Structured problem solving is a technique that is easy to introduce. It is effective in both small and large classes and is easily adapted for online and blended courses.
Purpose: To increase students' problem-solving abilities by ensuring that all students in a team are actively involved with given tasks and able to serve as the team's spokesperson; to set an expectation that students will coach/teach one another (positive interdependence).
Results: This approach discourages high achievers from dominating and slackers from "goofing off." It also means that you will hear from students who would rarely volunteer responses. You will find that they are more willing and more able to serve as team spokesperson because the selection process is not personal and because team coaching builds their confidence: they are providing a team response, rather than an individual one
Suggestion: Because students work at different speeds, it is useful to give each team a "sponge" or "extension" activity to move on to if they complete the originally assigned task. This ensures that the students stay focused on course content and allows teams to move on to more challenging activities rather than fritter away unused time in off-task "chit-chat."
Conclude the activity: In-class reports from all teams would be repetitious. Use "luck of the draw,"—particularly in large classes—to determine which person in which team will report. Draw cards from a deck matching teams and student identities: “I just drew the jack of hearts. Will the person in that team please summarize your group’s solutions to the problem?”
To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium sponsored by Western Kentucky University.
Teaching and Learning Center
University of Texas at San Antonio