Guided Discovery Problems

This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project
Initial Publication Date: September 15, 2009

Developed by Ann Bykerk-Kauffman . Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, California State University, Chico

What are Guided Discovery Problems?

Deep down inside, why are you a scientist? I'll bet you will answer, "Because it's fun!" And what makes it fun? Why, it's the thrill of discovery, of course. Those "Aha!' moments are what keep us going as we spend tedious hours traveling to distant field sites, collecting and processing samples, entering data, plotting measurements, debugging computer models, and racking our brains trying to explain it all.

Through intriguing puzzles to solve, structured hands-on activities, carefully worded leading questions, crucial hints, and just-in-time presentations of information, guided discovery problems escort students step-by-step through the discovery process, giving them a tantalizing taste of the most delicious part of science.

See an in-depth explanation of Guided Discovery Problems.

Why Use Guided Discovery Problems?

Guided discovery problems can be fun, which, all by itself, may be a good enough reason to use them. But, perhaps more important, well-designed guided discovery problems are nicely aligned with research findings on how students learn science.

As stated by the National Research Council (2000, Inquiry and the National Science Education Standards: A Guide for Teaching and Learning, p. 116-120):

  1. Understanding science is more than knowing facts.
  2. Students build new knowledge and understanding on what they already know and believe.
  3. Students formulate new knowledge by modifying and refining their current concepts and by adding new concepts to what they already know.
  4. Learning is mediated by the social environment in which learners interact with others.
  5. Effective learning requires that students take control of their own learning.
  6. The ability to apply knowledge to novel situations, that is, transfer of learning, is affected by the degree to which students learn with understanding.

Learn more about the benefits of using Guided Discovery Problems.

How to Use Guided Discovery Problems

Guided-discovery problems can be incorporated into lecture, lab, and field courses. They are ideal cooperative learning activities. They also fit beautifully into the exploration phase of the learning cycle approach to teaching (Brown and Abell, 2007 ), and are especially effective when they are assigned before any lectures or readings on the topic. Because guided-discovery problems are time-consuming and foster deep learning, they are best used to teach course material that is especially important, conceptually difficult, or counter-intuitive.

In order to succeed, a guided-discovery problem must be adequately scaffolded (Hogan and Pressley, 1997; Hmelo-Silver and others, 2007 ) so that students remain within their "zone of proximal development," the zone between what they can do on their own and what they can't do, even with help (Vygotsky, 1978).

Learn more about the critical steps and tips for effectively using Guided Discovery Problems.


Example Guided Discovery Problems
Reference List

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