Welcome to the Center for the Study of Problem Solving

In everyday and professional practice, STEM workers are paid to solve problems. Despite the importance of problem solving science, it is one of the least engaged intellectual skills in K-12 and university education. Although mathematics, science and engineering courses and curricula require students to solve problems more than any other curricula, most problems are well-structured story problems, whereas scientists and engineers in industry are required to solve complex and ill-structured problems. Problems vary in many ways, including structuredness, abstractness, complexity, and dynamicity, yet most problems are taught in the same way. Recent research shows that learning to solve well-structured story problems does not help students to learn how to solve complex and ill-structured professional problems. Yet, most of the research on problem solving has examined only story problems. Conceptual models for teaching different kinds of problems do not exist, and faculty members are unprepared to teach how to solve different kinds of problems.

This catalyst proposal seeks to establish a state-of-the-art Science of Learning Center focusing on everyday and professional problem-solving research in STEM disciplines, set research agendas that will help K-12 and university students become better problem solvers, and plan for the establishment of an International Center for the Study of Problem Solving. The Center will analyze and articulate problem-solving demands of the workplace, develop methods and strategies for helping K-12 and university students become better problem solvers, and foster changes in teaching in STEM-related programs. The Center will engage practitioners and researchers in medicine, engineering, manufacturing, military, agriculture, psychology, psychiatry, and other domains to help change the paradigm of formal education from knowledge dissemination to meaningful problem solving.

The proposed catalyst grant activities include 1) organizing, analyzing, and articulating existing research in problem solving; 2) planning and conducting a workshop in which practitioners and researchers from diverse backgrounds will negotiate research agendas to be pursued by the Center; and 3) publishing the results of the workshop in a book and preparing the full proposal to establish the International Center for the Study of Problem Solving. The Center will consist of business and university partnerships associated with diverse researchers to generate and test more effective approaches to preparing students to become effective problem solvers.

Intellectual Merit

NSF and other funding organizations have funded many initiatives to help learners to think more effectively. Although some of these activities examined different kinds of problems solving, we, as a community of scholars, educators and workers, do not understand problem solving well enough to create effective educational experiences to prepare our learners to be effective problem solvers. The goal of this proposal is to validate effective approaches for learning to solve open-ended and complex professional problems.

Broader Impacts of Proposal

Problem solving is the most important skill required of STEM professionals. Developing principles and methods for supporting K-12 and university students to learn how to solve divergent, open-ended, and professionally relevant problems while developing partnerships with industries, K-12 schools, and universities will help to transfer the results of Center activities to the education enterprise will help to change the pedagogical paradigm of STEM training.