Learning is made more real and far more engaging when students can explore how they can solve challenges directly related to them or someone they know. Students are empowered by discovering that they can enact change in the world around them and they are curious to explore a solution and the direct results it can create.
3 Steps to Actively Engage Students in Problem Solving:
1. Keep it Relatable
Create a story or frame the problem you want students to solve so that it’s relatable and has a purpose for them. For example, we’ve seen that students love to talk about fitness or sports that they love, so one topic we touch upon at Kodely is fitness and health. Many of the students play sports and have also seen the importance of fitness from their parents and devices they may use such as the Apple Watch or the Oura ring.
For one of our Coding with Empathy workshops for our elementary students, we designed a challenge to find a way to measure how active they were during the day. Before starting the design challenge, students are asked to set their own fitness goals by choosing the number of steps they hope to accomplish.
These range from 1665 steps (easy) to extra hard (6000 steps). They can aim to walk to the top of the Eiffel Tower, walk across Alcatraz Island, walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, or even walk a 5k Marathon! This puts them in the mindset of connecting the design challenge with their everyday lives.
This challenge was very popular among students because they were excited to go home and share with their families what they did in class and directly develop creative problem solving skills. These kind of activities helps in building problem solving skills for students and become and independent thinkers who are able to solve problems on their own.
2. Let Students Take the Lead
Don’t tell students how to solve the problem, give them the ability to build their confidence and contribute their own ideas. When we give the solution to our students, we’ve seen that engagement isn’t as high compared to when they directly come up with a solution and solve it on their own. With problem-solving skills for students, they can learn how to think critically, solve problems on their own, and make decisions with confidence.
At Kodely, before our students even start to put together a working prototype, we make them put together a plan or a vision for how they would want to solve the challenge. Students create an algorithm to sequence out the steps in their problem-solving process rather than diving headfirst into building a final solution. This helps reinforce their understanding of whether they understand what’s going on in the design challenge while giving them more ownership of how they can approach this problem, but also any problem that comes their way.
3. Include Time for Feedback
Once students build out their prototype, rather than just saying congratulations and having them put everything away, let them test it out. For our Coding with Empathy workshops, students get to work with sensors and microcontrollers, so during their Kodely workshop, we allow them to use their prototypes and validate it works. There are times when students find bugs in their prototypes and realize that something isn’t working. This is so valuable that instead of running over to fix it for them, they learn that bug fixes are part of any product and software development process and learn to work as a team to find a fix. This is so valuable and helps students understand what goes on in a team setting at a software company and improve their computational thinking skills.