Be Creative-and-Critical
What, Why, and How
Principles and Strategies
Liberating Creativity
Creativity for Living
Creativity in Education
Research about Creativity
What is critical thinking?
Why teach critical thinking?
How to teach it effectively?
The Ethics of Critical Thinking
Combining Creative and Critical
Multiple Intelligences / Styles
Thinking Skills in Education
Process in Design & Science
Problem Solving in Education
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Education for
Problem Solving

         ( in Schools, for Life )         

The sections in this page are:


Problems and Problem Solving


Creative-and-Critical Problem Solving


Multiple Intelligences & Learning Styles


     Problem Solving in Design and Science     


Teaching Problem Solving in Schools

and Problem Solving

What is a problem?  In common language, a problem is an unpleasant situation, a difficulty.  But in education, the first definition in Webster's Dictionary"a question raised for inquiry, consideration, or solution" — is a more common meaning.  In design, a problem is any situation where you have an opportunity to make a difference, to make things better;  and problem solving is converting an actual current state into a desired future state.  Whenever you are thinking creatively and critically about ways to increase the quality of life (or to avoid a decrease in quality), you are actively involved in problem solving. 


Problem-Solving Skills — Creative and Critical

An important goal of education is helping students learn how to think more productively while solving problems, by combining creative thinking (to generate ideas) and critical thinking (to evaluate ideas).  Both modes of thinking are essential for a well-rounded productive thinker, according to scholars in both fields:

Richard Paul (a prominent advocate of CRITICAL THINKING) says, "Alternative solutions are often not given, they must be generated or thought-up.  Critical thinkers must be creative thinkers as well, generating possible solutions in order to find the best one.  Very often a problem persists, not because we can't tell which available solution is best, but because the best solution has not yet been made available — no one has thought of it yet." {source}

Patrick Hillis & Gerard Puccio (who focus on CREATIVE THINKING) describe the combining of divergent generation and convergent evaluation in a strategy of Creative Problem Solving that "contains many tools which can be used interchangeably within any of the stages.  These tools are selected according to the needs of the task and are either divergent (i.e., used to generate options) or convergent (i.e., used to evaluate options)." {source}



Multiple Intelligences & Learning Styles

We solve problems (to "make it better") in all areas of life.   When we're solving a wide variety of problems, we can think productively in a variety of ways, as described in a theory of MULTIPLE INTELLIGENCES developed by Howard Gardner.  While we're trying to help students improve a wide variety of abilities, we can develop teaching strategies that will be effective for students with different LEARNING STYLES.  For example, we can help students understand-and-use...

Visual Logic:  We can think logically in a variety of ways;  useful tools for VISUAL THINKING include visually logical organizing techniques — concept maps, matrices and diagrams (cluster, hierarchical, webbing, Venn,...), flowcharts,... — that can encourage and facilitate creative-and-critical thinking.  [[== also art]]



Problem-Solving Process

in Design and in Science

I.O.U. - Soon, by the end of January 2017, this section will be revised in simple ways (like checking-and-fixing links) and by developing the ideas in it, and expressing them more clearly.

In design and science, the goal is to solve a problem.  ==[describe 2 kinds of problems]

Although the term "design" is used most often in art (for graphic design) and engineering, the process of design occurs in all fields and in everyday life.


Engineering Design Process and Design-Thinking Process

This creative/critical process is summarized in a brief 5-step "engineering design method" from Delaware.  A similar thinking strategy, applied to a wider range of life, is described by Mary Ellen Guffey in Five Steps to Better Critical-Thinking, Problem-Solving, and Decision-Making Skills.

Using a broad definition of "problem solving," Craig Rusbult has developed a model for a problem-solving process we use for "doing almost everything in all areas of life" in a website about Using Design Process for Problem Solving and Education.   

Design and Science

In some ways, design method (above) is similar to scientific method (below) but there is a new focus for action.  In science the main goal is to understand nature, to construct a theory and test its accuracy with reality checks that help us decide if "the way we think the world is" corresponds to "the way the way the world really is."  It can be useful to think of science as the designing of theories, and conventional design as the designing of products or strategies.  [== the Science Question - Were you surprised? (why?)]


Science Method and Scientific Thinking Skills

The basic ideas of "scientific method" (and associated scientific thinking skills) are outlined in overviews from Andrew Jones [About Physics] (five "steps" and key elements) & Lynn Fancher [College of DuPage] (induction & deduction, and more) & Kathleen Marrs [Indiana-Purdue] (outline plus principles and examples) & Craig Rusbult [editor of this website] (from the simplicity of logical "reality checks" thru science-as-design to the complexity of real science) & ERIC Digests (about observation skills & measurement skills & science fairs) & Science Buddies (for science fair projects, with lots of ideas to explore using the links).

The methods of science are illustrated with theories about questions: Why are we sleepy in class? & Why doesn't the light work? & Does muddy soil produce frogs?

Mill's Methods for Determining Causes:  Examples (in visual tables) & Explanations   Examples (more thorough) & Explanations

What are some Myths about Scientific Method?  David Snoke (4 myths) & Henry Bauer (filters & ethics).



Problem Solving in Education — Teaching Skills in Schools

I.O.U. - Soon, by the end of January 2017, this section will be revised in simple ways (like checking-and-fixing links) and by developing the ideas in it, and expressing them more clearly.

Educators are becoming more interested in designing instruction that will help students improve their thinking skills.  An excellent overview is Teaching Thinking Skills by Kathleen Cotton; the second half of her page is a comprehensive bibliography.

Another useful page — What Is a Thinking Curriculum? (by Fennimore & Tinzmann) — begins with principles and then moves into applications in Language Arts, Mathematics, Sciences, and Social Sciences.

Educational Leadership devoted an entire issue, including an interview with Howard Gardner, to Teaching for Multiple Intelligences — and you can read (on the web for free) the first three articles, and all abstracts.

Learning in Bloom's Taxonomy can be described in terms of domains (cognitive, affective, psycho-motor) and levels, as you can see in this overview (of the original & revised versions) & introduction & elaboration.   And here are tips for using Bloom's Taxonomy — sample questions & assessing learning objectives (with examples) & course design.

A variety of ideas about teaching "thinking skills" are in Active Learning Theories & Teaching Strategies.

If you're wondering "What can I do in my classroom tomorrow?", eventually there will be a section for "thinking skills activities" in the area for TEACHING ACTIVITIES.

Two related questions are:  How can we effectively teach thinking skills?  and  What role should thinking skills play in education?  As explained in the two papers above, a range of views exist for each question.  Among the unresolved issues are the amount of time to invest in developing thinking skills, and the advantages of two general teaching approachesinfusion (in which thinking skills are closely integrated with content instruction) and separate programs (with thinking skills taught as an independent curriculum).

Kathleen Cotton says, "Of the demonstrably effective programs, about half are of the infused variety, and the other half are taught separately from the regular curriculum. ...  The strong support that exists for both approaches... indicates that either approach can be effective.  Freseman represents what is perhaps a means of reconciling these differences [between enthusiastic advocates of each approach] when he writes, at the conclusion of his 1990 study: “Thinking skills need to be taught directly before they are applied to the content areas. ...  I consider the concept of teaching thinking skills directly to be of value especially when there follows an immediate application to the content area.” "

For principles and examples of infusion, check the National Center for Teaching Thinking which lets you see What is Infusion? (an introduction to the art of infusing thinking skills into content instruction), and sample lessons (for different subjects, grade levels, and thinking skills).

Our links-page for Teaching Strategies to promote Active Learning summarizes and explores a variety of ideas about effective teaching (based on principles of constructivism, meaningful reception,...) designed to stimulate active learning and improve thinking skills.  Later, a continuing exploration of the web will reveal more web-pages with useful "thinking skills & problem solving" ideas (especially for K-12 students & teachers) and we'll share these with you, here and in TEACHING ACTIVITIES.

Of course, thinking skills are not just for scholars and schoolwork, as emphasized in an ERIC Digest, Higher Order Thinking Skills in Vocational Education.  And you can get information about 23 Programs that Work from the U.S. Dept of Education. 


More ideas are available later in this page, in Problem Solving in Education.

A problem is any situation where you have an opportunity to make a difference, to make things better;  and problem solving is converting an actual current situation (the NOW-state) into a desired future situation (the GOAL-state).  Whenever you are thinking creatively and critically about ways to increase the quality of life (or avoid a decrease in quality) you are actively involved in problem solving.

For example, a motivated student — perhaps inspired by an effective teacher — can adopt a problem-solving approach to personal education by imagining the benefits of improved personal knowledge-and-skill in the future.

Dany Adams (Smith College) helps students learn how to think more effectively by combining critical thinking skill with scientific method: "Because the scientific method is a formalization of critical thinking, it can be used as a simple model that... puts critical thinking at the center of a straightforward, easily implemented, teaching strategy. ...  Explicitly discussing the logic and the thought processes that inform experimental methods works better than hoping students will ‘get it’ if they hear enough experiments described."

Problem-Based Learning is a way to improve motivation, thinking, and learning:  you can read a brief overview of Problem-Based Learning and (in ERIC Digests) using Problem-Based Learning for science & math plus a longer introduction - ten requirements - challenges for students & teachers (we never said it would be easy!) — two websites to explore (Samford University - PBL background - process - and [click the links] evaluation & more) (Illinois Math & Science Academy - about us [with links to mission,...] and PBL Network [sitemap includes external links]) — the book-intro for Problems as Possibilities - a search in ACSD for problem-based learning - and a comprehensive links-page for Problem-Based Learning Iowa State University's ThinkSpace is "an instructional and collaborative website designed to provide real-world problems and environments to students."

Basically, this section is Part 2 of Thinking Skills in Education because problem-solving methods (like Design Method and Scientific Method) are just strategies for effectively combining familiar thinking skills in order to achieve a goal, to solve a problem. Thinking Skills and Problem-Solving Methods are closely related, as shown in an Overview of Thinking Skills that compares four perspectives: Design Method (Rusbult), Dimensions of Thinking (Marzano, et al), Infusion of Thinking Skills (Swartz), Four Frames of Knowledge (Perkins);  more generally, Problem Solving & Thinking Skills in Education is a sitemap for pages by Craig Rusbult.


ERIC Digests give tips for parents helping their children with problem-solving homework and summarize research about problem solving in science courses.

You can read about "word problems" (like those typically found in textbooks and on exams) and general problem-solving strategies that are also useful outside school.  For problem solving in everyday life (including business,...) a series of pages by Robert Harris provides a thorough overview of practical problem solving if you scroll down to the section about "Tools for the Age of Knowledge" and you'll find An Introduction to Creative Thinking, Creative Thinking Techniques, Criteria for Evaluating a Creative Solution, Introduction to Problem Solving, Human-Factor Phenomena in Problem Solving, Problem Solving Techniques, Introduction to Decision Making, and (in other parts of his links-page) much more.



Productive Thinking is a result of combining -- we can help students improve their creative-and-critical thinking skills by using Design Process for Problem Solving.


A DISCLAIMER:  The internet offers an abundance of resources, so our main challenge is selectivity, and we have tried to find high-quality pages for you to read.  But the pages above don't necessarily represent views of the American Scientific Affiliation.  As always, we encourage you to use your critical thinking skills to evaluate everything you read.
This website for Whole-Person Education has TWO KINDS OF LINKS:
an ITALICIZED LINK keeps you inside a page, moving you to another part of it, and
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The area of THINKING SKILLS has sub-areas for
Thinking Skills in Education and Life: Effective Problem-Solving Methods
Critical Thinking in Education and Life    Creative Thinking in Education and Life

This links-page for Thinking Skills & Problem-Solving Methods in Education and Life,
by Craig Rusbult, is
copyright © 2001 by Craig Rusbult, all rights reserved

All links were checked and fixed on December 9, 2008.

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