Beat the Problem

I spent my spring break this year traveling to four different college campuses in three different states. We visited schools with mechanical engineering programs that were within driving distance of our home in southeast Michigan. As part of every visit, we got to peer inside classrooms. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see actual students learning from actual professors.  As we tromped through the buildings, I was struck by how many classrooms were intentionally designed to foster group collaboration. One institution had classrooms with microphones suspended above the group tables so that questions and problems could be monitored by the instructor and shared with the rest of the class. A flipped model of instruction was used whereby homework included 20 minute lectures and classwork was reserved for discussion and problem-solving. I wish I could have seen it all in action. What I kept hearing over and over was that in engineering, it was about trying to "beat the problem". And once you figured out how to beat one problem, you tried to beat another one. According to the professors, industry had communicated to the universities that what was needed in the world of a professional engineer was being able to effectively solve problems in a group.

I was thinking about what all of this had to do with teaching and assisting children who, for whatever reason, were struggling with reading, writing, and communicating. If I think of a learning objective as a problem to beat, this problem would have to be clearly identified along with the desired outcome. A deadline would be needed. Depending on the class, the students might have decided what problems that wanted to try to beat. The problem would need an authentic purpose. As part of the learning process, there would be demonstrations and presentations where process and learning were shared with others. To me, what I witnessed at the college level felt like a workshop model of instruction. It made me wonder about my own use of learning targets. Are the learning targets I use clear and measurable? Do these targets have an authentic purpose? Have I established a clear path for achieving the targets? Do my students have a choice about ways to achieve a target? It also made me think about how teachers work in teams to beat problems.


  1. Diana, this is a great post for teachers to think about their teaching style. I have many high school students who want to study engineering. How can I prepare them? Should I give them more group problem solving opportunities? How do I make this work with my curriculum? You have given me many things to ponder. Thank you!

  2. Collaboration is so crucial. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on teaching and learning. We are an interactive society. Happy college hunting.

  3. One would think that engineering classes would have nothing in common with speech therapy or language classes.It was fascinating to read about your thinking.


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