Laura Nicholson – May 2019
1. Ill-structured problems
A well-structured problem involves setting a problem and, providing the right method is followed, there will be a ‘correct’ answer. In contrast to this, ill-structured problems do not have a specific answer; there may be too many conflicting theories, data or disagreements to arrive confidently at one particular conclusion.
Ill-structured problems can be based on finding solutions to real-world problems such as famine, war or environmental concerns, or they could be based on resolving a workplace or procedural difficulty. Examples of ill-structured problems could be to ‘redesign a work process, create a new marketing strategy, design a new underground subway to join two or more countries, increase the water supply of a community or predict how to dispose of nuclear waste safely’ (Wikiversity, 2018; SERC, 2018).
Students will only be aware of the starting point of the problem and will have to devise a plan, goals and solutions for it. As a result of there being no right or wrong answer, students will be using their skills of analysis to evaluate the available data or information already known, to then justify and create a suitable solution. The end product could be a written proposal or the creation of a model.
Enhance with technology
If the ill-structured problem is a current topical issue, students can set up a Google Alert. The alert tool enables students to be sent notifications every time any new content on that topic is written online. To facilitate a thought-shower, students could use a range of questionnaire based tools such as SurveyMonkey or they could use AnswerGarden.
AnswerGarden is quick to launch and requires no online account set-up. Student’s go to the AnswerGarden home page and click the plus button at the top of the page to create an AnswerGarden. They then type in the question they wish to ask the class and click create. There is the option to share in a multiple of ways; I use the QR code option, so students scan the QR with their phones to access the question.
2. Project-Based Learning (PBL)
PBL provides the opportunity for students to take control of their learning through inquiry-based tasks involving analysis of research, evaluation techniques and the subsequent creation of an end product (Bell, 2010). The student’s investigations into authentic problems should consist of two essential elements,
- They must have a driving question to base subsequent activities around, but ensure this is not so constrained that the students have little opportunity to develop their approaches (Blumenfeld et al.,1991, p.372).
- The resulting activities from the question or problem should result in a final product (Blumenfeld et al.,1991, p.371).
The Buck Institute for Education provides a multitude of ideas for projects and gives advice on how to create suitable driving questions. Additionally, Edutopia also provides some valuable guidance on how to get students started with their PBL.
Although there is a cost to enter, the CREST awards for science and engineering enables students to gain recognition for their project work and is for students aged from 5 to 16+ years. CREST awards also issue downloadable teacher resources to give ideas on delivery strategies. Upon completion of the project work, it is uploaded to CREST for moderation, and they will send certificates and awards, which are respected by universities and future employers (British Science Association, 2018).
Enhance with technology
Students can use a wide range of different online resources to support their project. For the research element, students could first create a poll or questionnaire to get feedback on their initial design ideas by using Socrative or Crowdsignal.
For the research tasks, the use of social bookmarking tools such as Diigo or Evernote will help them to keep track of their sources. If the research is more journal-based, then something like Mendeley is useful to store their articles.
Mendeley is a free reference manager and an academic social network, enabling students to manage their research, showcase their work and connect and collaborate with other researchers worldwide (Elsevier, 2019). To evaluate the research or project, iRubric can be used to create a structured method of self-assessment.
3. Enter a contest
Although the role of competition in education is often viewed as being somewhat controversial, the collaboration and team-working involved has been found to create a healthy and productive learning experience (Makhoul et al.,2018; Institute of Competition Sciences, 2018).
Students could reinvent something we take for granted, create an innovative vegetarian dish or design a new campaign to promote college values. These can then be showcased in the classroom or at a college event, to be judged by lecturers or visitors/guests from the local community.
On completion, students could use their experiences to decide on a title for a contest to be run the following year for new students, with the best idea being determined through class voting.
Enhance with technology
There are a multitude of competitions to enter, which can be found through a quick Google search and these are often sponsored by various businesses and organisations, resulting in prizes for the school and individuals.
STEM learning posts regular challenges for students to create a product or find a solution to a problem, or Young fashion designer UK provides a platform for young fashion designers to showcase their work and gain recognition for their ideas and talent.
Alternatively, students could take part in the Edtech competitions who are looking for innovative tech solutions to improve student experiences; whatever the disciple there is usually a competition for students to showcase their skills to a broader audience.
The planning phase to create the end product may require prototypes to be modelled to identify any potential flaws/problems needing to be rectified. There are plenty of free design tools available online for students to create such prototypes. Sketchup has the option of setting up a free account and is a ‘3D modelling computer program for a wide range of drawing applications such as architectural, interior design, civil and mechanical engineering, film, and video game design’ (The Technology Geek, 2019). Sketchup does not contain the same level of functionality as other paid-for drawing applications like AutoCAD, but it is free and relatively easy to use.
4. Theme parks
I am not sure who to give the original credit for this activity, but I think it is a great idea whoever it was. Student’s have to design a theme park based on a particular topic, for example, they could create a theme park based on different animals or different landmarks in an area.
My favourite application of ‘theme parks’ is to design a theme park based on the human digestive system, and it involves all the stages of Bloom’s. Students must first be able to label the different parts of the digestive system and understand the processes that take place in each area. Students will then need to match suitable theme park rides to the different areas of the digestive system, justifying their choices. Further development of ideas will follow, by conducting more research and analysis of the more complex processes taking place in each area, to make any revisions if necessary.
In matching the different organs to theme park rides, students will need to assess the suitability of their chosen rides for the process it is matched with. For this, they should take into consideration things like the speed of the ride (if it is a slow process taking place then the ride selected to match should also be slow), or the size of the ride, i.e. height restrictions (which should reflect the size of the organ).
In addition to the rides, drinks stalls can also be included to represent the concentration of different fluids, e.g. bile, or students could create persuasive posters to encourage potential visitors to ‘have a go’ on the ride.
The end product can be created as a model, and there are some great examples of completed models if you search ‘digestive system theme parks’ on Google images. It is easier to do this activity if you are trying to teach about a particular process or system, but it can be applied to a whole range of disciplines.
Enhance with technology
Students could jazz-up their finished models by adding augmented reality using HP reveal, which is free to download on either iPhones or Android.
Students use the app to take a photo of any part of their completed model and they then attach this to a video saved on their phones. The video could be a close-up of the real-life element it is supposed to represent. Or it could be a short video of the ride itself, such as a 30-second clip of a rollercoaster ride, so students feel like they are really at a theme park. The video is then attached to the part of the model that the student initially took a photo of, so that when another student scans that part of the model using their phones (they need the app), they will get the video clip displaying on their phone to provide a completely interactive experience.
It requires a bit of set up for others to access, so if time is limited, an alternative could be to use QR codes. Students can create QR codes that link to images or videos on YouTube, so when students scan the QR on the model, they will be directed to the linked image or video. Students should copy the URL from the video or image website, paste this into the QR code generator and then print off to place at the appropriate location on their model.
5. Create a promotional stall
Provide students with a design brief for the activity, e.g. ‘The local council is concerned about the increasing amount of rubbish littering the street, design a promotional stall to raise awareness of this issue to the public’. Or, ‘recent news stories have highlighted the increasing problem of binge drinking, design a stall to educate others on the dangers of excessive alcohol intake’.
Creating a promotional stall will require students to, firstly understand why a problem has arisen, to then devise strategies to address it. They will need to analyse other campaigns and promotions to assess why they have or not been successful and apply these principles to their design ideas. There should also be an investigation into how promotions work in general and an assessment of different ways to educate the public, to ensure students create a stall which is as effective and accessible as possible.
A wealth of visual material will need to be created, which could include leaflets, posters, flyers, charts and graphs. Additionally, an interactive game or another practical element will also help the students to engage visitors when visiting their stall.
Enhance with technology
Microsoft Word and Publisher are commonly used to create posters or leaflets, but Canva will enable students to design much more visually enhanced materials.
Canva has templates to create posters, banners, cards, flyers, logos brochures, etc. or students can design their own from scratch. Canva is also useful for creating infographics, which enables a quick, clear way for students to provide a quick evaluation of the knowledge base to gain the attention of visitors to their stall.
To stay on track, students could also use a free project management tool, such as MeisterTask; students set up a project, record tasks to be completed, set time frames, and mark tasks as complete.
MeisterTask also has a mind mapping tool to enable students to thought shower ideas with others real-time, and the whole project can be shared with the lecturer to allow for easy tracking of progress. MeisterTask is a great tool which allows a log of every event and idea to be recorded and monitored all in one place.
6. Create a country
This activity requires students to analyse and evaluate a whole range of information to create their own country. Elements to consider could be laws, the rights of people, leadership and government, language, natural resources, maps or weather. Students will create their own countries based on the best qualities and features from existing countries. Create a country is a great activity to learn about a wide range of concepts, such as geography, environmental studies, politics, social sciences, health sciences and engineering.
Enhance with technology
The technology tools will very much depend on the topic and focus introduced by the lecturer, and will probably involve a range of research type activities.
Some ideas could be to start with a collaborative thought shower using MindMup. Or, students could use Snazzy Maps or ZeeMaps to create a map of their country and they can also add-in any markers, highlight regions or add text annotations.
For a quick investigation into general weather and climate, weather-and-climate provides information on weather, rainfall etc. for a range of destinations.
Or to gauge ideas on what would be the essential human rights for a country, students could run a class questionnaire using SurveyMonkey or Poll Everywhere and then select the top answers. To extend, these questions could be posted to a broader audience on Twitter or Facebook using Easypolls. Using surveys and polls will help students to gain a broader perspective on the issues impacting on people and develop a less bias approach.
Bell.S. (2010). ‘Project-Based Learning for the 21st Century: Skills for the Future’ The Clearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 83:2, 39-43, DOI: 10.1080/00098650903505415
Blumenfeld, P.C., Soloway, E., Marx, R.W., Krajcik, J.S., Guzdial, M., Palincsar, A. (1991). ‘Motivating Project-Based Learning: Sustaining the Doing, Supporting the Learning’. Educational Psychologist, 26 (3&4), pp. 371-2.
British Science Association. (2018). What is CREST? Available at: https://www.crestawards.org/what-is-crest (last accessed 10/05/2019)
Elsevier. (2019). About Mendeley. Available at: https://www.elsevier.com/solutions/mendeley (last accessed 06/05/2019)
Institute of Competition Sciences. (2018). 10 ways competitions enhance learning. Available at: https://www.competitionsciences.org/2016/07/04/10-ways-competitions-enhance-learning/ (last accessed 10/05/2019)
Makhoul, I, Motwani, P, Schafer, L, Arnaoutakis, K, Mahmoud, F, Safar, M, Graves, D, Mehta, P, Govindarajan, R, Hutchins, L & Thrush, C. (2018). ‘Integrating Collaborative Learning and Competition in a Hematology/Oncology Training Program’, Journal of Cancer Education, vol. 33, no. 1, pp. 186–192.
SERC. (2018). Well structured versus ill-structured problems. Available at: https://serc.carleton.edu/sp/carl_ltc/quantitative_writing/wellversusill (last accessed 10/05/2019)
The Technology Geek. (2019). Sketchup review. Available at: https://thetechnologygeek.org/sketchup-review/ (last accessed 10/05/2019)
Wikiversity. (2018). Introduction to Ill-structured problems. Available at: https://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Introduction_to_Ill-Structured_Problems#quiz0 (last accessed 10/05/2019)