Collaborative Problem Solving, here we come!

This post is an amalgamation of a post from three weeks ago and some random thoughts after the results of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) released today (here).

PISA in 2015 will have four (not three as in 2012) conceptual frameworks: Science, Reading, Mathematics and the new, Collaborative Problem Solving.

I find this interesting since I have long espoused critical thinking in groups to address problems and issues.

I find it interesting also that this is a core-competency that we are expected to approach in class no matter what subject we teach. I re-read the twenty-four statements of learning (here) from Ireland’s National Council for Curriculum and Assessment and see possibilities across many subject areas and disciplines.

PISA says of Collaborative Problem Solving

“Collaborative problem solving is not a traditional domain, in that it is not explicitly taught as a school subject, rather embedded as a practice in the classroom” (PISA 2015 Draft Collaborative Problem Solving Framework p.27).

I spent some time recently reading mid-term reports for Third and Sixth-year students in the school I teach in.

I am sure Principals and Deputy-principals up and down the country did the same as they prepared for Parent-Teacher meetings for their State-examination classes.

I was struck once again by how forcibly the nature of the assessment drives the teaching. Many comments are product rather than process focused. That is where we are at, but is not necessarily where we are going!

The nature of the assessment culture in Ireland is changing particularly at Junior Cycle level.

We teachers need to give more thought to what is coming down the tracks and read some practice based research, so that we can develop collaborative assessment practices that are a natural fit with the subjects we teach.

The subject History, I could see as a great area of collaborative critical thinking

Parnell, the author of his own downfall? Nagasaki– well, the Bomb ended the war…

The document, PISA 2015 Draft Collaborative Problem Solving Framework (here PDF 89 pages), describes the collaborative problem solving competency as

…. the capacity of an individual to effectively engage in a process whereby two or more agents attempt to solve a problem by sharing the understanding and effort required to come to a solution and pooling their knowledge, skills and efforts to reach that solution (p.6 my emphasis).

Interestingly, the word agent is defined as … either a human or a computer-simulated participant. I like this – I can see an opportunity for a gaming type approach to some problem solving tasks (not my area, but the literature looks sound).

There are three competencies involved in collaborative problem solving

1) Establishing and maintaining shared understanding
2) Taking appropriate action to solve the problem
3) Establishing and maintaining group organisation

PISA have decided that in 2015, the assessment of these competencies will be computer mediated

It has therefore been decided to place each individual student in collaborative problem solving situations, where the team member(s) with whom the student has to collaborate is fully controlled. This is achieved by programming computer agents (p.17).

Now you may dip in and out of the document yourself but anyone who thinks about this area will see that it is highly complex, especially when you factor in concepts of collaboration within different cultures.

Students I think, will have less difficulty with some of the scenarios envisioned here, than some of their teachers.

Many play complex games on their consoles and play with “strangers” as they engage in their virtual worlds.

Perhaps the practices of Collaborative Problem Solving are more embedded at home, than in school?

Now this perhaps is where it gets interesting!

If the day was ever to arrive, where teachers were to receive Continuing Professional Development to develop a strategy for Collaborative Problem Solving amongst the students they teach could it be designed across subject areas (avoiding a subject-bunker approach to Collaborative Problem Solving) and including students in its delivery?

Or is that pushing the boat out too far?

 

3 comments

  1. Noel

    ” I find a large number of students who encounter a problem where it is not immediatly obvious how to solve it, and they immediately give up, as they dont have the skills, experience or confidence to attempt it. ”

    Definitely more of a feature as you go up along the years. I am trying to address this by encouraging students to make mistakes; I have a few posters (links to them are here and I hope to add to this as I collect more).
    http://www.betterteaching.ie/makemistakes.html

  2. Diarmuid

    “Students I think, will have less difficulty with some of the scenarios envisioned here, than some of their teachers.”

    In my experience I have found both teachers and pupils have difficulty in adopting these different methods of learning. 1st and 2nd years I find can be easily motivated to learn in groups, whereas with older groups seem to take a lot more effort to get going. In my opinion this is because the older crowd are so used to the traditional teacher centred approach.

    Similarly with problem solving. I find a large number of students who encounter a problem where it is not immediatly obvious how to solve it, and they immediately give up, as they dont have the skills, experience or confidence to attempt it. Obviously I am speaking in general here. I find some students who thrive in collaborative and/problem solving areas. However there is a significant number who jusg want to sit back and be spoonfed information.

  3. Noel

    “Students I think, will have less difficulty with some of the scenarios envisioned here, than some of their teachers.”
    That there is the crux of the matter. And for many of us teachers it means changing habits of a lifetime (and there is no inertia greater than educational inertia).
    Moving away from the sage on stage to being a facilitator will be a big, big move. Many teachers are nervous of it and while we may be pushed in that direction it is important to do the pushing very gently, and with as much guidance and encouragement as possible.
    But yes, step one is letting teachers know that this is coming down the line, so at least it won’t be a complete shock to us.
    Noel