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alesnick's picture

Session Notes -- Please add/revise/comment

The Learning Community discussion of problem-solving, transfer, and related questions ranged widely and meaningfully.  I hope these notes will provide a start for others to add to and build on.  Thanks to Bill and everyone for a stimulating session.

Bill began by reading a passage from [author?]'s "The Art and Craft of Problem-Solving," in which a distinction is made between an "exercise" (a technical, likely not puzzling test of mastery) and a "problem" (something open-ended and paradoxical), and it is written that, for problem-solving, "Knowledge of folklore is as important as mastery of technical tools." The Meyer text focuses on the question whether the process of problem-solving transfers across contexts.  An associated question is whether we should teach it within specific disciplines or as its own course. An example of a course developed to facilitate cross-disciplinary transfer (though it was not developed with this language in mind) is Anne's and Paul's The Story of Evolution and the Evolution of Stories. [I will find a serendip cite for this.]

Questions emerged: Do we all share a definition of the term "problem?"  And, "Can what begins as a problem become an exercise as someone gains mastery?"

More broadly, "Do we live in the same or in different universes?" (Example: In English, "problems" are not solved; rather "critical questions" are developed/posed.

Is it always best/a good idea to define and decide on terms at the outset?  Is expeditiousness in problem-solving always the primary goal?  

Is problem-solving context-specific?

Idea: If we let differences in and let them be generative, rather than regard them as having to be resolved into commonalities, problem-solving can go across contexts. [There is a discussion of this on Serendip; I will track down the cite and add it here.]

One possible shared definition: the presence of a goal.

Who does it -- individuals or collectives?

Teacher reflection and student learning are problem-solving.

To the matter of problem-solving needs to be added a consideration of students' "emotional readiness" and the role of schools/teachers in fostering it.  Meyer speaks of "concentration, confidence, and courage."

What is most important to learning problem-solving is the ability to persevere in the face of failure and frustration; willingness to struggle."

The key difference is between learners who try, fail, and give up/walk away and those who try again.  How can teachers do a better job of affirming the trying?

Shane Frederick of MIT developed a cognitive reflection test (example: if a ball and a bat together cost $1.10 and the bat costs $1.00, how much does the ball cost?) and found that people who succeeded were those who sat back and reflected, rather than jump to the intuitive, wrong answer. 

The ability to think within uncertainty and to take risks is important to academic success.  [A question: Are we teaching, and living, as if this were true?]

Is transfer the drawing on an internal database of memories/prior experiences and looking for matches?

If it doesn't occur easily across contexts, can instruction scaffold it, by asking students to do problem-solving simultaneously in two contexts?

A tension: If learning is all contextual, what do we make of the literature on IQ that suggests that people do display skills across contexts?

A question: Can we draw a bigger circle around this discussion of cognitive processes -- one that lets in more of the sociocultural, psychological, and political experiences and contexts of learning? 

And, what is the role of the teacher if we place trust in the student to learn?













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