Context-Rich Problems

This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project

Developed by Joann Bangs, St. Catherine University
Enhanced by Jennifer Docktor, University of Minnesota, Ken Heller, University of Minnesota, Brian Peterson, Central College and Rochelle Ruffer, Nazareth College

students working

What are Context-Rich Problems?

Context-rich problems are short realistic scenarios giving the students a plausible motivation for solving the problem. The problem is a short story (beginning with "you") in which the major character is the student. Context-rich problems are more complex than traditional problems, reflecting the real world, and may include excess information, or require the student to recall important background information.

learn more about the characteristics of context-rich problems

Why Teach with Context-Rich Problems?

Context-rich problems offer students opportunities to develop skills that extend beyond the problem in the question. Students learn problem-solving techniques they can apply in real life situations. By engaging in this type of problem solving, students develop expert-like thinking in the discipline.

learn more about the advantages of context-rich problems

How to Teach with Context-Rich Problems

As you prepare to use context-rich problems, you will need to consider how to select or create an appropriate problem, implement context-rich problems in your class and assess what your students have done. There are context-rich problems ready-to-use for a number of topics, or you may wish to create your own context-rich problems. Note that students accustomed to working with traditional textbook questions will benefit from help in developing an effective problem-solving strategy as they learn to work with context-rich problems.

learn more about selecting, implementing and assessing context-rich problems

Examples of Teaching with Context-Rich Problems

Ready to use examples from Economics and Physics are available. Reviewing examples from your own and other disciplines helps to reinforce the characteristics of a context-rich problem and can help you develop your own context-rich problems.

See examples of context-rich problems


A wide range of sources including journal articles and web sites are available.

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