results of the tests, a conclusion can then be drawn about exactly what is causing the problem. The appropriate remedial action can then be taken, such as asking everyone to amend their default print settings, or changing the cartridge supplier.

Inductive and Deductive Reasoning

The scientific method involves the use of two basic types of reasoning, inductive and deductive.

Inductive reasoning makes a conclusion based on a set of empirical results. Empirical results are the product of the collection of evidence from observations. For example:

‘Every time it rains the pavement gets wet, therefore rain must be water’.

There has been no scientific determination in the hypothesis that rain is water, it is purely based on observation. The formation of a hypothesis in this manner is sometimes referred to as an educated guess. An educated guess, whilst not based on hard facts, must still be plausible, and consistent with what we already know, in order to present a reasonable argument.

Deductive reasoning can be thought of most simply in terms of ‘If A and B, then C’. For example:

  • if the window is above the desk, and
  • the desk is above the floor, then
  • the window must be above the floor

It works by building on a series of conclusions, which results in one final answer.

Social Sciences and the Scientific Method

The scientific method can be used to address any situation or problem where a theory can be developed. Although more often associated with natural sciences, it can also be used to develop theories in social sciences (such as psychology, sociology and linguistics), using both quantitative and qualitative methods.

Quantitative information is information that can be measured, and tends to focus on numbers and frequencies. Typically quantitative information might be gathered by experiments, questionnaires or psychometric tests. Qualitative information, on the other hand, is based on information describing meaning, such as human behavior, and the reasons behind it. Qualitative information is gathered by way of interviews and case studies, which are possibly not as statistically accurate as quantitative methods, but provide a more in-depth and rich description.

The resultant information can then be used to prove, or disprove, a hypothesis. Using a mix of quantitative and qualitative information is more likely to produce a rounded result based on the factual, quantitative information enriched and backed up by actual experience and qualitative information.

In terms of problem-solving or decision-making, for example, the qualitative information is that gained by looking at the ‘how’ and ‘why’ , whereas quantitative information would come from the ‘where’, ‘what’ and ‘when’.

It may seem easy to come up with a brilliant idea, or to suspect what the cause of a problem may be. However things can get more complicated when the idea needs to be evaluated, or when there may be more than one potential cause of a problem. In these situations, the use of the scientific method, and its associated reasoning, can help the user come to a decision, or reach a solution, secure in the knowledge that all options have been considered.

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Overview of the Problem-Solving Mental Process

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

problem solving in science example

Rachel Goldman, PhD FTOS, is a licensed psychologist, clinical assistant professor, speaker, wellness expert specializing in eating behaviors, stress management, and health behavior change.

problem solving in science example

  • Identify the Problem
  • Define the Problem
  • Form a Strategy
  • Organize Information
  • Allocate Resources
  • Monitor Progress
  • Evaluate the Results

Frequently Asked Questions

Problem-solving is a mental process that involves discovering, analyzing, and solving problems. The ultimate goal of problem-solving is to overcome obstacles and find a solution that best resolves the issue.

The best strategy for solving a problem depends largely on the unique situation. In some cases, people are better off learning everything they can about the issue and then using factual knowledge to come up with a solution. In other instances, creativity and insight are the best options.

It is not necessary to follow problem-solving steps sequentially, It is common to skip steps or even go back through steps multiple times until the desired solution is reached.

In order to correctly solve a problem, it is often important to follow a series of steps. Researchers sometimes refer to this as the problem-solving cycle. While this cycle is portrayed sequentially, people rarely follow a rigid series of steps to find a solution.

The following steps include developing strategies and organizing knowledge.

1. Identifying the Problem

While it may seem like an obvious step, identifying the problem is not always as simple as it sounds. In some cases, people might mistakenly identify the wrong source of a problem, which will make attempts to solve it inefficient or even useless.

Some strategies that you might use to figure out the source of a problem include :

  • Asking questions about the problem
  • Breaking the problem down into smaller pieces
  • Looking at the problem from different perspectives
  • Conducting research to figure out what relationships exist between different variables

2. Defining the Problem

After the problem has been identified, it is important to fully define the problem so that it can be solved. You can define a problem by operationally defining each aspect of the problem and setting goals for what aspects of the problem you will address

At this point, you should focus on figuring out which aspects of the problems are facts and which are opinions. State the problem clearly and identify the scope of the solution.

3. Forming a Strategy

After the problem has been identified, it is time to start brainstorming potential solutions. This step usually involves generating as many ideas as possible without judging their quality. Once several possibilities have been generated, they can be evaluated and narrowed down.

The next step is to develop a strategy to solve the problem. The approach used will vary depending upon the situation and the individual's unique preferences. Common problem-solving strategies include heuristics and algorithms.

  • Heuristics are mental shortcuts that are often based on solutions that have worked in the past. They can work well if the problem is similar to something you have encountered before and are often the best choice if you need a fast solution.
  • Algorithms are step-by-step strategies that are guaranteed to produce a correct result. While this approach is great for accuracy, it can also consume time and resources.

Heuristics are often best used when time is of the essence, while algorithms are a better choice when a decision needs to be as accurate as possible.

4. Organizing Information

Before coming up with a solution, you need to first organize the available information. What do you know about the problem? What do you not know? The more information that is available the better prepared you will be to come up with an accurate solution.

When approaching a problem, it is important to make sure that you have all the data you need. Making a decision without adequate information can lead to biased or inaccurate results.

5. Allocating Resources

Of course, we don't always have unlimited money, time, and other resources to solve a problem. Before you begin to solve a problem, you need to determine how high priority it is.

If it is an important problem, it is probably worth allocating more resources to solving it. If, however, it is a fairly unimportant problem, then you do not want to spend too much of your available resources on coming up with a solution.

At this stage, it is important to consider all of the factors that might affect the problem at hand. This includes looking at the available resources, deadlines that need to be met, and any possible risks involved in each solution. After careful evaluation, a decision can be made about which solution to pursue.

6. Monitoring Progress

After selecting a problem-solving strategy, it is time to put the plan into action and see if it works. This step might involve trying out different solutions to see which one is the most effective.

It is also important to monitor the situation after implementing a solution to ensure that the problem has been solved and that no new problems have arisen as a result of the proposed solution.

Effective problem-solvers tend to monitor their progress as they work towards a solution. If they are not making good progress toward reaching their goal, they will reevaluate their approach or look for new strategies .

7. Evaluating the Results

After a solution has been reached, it is important to evaluate the results to determine if it is the best possible solution to the problem. This evaluation might be immediate, such as checking the results of a math problem to ensure the answer is correct, or it can be delayed, such as evaluating the success of a therapy program after several months of treatment.

Once a problem has been solved, it is important to take some time to reflect on the process that was used and evaluate the results. This will help you to improve your problem-solving skills and become more efficient at solving future problems.

A Word From Verywell​

It is important to remember that there are many different problem-solving processes with different steps, and this is just one example. Problem-solving in real-world situations requires a great deal of resourcefulness, flexibility, resilience, and continuous interaction with the environment.

Get Advice From The Verywell Mind Podcast

Hosted by therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares how you can stop dwelling in a negative mindset.

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You can become a better problem solving by:

  • Practicing brainstorming and coming up with multiple potential solutions to problems
  • Being open-minded and considering all possible options before making a decision
  • Breaking down problems into smaller, more manageable pieces
  • Asking for help when needed
  • Researching different problem-solving techniques and trying out new ones
  • Learning from mistakes and using them as opportunities to grow

It's important to communicate openly and honestly with your partner about what's going on. Try to see things from their perspective as well as your own. Work together to find a resolution that works for both of you. Be willing to compromise and accept that there may not be a perfect solution.

Take breaks if things are getting too heated, and come back to the problem when you feel calm and collected. Don't try to fix every problem on your own—consider asking a therapist or counselor for help and insight.

If you've tried everything and there doesn't seem to be a way to fix the problem, you may have to learn to accept it. This can be difficult, but try to focus on the positive aspects of your life and remember that every situation is temporary. Don't dwell on what's going wrong—instead, think about what's going right. Find support by talking to friends or family. Seek professional help if you're having trouble coping.

Davidson JE, Sternberg RJ, editors.  The Psychology of Problem Solving .  Cambridge University Press; 2003. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511615771

Sarathy V. Real world problem-solving .  Front Hum Neurosci . 2018;12:261. Published 2018 Jun 26. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2018.00261

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

Status.net

What is Problem Solving? (Steps, Techniques, Examples)

By Status.net Editorial Team on May 7, 2023 — 5 minutes to read

What Is Problem Solving?

Definition and importance.

Problem solving is the process of finding solutions to obstacles or challenges you encounter in your life or work. It is a crucial skill that allows you to tackle complex situations, adapt to changes, and overcome difficulties with ease. Mastering this ability will contribute to both your personal and professional growth, leading to more successful outcomes and better decision-making.

Problem-Solving Steps

The problem-solving process typically includes the following steps:

  • Identify the issue : Recognize the problem that needs to be solved.
  • Analyze the situation : Examine the issue in depth, gather all relevant information, and consider any limitations or constraints that may be present.
  • Generate potential solutions : Brainstorm a list of possible solutions to the issue, without immediately judging or evaluating them.
  • Evaluate options : Weigh the pros and cons of each potential solution, considering factors such as feasibility, effectiveness, and potential risks.
  • Select the best solution : Choose the option that best addresses the problem and aligns with your objectives.
  • Implement the solution : Put the selected solution into action and monitor the results to ensure it resolves the issue.
  • Review and learn : Reflect on the problem-solving process, identify any improvements or adjustments that can be made, and apply these learnings to future situations.

Defining the Problem

To start tackling a problem, first, identify and understand it. Analyzing the issue thoroughly helps to clarify its scope and nature. Ask questions to gather information and consider the problem from various angles. Some strategies to define the problem include:

  • Brainstorming with others
  • Asking the 5 Ws and 1 H (Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How)
  • Analyzing cause and effect
  • Creating a problem statement

Generating Solutions

Once the problem is clearly understood, brainstorm possible solutions. Think creatively and keep an open mind, as well as considering lessons from past experiences. Consider:

  • Creating a list of potential ideas to solve the problem
  • Grouping and categorizing similar solutions
  • Prioritizing potential solutions based on feasibility, cost, and resources required
  • Involving others to share diverse opinions and inputs

Evaluating and Selecting Solutions

Evaluate each potential solution, weighing its pros and cons. To facilitate decision-making, use techniques such as:

  • SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats)
  • Decision-making matrices
  • Pros and cons lists
  • Risk assessments

After evaluating, choose the most suitable solution based on effectiveness, cost, and time constraints.

Implementing and Monitoring the Solution

Implement the chosen solution and monitor its progress. Key actions include:

  • Communicating the solution to relevant parties
  • Setting timelines and milestones
  • Assigning tasks and responsibilities
  • Monitoring the solution and making adjustments as necessary
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of the solution after implementation

Utilize feedback from stakeholders and consider potential improvements. Remember that problem-solving is an ongoing process that can always be refined and enhanced.

Problem-Solving Techniques

During each step, you may find it helpful to utilize various problem-solving techniques, such as:

  • Brainstorming : A free-flowing, open-minded session where ideas are generated and listed without judgment, to encourage creativity and innovative thinking.
  • Root cause analysis : A method that explores the underlying causes of a problem to find the most effective solution rather than addressing superficial symptoms.
  • SWOT analysis : A tool used to evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats related to a problem or decision, providing a comprehensive view of the situation.
  • Mind mapping : A visual technique that uses diagrams to organize and connect ideas, helping to identify patterns, relationships, and possible solutions.

Brainstorming

When facing a problem, start by conducting a brainstorming session. Gather your team and encourage an open discussion where everyone contributes ideas, no matter how outlandish they may seem. This helps you:

  • Generate a diverse range of solutions
  • Encourage all team members to participate
  • Foster creative thinking

When brainstorming, remember to:

  • Reserve judgment until the session is over
  • Encourage wild ideas
  • Combine and improve upon ideas

Root Cause Analysis

For effective problem-solving, identifying the root cause of the issue at hand is crucial. Try these methods:

  • 5 Whys : Ask “why” five times to get to the underlying cause.
  • Fishbone Diagram : Create a diagram representing the problem and break it down into categories of potential causes.
  • Pareto Analysis : Determine the few most significant causes underlying the majority of problems.

SWOT Analysis

SWOT analysis helps you examine the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats related to your problem. To perform a SWOT analysis:

  • List your problem’s strengths, such as relevant resources or strong partnerships.
  • Identify its weaknesses, such as knowledge gaps or limited resources.
  • Explore opportunities, like trends or new technologies, that could help solve the problem.
  • Recognize potential threats, like competition or regulatory barriers.

SWOT analysis aids in understanding the internal and external factors affecting the problem, which can help guide your solution.

Mind Mapping

A mind map is a visual representation of your problem and potential solutions. It enables you to organize information in a structured and intuitive manner. To create a mind map:

  • Write the problem in the center of a blank page.
  • Draw branches from the central problem to related sub-problems or contributing factors.
  • Add more branches to represent potential solutions or further ideas.

Mind mapping allows you to visually see connections between ideas and promotes creativity in problem-solving.

Examples of Problem Solving in Various Contexts

In the business world, you might encounter problems related to finances, operations, or communication. Applying problem-solving skills in these situations could look like:

  • Identifying areas of improvement in your company’s financial performance and implementing cost-saving measures
  • Resolving internal conflicts among team members by listening and understanding different perspectives, then proposing and negotiating solutions
  • Streamlining a process for better productivity by removing redundancies, automating tasks, or re-allocating resources

In educational contexts, problem-solving can be seen in various aspects, such as:

  • Addressing a gap in students’ understanding by employing diverse teaching methods to cater to different learning styles
  • Developing a strategy for successful time management to balance academic responsibilities and extracurricular activities
  • Seeking resources and support to provide equal opportunities for learners with special needs or disabilities

Everyday life is full of challenges that require problem-solving skills. Some examples include:

  • Overcoming a personal obstacle, such as improving your fitness level, by establishing achievable goals, measuring progress, and adjusting your approach accordingly
  • Navigating a new environment or city by researching your surroundings, asking for directions, or using technology like GPS to guide you
  • Dealing with a sudden change, like a change in your work schedule, by assessing the situation, identifying potential impacts, and adapting your plans to accommodate the change.
  • How to Resolve Employee Conflict at Work [Steps, Tips, Examples]
  • How to Write Inspiring Core Values? 5 Steps with Examples
  • 30 Employee Feedback Examples (Positive & Negative)
  • Our Mission

3 Simple Strategies to Improve Students’ Problem-Solving Skills

These strategies are designed to make sure students have a good understanding of problems before attempting to solve them.

Two students in math class

Research provides a striking revelation about problem solvers. The best problem solvers approach problems much differently than novices. For instance, one meta-study showed that when experts evaluate graphs , they tend to spend less time on tasks and answer choices and more time on evaluating the axes’ labels and the relationships of variables within the graphs. In other words, they spend more time up front making sense of the data before moving to addressing the task.

While slower in solving problems, experts use this additional up-front time to more efficiently and effectively solve the problem. In one study, researchers found that experts were much better at “information extraction” or pulling the information they needed to solve the problem later in the problem than novices. This was due to the fact that they started a problem-solving process by evaluating specific assumptions within problems, asking predictive questions, and then comparing and contrasting their predictions with results. For example, expert problem solvers look at the problem context and ask a number of questions:

  • What do we know about the context of the problem?
  • What assumptions are underlying the problem? What’s the story here?
  • What qualitative and quantitative information is pertinent?
  • What might the problem context be telling us? What questions arise from the information we are reading or reviewing?
  • What are important trends and patterns?

As such, expert problem solvers don’t jump to the presented problem or rush to solutions. They invest the time necessary to make sense of the problem.

Now, think about your own students: Do they immediately jump to the question, or do they take time to understand the problem context? Do they identify the relevant variables, look for patterns, and then focus on the specific tasks?

If your students are struggling to develop the habit of sense-making in a problem- solving context, this is a perfect time to incorporate a few short and sharp strategies to support them.

3 Ways to Improve Student Problem-Solving

1. Slow reveal graphs: The brilliant strategy crafted by K–8 math specialist Jenna Laib and her colleagues provides teachers with an opportunity to gradually display complex graphical information and build students’ questioning, sense-making, and evaluating predictions.

For instance, in one third-grade class, students are given a bar graph without any labels or identifying information except for bars emerging from a horizontal line on the bottom of the slide. Over time, students learn about the categories on the x -axis (types of animals) and the quantities specified on the y -axis (number of baby teeth).

The graphs and the topics range in complexity from studying the standard deviation of temperatures in Antarctica to the use of scatterplots to compare working hours across OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries. The website offers a number of graphs on Google Slides and suggests questions that teachers may ask students. Furthermore, this site allows teachers to search by type of graph (e.g., scatterplot) or topic (e.g., social justice).

2. Three reads: The three-reads strategy tasks students with evaluating a word problem in three different ways . First, students encounter a problem without having access to the question—for instance, “There are 20 kangaroos on the grassland. Three hop away.” Students are expected to discuss the context of the problem without emphasizing the quantities. For instance, a student may say, “We know that there are a total amount of kangaroos, and the total shrinks because some kangaroos hop away.”

Next, students discuss the important quantities and what questions may be generated. Finally, students receive and address the actual problem. Here they can both evaluate how close their predicted questions were from the actual questions and solve the actual problem.

To get started, consider using the numberless word problems on educator Brian Bushart’s site . For those teaching high school, consider using your own textbook word problems for this activity. Simply create three slides to present to students that include context (e.g., on the first slide state, “A salesman sold twice as much pears in the afternoon as in the morning”). The second slide would include quantities (e.g., “He sold 360 kilograms of pears”), and the third slide would include the actual question (e.g., “How many kilograms did he sell in the morning and how many in the afternoon?”). One additional suggestion for teams to consider is to have students solve the questions they generated before revealing the actual question.

3. Three-Act Tasks: Originally created by Dan Meyer, three-act tasks follow the three acts of a story . The first act is typically called the “setup,” followed by the “confrontation” and then the “resolution.”

This storyline process can be used in mathematics in which students encounter a contextual problem (e.g., a pool is being filled with soda). Here students work to identify the important aspects of the problem. During the second act, students build knowledge and skill to solve the problem (e.g., they learn how to calculate the volume of particular spaces). Finally, students solve the problem and evaluate their answers (e.g., how close were their calculations to the actual specifications of the pool and the amount of liquid that filled it).

Often, teachers add a fourth act (i.e., “the sequel”), in which students encounter a similar problem but in a different context (e.g., they have to estimate the volume of a lava lamp). There are also a number of elementary examples that have been developed by math teachers including GFletchy , which offers pre-kindergarten to middle school activities including counting squares , peas in a pod , and shark bait .

Students need to learn how to slow down and think through a problem context. The aforementioned strategies are quick ways teachers can begin to support students in developing the habits needed to effectively and efficiently tackle complex problem-solving.

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Interview Questions

Comprehensive Interview Guide: 60+ Professions Explored in Detail

26 Good Examples of Problem Solving (Interview Answers)

By Biron Clark

Published: November 15, 2023

Employers like to hire people who can solve problems and work well under pressure. A job rarely goes 100% according to plan, so hiring managers will be more likely to hire you if you seem like you can handle unexpected challenges while staying calm and logical in your approach.

But how do they measure this?

They’re going to ask you interview questions about these problem solving skills, and they might also look for examples of problem solving on your resume and cover letter. So coming up, I’m going to share a list of examples of problem solving, whether you’re an experienced job seeker or recent graduate.

Then I’ll share sample interview answers to, “Give an example of a time you used logic to solve a problem?”

Problem-Solving Defined

It is the ability to identify the problem, prioritize based on gravity and urgency, analyze the root cause, gather relevant information, develop and evaluate viable solutions, decide on the most effective and logical solution, and plan and execute implementation. 

Problem-solving also involves critical thinking, communication, listening, creativity, research, data gathering, risk assessment, continuous learning, decision-making, and other soft and technical skills.

Solving problems not only prevent losses or damages but also boosts self-confidence and reputation when you successfully execute it. The spotlight shines on you when people see you handle issues with ease and savvy despite the challenges. Your ability and potential to be a future leader that can take on more significant roles and tackle bigger setbacks shine through. Problem-solving is a skill you can master by learning from others and acquiring wisdom from their and your own experiences. 

It takes a village to come up with solutions, but a good problem solver can steer the team towards the best choice and implement it to achieve the desired result.

Watch: 26 Good Examples of Problem Solving

Examples of problem solving scenarios in the workplace.

  • Correcting a mistake at work, whether it was made by you or someone else
  • Overcoming a delay at work through problem solving and communication
  • Resolving an issue with a difficult or upset customer
  • Overcoming issues related to a limited budget, and still delivering good work through the use of creative problem solving
  • Overcoming a scheduling/staffing shortage in the department to still deliver excellent work
  • Troubleshooting and resolving technical issues
  • Handling and resolving a conflict with a coworker
  • Solving any problems related to money, customer billing, accounting and bookkeeping, etc.
  • Taking initiative when another team member overlooked or missed something important
  • Taking initiative to meet with your superior to discuss a problem before it became potentially worse
  • Solving a safety issue at work or reporting the issue to those who could solve it
  • Using problem solving abilities to reduce/eliminate a company expense
  • Finding a way to make the company more profitable through new service or product offerings, new pricing ideas, promotion and sale ideas, etc.
  • Changing how a process, team, or task is organized to make it more efficient
  • Using creative thinking to come up with a solution that the company hasn’t used before
  • Performing research to collect data and information to find a new solution to a problem
  • Boosting a company or team’s performance by improving some aspect of communication among employees
  • Finding a new piece of data that can guide a company’s decisions or strategy better in a certain area

Problem Solving Examples for Recent Grads/Entry Level Job Seekers

  • Coordinating work between team members in a class project
  • Reassigning a missing team member’s work to other group members in a class project
  • Adjusting your workflow on a project to accommodate a tight deadline
  • Speaking to your professor to get help when you were struggling or unsure about a project
  • Asking classmates, peers, or professors for help in an area of struggle
  • Talking to your academic advisor to brainstorm solutions to a problem you were facing
  • Researching solutions to an academic problem online, via Google or other methods
  • Using problem solving and creative thinking to obtain an internship or other work opportunity during school after struggling at first

You can share all of the examples above when you’re asked questions about problem solving in your interview. As you can see, even if you have no professional work experience, it’s possible to think back to problems and unexpected challenges that you faced in your studies and discuss how you solved them.

Interview Answers to “Give an Example of an Occasion When You Used Logic to Solve a Problem”

Now, let’s look at some sample interview answers to, “Give me an example of a time you used logic to solve a problem,” since you’re likely to hear this interview question in all sorts of industries.

Example Answer 1:

At my current job, I recently solved a problem where a client was upset about our software pricing. They had misunderstood the sales representative who explained pricing originally, and when their package renewed for its second month, they called to complain about the invoice. I apologized for the confusion and then spoke to our billing team to see what type of solution we could come up with. We decided that the best course of action was to offer a long-term pricing package that would provide a discount. This not only solved the problem but got the customer to agree to a longer-term contract, which means we’ll keep their business for at least one year now, and they’re happy with the pricing. I feel I got the best possible outcome and the way I chose to solve the problem was effective.

Example Answer 2:

In my last job, I had to do quite a bit of problem solving related to our shift scheduling. We had four people quit within a week and the department was severely understaffed. I coordinated a ramp-up of our hiring efforts, I got approval from the department head to offer bonuses for overtime work, and then I found eight employees who were willing to do overtime this month. I think the key problem solving skills here were taking initiative, communicating clearly, and reacting quickly to solve this problem before it became an even bigger issue.

Example Answer 3:

In my current marketing role, my manager asked me to come up with a solution to our declining social media engagement. I assessed our current strategy and recent results, analyzed what some of our top competitors were doing, and then came up with an exact blueprint we could follow this year to emulate our best competitors but also stand out and develop a unique voice as a brand. I feel this is a good example of using logic to solve a problem because it was based on analysis and observation of competitors, rather than guessing or quickly reacting to the situation without reliable data. I always use logic and data to solve problems when possible. The project turned out to be a success and we increased our social media engagement by an average of 82% by the end of the year.

Answering Questions About Problem Solving with the STAR Method

When you answer interview questions about problem solving scenarios, or if you decide to demonstrate your problem solving skills in a cover letter (which is a good idea any time the job description mention problem solving as a necessary skill), I recommend using the STAR method to tell your story.

STAR stands for:

It’s a simple way of walking the listener or reader through the story in a way that will make sense to them. So before jumping in and talking about the problem that needed solving, make sure to describe the general situation. What job/company were you working at? When was this? Then, you can describe the task at hand and the problem that needed solving. After this, describe the course of action you chose and why. Ideally, show that you evaluated all the information you could given the time you had, and made a decision based on logic and fact.

Finally, describe a positive result you got.

Whether you’re answering interview questions about problem solving or writing a cover letter, you should only choose examples where you got a positive result and successfully solved the issue.

Example answer:

Situation : We had an irate client who was a social media influencer and had impossible delivery time demands we could not meet. She spoke negatively about us in her vlog and asked her followers to boycott our products. (Task : To develop an official statement to explain our company’s side, clarify the issue, and prevent it from getting out of hand). Action : I drafted a statement that balanced empathy, understanding, and utmost customer service with facts, logic, and fairness. It was direct, simple, succinct, and phrased to highlight our brand values while addressing the issue in a logical yet sensitive way.   We also tapped our influencer partners to subtly and indirectly share their positive experiences with our brand so we could counter the negative content being shared online.  Result : We got the results we worked for through proper communication and a positive and strategic campaign. The irate client agreed to have a dialogue with us. She apologized to us, and we reaffirmed our commitment to delivering quality service to all. We assured her that she can reach out to us anytime regarding her purchases and that we’d gladly accommodate her requests whenever possible. She also retracted her negative statements in her vlog and urged her followers to keep supporting our brand.

What Are Good Outcomes of Problem Solving?

Whenever you answer interview questions about problem solving or share examples of problem solving in a cover letter, you want to be sure you’re sharing a positive outcome.

Below are good outcomes of problem solving:

  • Saving the company time or money
  • Making the company money
  • Pleasing/keeping a customer
  • Obtaining new customers
  • Solving a safety issue
  • Solving a staffing/scheduling issue
  • Solving a logistical issue
  • Solving a company hiring issue
  • Solving a technical/software issue
  • Making a process more efficient and faster for the company
  • Creating a new business process to make the company more profitable
  • Improving the company’s brand/image/reputation
  • Getting the company positive reviews from customers/clients

Every employer wants to make more money, save money, and save time. If you can assess your problem solving experience and think about how you’ve helped past employers in those three areas, then that’s a great start. That’s where I recommend you begin looking for stories of times you had to solve problems.

Tips to Improve Your Problem Solving Skills

Throughout your career, you’re going to get hired for better jobs and earn more money if you can show employers that you’re a problem solver. So to improve your problem solving skills, I recommend always analyzing a problem and situation before acting. When discussing problem solving with employers, you never want to sound like you rush or make impulsive decisions. They want to see fact-based or data-based decisions when you solve problems.

Next, to get better at solving problems, analyze the outcomes of past solutions you came up with. You can recognize what works and what doesn’t. Think about how you can get better at researching and analyzing a situation, but also how you can get better at communicating, deciding the right people in the organization to talk to and “pull in” to help you if needed, etc.

Finally, practice staying calm even in stressful situations. Take a few minutes to walk outside if needed. Step away from your phone and computer to clear your head. A work problem is rarely so urgent that you cannot take five minutes to think (with the possible exception of safety problems), and you’ll get better outcomes if you solve problems by acting logically instead of rushing to react in a panic.

You can use all of the ideas above to describe your problem solving skills when asked interview questions about the topic. If you say that you do the things above, employers will be impressed when they assess your problem solving ability.

If you practice the tips above, you’ll be ready to share detailed, impressive stories and problem solving examples that will make hiring managers want to offer you the job. Every employer appreciates a problem solver, whether solving problems is a requirement listed on the job description or not. And you never know which hiring manager or interviewer will ask you about a time you solved a problem, so you should always be ready to discuss this when applying for a job.

Related interview questions & answers:

  • How do you handle stress?
  • How do you handle conflict?
  • Tell me about a time when you failed

Biron Clark

About the Author

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Solving the ‘3 Body Problem’

Unpacking netflix’s new hit with the times’s cosmic affairs correspondent..

Produced by Alex Barron

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Engineered by Efim Shapiro

Featuring Dennis Overbye

The show “3 Body Problem” premiered on March 21 and quickly became one of Netflix’s most-watched titles. It is an adventure story about a group of scientists contending with an extraterrestrial threat. But despite its science fiction trappings, the show is often based in real — and complex — scientific concepts, whether string theory or nanomaterials. In this episode, Dennis Overbye, The Times’s cosmic affairs correspondent, breaks down some of the more brain-bending science behind “3 Body Problem.”

On today’s episode

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Title: peersimgym: an environment for solving the task offloading problem with reinforcement learning.

Abstract: Task offloading, crucial for balancing computational loads across devices in networks such as the Internet of Things, poses significant optimization challenges, including minimizing latency and energy usage under strict communication and storage constraints. While traditional optimization falls short in scalability; and heuristic approaches lack in achieving optimal outcomes, Reinforcement Learning (RL) offers a promising avenue by enabling the learning of optimal offloading strategies through iterative interactions. However, the efficacy of RL hinges on access to rich datasets and custom-tailored, realistic training environments. To address this, we introduce PeersimGym, an open-source, customizable simulation environment tailored for developing and optimizing task offloading strategies within computational networks. PeersimGym supports a wide range of network topologies and computational constraints and integrates a \textit{PettingZoo}-based interface for RL agent deployment in both solo and multi-agent setups. Furthermore, we demonstrate the utility of the environment through experiments with Deep Reinforcement Learning agents, showcasing the potential of RL-based approaches to significantly enhance offloading strategies in distributed computing settings. PeersimGym thus bridges the gap between theoretical RL models and their practical applications, paving the way for advancements in efficient task offloading methodologies.

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Welcome to the daily solving of our PROBLEM OF THE DAY with Nitin Kaplas . We will discuss the entire problem step-by-step and work towards developing an optimized solution. This will not only help you brush up on your concepts of Graph but also build up problem-solving skills. In this problem, we are given the number of vertices v and adjacency list adj denoting the graph. Find that there exists the Euler circuit or not. Return 1 if there exist  alteast one eulerian path else 0. Example : Input:  v = 4  edges[] = {{0, 1},            {0, 2},            {1, 3},            {2, 3}}

Output:  1 Explanation: corresponding adjacency list will be {{1, 2},{0, 3},{0, 3},{1, 2}}. One of the Eularian circuit starting from vertex 0 is as follows: 0->1->3->2->0 Give the problem a try before going through the video. All the best!!! Problem Link: https://www.geeksforgeeks.org/problems/euler-circuit-in-a-directed-graph/1

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  3. Developing Problem-Solving Skills for Kids

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  5. Introduction

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  6. the scientific method problem

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COMMENTS

  1. Problem Solving in STEM

    Problem Solving in STEM. Solving problems is a key component of many science, math, and engineering classes. If a goal of a class is for students to emerge with the ability to solve new kinds of problems or to use new problem-solving techniques, then students need numerous opportunities to develop the skills necessary to approach and answer ...

  2. A Problem-Solving Experiment

    A problem-solving experiment is a learning activity that uses experimental design to solve an authentic problem. It combines two evidence-based teaching strategies: problem-based learning and inquiry-based learning. The use of problem-based learning and scientific inquiry as an effective pedagogical tool in the science classroom has been well established and strongly supported by research ...

  3. 7 Science Fair Projects that Solve Problems

    Solving Engineering Problems. Most science fair projects on the internet seem to focus on the basic sciences, like biology and chemistry. But in light of the skills gap we are now experiencing between the available job force and manufacturing industry requirements, I believe engineering-focused science fair projects that solve problems in ...

  4. The scientific method (article)

    The scientific method. At the core of biology and other sciences lies a problem-solving approach called the scientific method. The scientific method has five basic steps, plus one feedback step: Make an observation. Ask a question. Form a hypothesis, or testable explanation. Make a prediction based on the hypothesis.

  5. 1.12: Scientific Problem Solving

    Ask a question - identify the problem to be considered. Make observations - gather data that pertains to the question. Propose an explanation (a hypothesis) for the observations. Make new observations to test the hypothesis further. Figure 1.12.2 1.12. 2: Sir Francis Bacon.

  6. Identifying a Scientific Problem

    Identifying a Problem. Picture yourself playing with a ball. You throw it up, and you watch it fall back down. You climb up a tree, and you let the ball roll off a branch and then down to the ...

  7. Science Problem Solving Activities

    Science Problem Solving Activities. Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado. Problem solving is an essential skill for scientists, but thinking in ...

  8. Example Physics Problems and Solutions

    These example physics problems explain how to calculate the different coefficients of friction. Friction Example Problem - Block Resting on a Surface. Friction Example Problem - Coefficient of Static Friction Friction Example Problem - Coefficient of Kinetic Friction. Friction and Inertia Example Problem.

  9. 1.2: Scientific Approach for Solving Problems

    In doing so, they are using the scientific method. 1.2: Scientific Approach for Solving Problems is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts. Chemists expand their knowledge by making observations, carrying out experiments, and testing hypotheses to develop laws to summarize their results and ...

  10. Problem Solving in Science Learning

    The traditional teaching of science problem solving involves a considerable amount of drill and practice. Research suggests that these practices do not lead to the development of expert-like problem-solving strategies and that there is little correlation between the number of problems solved (exceeding 1,000 problems in one specific study) and the development of a conceptual understanding.

  11. Teaching Creativity and Inventive Problem Solving in Science

    Abstract. Engaging learners in the excitement of science, helping them discover the value of evidence-based reasoning and higher-order cognitive skills, and teaching them to become creative problem solvers have long been goals of science education reformers. But the means to achieve these goals, especially methods to promote creative thinking ...

  12. 14 Project-Based Learning Activities for the Science Classroom

    One of the most popular methods of facilitating deep learning in K-12 schools in problem-based learning. It starts, as the name suggests, with a problem. In this model, students are presented with an open-ended problem. Students must search through a variety of resources, called trigger material, to help them understand the problem from all angles.

  13. STEM Problem Solving: Inquiry, Concepts, and Reasoning

    Balancing disciplinary knowledge and practical reasoning in problem solving is needed for meaningful learning. In STEM problem solving, science subject matter with associated practices often appears distant to learners due to its abstract nature. Consequently, learners experience difficulties making meaningful connections between science and their daily experiences. Applying Dewey's idea of ...

  14. Problem-Solving in Science and Technology Education

    For example, Murphy and McCormick argue that 'To ensure a task, that is set as a problem, is personally meaningful, students must be involved in the context of the problem, that is the embedding features of the problem; for example, in technology the designing and making of an aid for a disabled child in a special school, and in science ...

  15. Chemistry Problems With Answers

    Some chemistry problems ask you identify examples of states of matter and types of mixtures. While there are any chemical formulas to know, it's still nice to have lists of examples. Practice density calculations. Identify intensive and extensive properties of matter. See examples of intrinsic and extrinsic properties of matter.

  16. List of Science Fair Project Ideas

    The 'Ultimate' Science Fair Project: Frisbee Aerodynamics. Aerodynamics & Hydrodynamics. The Paper Plate Hovercraft. Aerodynamics & Hydrodynamics. The Swimming Secrets of Duck Feet. Aerodynamics & Hydrodynamics. The True Cost of a Bike Rack: Aerodynamics and Fuel Economy. Aerodynamics & Hydrodynamics.

  17. Identifying problems and solutions in scientific text

    Introduction. Problem solving is generally regarded as the most important cognitive activity in everyday and professional contexts (Jonassen 2000).Many studies on formalising the cognitive process behind problem-solving exist, for instance (Chandrasekaran 1983).Jordan argues that we all share knowledge of the thought/action problem-solution process involved in real life, and so our writings ...

  18. Using the Scientific Method to Solve Problems

    The scientific method is a process used to explore observations and answer questions. Originally used by scientists looking to prove new theories, its use has spread into many other areas, including that of problem-solving and decision-making. The scientific method is designed to eliminate the influences of bias, prejudice and personal beliefs ...

  19. Solving Complex Problems

    Regardless of topic, the students in a section of Solving Complex Problems all work together in the first few class sessions to predict what challenges will arise and to parse the overall problem into a series of 5 to 10 themes. For example, themes might include the environmental context of the problem, engineering challenges, public relations ...

  20. The Problem-Solving Process

    Problem-solving is a mental process that involves discovering, analyzing, and solving problems. The ultimate goal of problem-solving is to overcome obstacles and find a solution that best resolves the issue. The best strategy for solving a problem depends largely on the unique situation. In some cases, people are better off learning everything ...

  21. What is Problem Solving? Steps, Process & Techniques

    Finding a suitable solution for issues can be accomplished by following the basic four-step problem-solving process and methodology outlined below. Step. Characteristics. 1. Define the problem. Differentiate fact from opinion. Specify underlying causes. Consult each faction involved for information. State the problem specifically.

  22. What is Problem Solving? (Steps, Techniques, Examples)

    The problem-solving process typically includes the following steps: Identify the issue: Recognize the problem that needs to be solved. Analyze the situation: Examine the issue in depth, gather all relevant information, and consider any limitations or constraints that may be present. Generate potential solutions: Brainstorm a list of possible ...

  23. 3 Ways to Improve Student Problem-Solving

    While slower in solving problems, experts use this additional up-front time to more efficiently and effectively solve the problem. In one study, researchers found that experts were much better at "information extraction" or pulling the information they needed to solve the problem later in the problem than novices. This was due to the fact that they started a problem-solving process by ...

  24. 26 Good Examples of Problem Solving (Interview Answers)

    Examples of Problem Solving Scenarios in the Workplace. Correcting a mistake at work, whether it was made by you or someone else. Overcoming a delay at work through problem solving and communication. Resolving an issue with a difficult or upset customer. Overcoming issues related to a limited budget, and still delivering good work through the ...

  25. Solving the '3 Body Problem'

    The show "3 Body Problem" premiered on March 21 and quickly became one of Netflix's most-watched titles. It is an adventure story about a group of scientists contending with an ...

  26. Large Language Models Are Unconscious of Unreasonability in Math Problems

    Large language models (LLMs) demonstrate substantial capabilities in solving math problems. However, they tend to produce hallucinations when given questions containing unreasonable errors. In this paper, we study the behavior of LLMs when faced with unreasonable math problems and further explore their potential to address these problems. First, we construct the Unreasonable Math Problem (UMP ...

  27. PeersimGym: An Environment for Solving the Task Offloading Problem with

    Task offloading, crucial for balancing computational loads across devices in networks such as the Internet of Things, poses significant optimization challenges, including minimizing latency and energy usage under strict communication and storage constraints. While traditional optimization falls short in scalability; and heuristic approaches lack in achieving optimal outcomes, Reinforcement ...

  28. PROBLEM OF THE DAY : 29/03/2024

    Welcome to the daily solving of our PROBLEM OF THE DAY with Nitin Kaplas.We will discuss the entire problem step-by-step and work towards developing an optimized solution. This will not only help you brush up on your concepts of Graph but also build up problem-solving skills. In this problem, we are given the number of vertices v and adjacency list adj denoting the graph.