There is a big difference between generating and testing hypotheses – problem solving and doing practice problems. The difference lies in the level of critical thinking required. These two instructional strategies are often confused by instructional leaders. This isn’t surprising since most text books rarely differentiate between the two.
When we train school leaders to conduct walkthroughs with McREL’s Power Walkthrough software, we make sure they can distinguish between the two. Let’s look at an example of this distinction. We might walk into a classroom and see students quietly completed a worksheet that asks them to find and correct ten “problems” with grammatical errors. These are language arts practice problems. On the other hand, students could be contemplating possible solutions to a community problem such as homelessness in Miami. In this second example, students would be using the problem solving process to define the problem, analyze and hypothesize multiple solutions, weigh these solutions against each other, and plan for action.
I am not implying that it is not worthwhile for students to do practice problems. Practice is important for building the foundational skills students need. Nonetheless, if we want students to think critically, we cannot be satisfied with just doing practice problems. We have to build upon the foundations laid by them by providing students opportunities to analyze, evaluate, and create through problem solving. Do you have an innovative example of generating and testing hypotheses – problem solving? If so, share it with us in a reply to this posting.