#10: Structured Problem Solving

(Barkley, Cross & Major, 2005)

Purpose: Structured Problem Solving provides students with a process for solving a complex, content-based problem within a specified time limit. All members must agree to a solution and must be able to explain both the answer and the strategy used to solve the problem. It helps students identify the logic approach behind the problem and identify where their logic fails by providing them with the steps to working out the solution to the problem.

Preparation: Create a problem that is complex enough to require the students to use sophisticated problem solving skills. Use research and current questions as a resource. Identify the problem and the logical steps required to devise a solution.  Solve the problem yourself using the procedure you’ve established in order to uncover problems and difficulties or error present.


  1. After problems are developed, organize students into groups or teams and assign each group a problem.
  2. Ask students to solve the problem using the steps provided. For example you may use Dewey 6-step Problem Solving technique. (Luotto & Stoll, 1996.)
    1. Identify the problem
    2. Generate possible solutions
    3. Evaluate and test the various solutions
    4. Decide on a mutually acceptable solution
    5. Implement solution
    6. Evaluate solution
  3. Ask teams to report/present their problem, solution and the method (steps) they took in solving the problem.


Tip: This activity could easily be adapted for large scale classrooms. There are some strategies that would make this process easier:

  1. Dividing students up into groups has the potential to take a long time. Give clear instructions about the division as you don’t want them to move too much and so making a suggestion that they turn and make a group with 2-5 people sitting in front or beside is a quick way to do this.
  2. You can put a stopwatch on the projector so students have access to the same timing that you are using.
  3. If you don’t have enough time for a larger group discussion about the issues, assign questions for students to answer in an online discussion board or through an assigned reflective journal due online before the next class. Once you have read student responses, you can summarize the main points in the next class.