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How to Teach with Documented Problem Solving

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Documented problem solving is a flexible teaching, learning, and assessment tool that can be adapted to numerous learning environments.

It is appropriate for:

  • Undergraduate and graduate level courses.
  • Courses of various levels of complexity.
  • Any class size or setting.

It serves to inform both faculty and students.

In a small class, it may be manageable for the instructor to require all students to submit a documented solution with each homework assignment with 1 to 2 questions per assignment being documented. But, in a large class, this may not be reasonable in terms of the time commitment required on the part of the instructor to read and comment on each solution. The following strategies can be used to manage a large class:

  • Divide the class in half and only require the documented solution from one group per assignment.
  • Create an example or rubric. Copies can be made and distributed to students or it can be shown to the class using a document camera or other technology.
  • Using the rubric, students can assess their own work or that of a classmate.

Implementing Documented Problem Solving

Decide how you want to use the technique

Introduce the process in class

Student Handout – An Introduction to Documented Problem Solving

Documented problem solving:

  • Students are asked to write down the steps they use in order to solve a problem or answer a question, including all the steps.
  • The steps should include what students are thinking as they go through the process.
  • Solutions are written in complete sentences.
  • May be hand written or typed but must be neat
  • Must be submitted on notebook paper or letter size paper. (No half-sized pieces of paper.)
  • For students, the goal is to improve learning and enhance the retention of knowledge. It also helps identify missteps made by students. Plus, as a result of this activity, students should become more aware of their own critical-thinking, problem-solving strategies. This awareness can be transferred to other coursework.

    In addition, this method allows the instructor to become more aware of how students address problems and more knowledgeable about student misconceptions. This gives the instructor the opportunity to readdress concepts that are unclear prior to an exam. Finally, by providing feedback on the DPS, the instructor has an opportunity to communicate with students in a very direct manner.

    Example: Add a question or problem relevant to your course or discipline here.

    Add an answer here that includes the thought processes students should (or might) use in answering the question.(This can be done as an in class activity with student participation.)

    This file (Student Handout - Intro to DPS (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 12kB Jun18 10)) can be downloaded and customized for a particular course.

    Provide incentives for student participation

    Without a reward (or penalty), students may decide not to write the solution so this part is very important. Instructors can:

    Provide feedback to students on their solution process

    Providing feedback is critical in order for this approach to work. Instructor feedback may be in the form of:

    DPS - example with feedback 1


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