*Creative problem-solving is an essential skill that students need in and outside of the classroom. Use these strategies to get students to approach problems in new ways.*

- Learning through failure
- Send-a-problem
- Pass the problem
- Ranking alternatives
- Buzz groups
- What's the principle?
- Roundtable writing
- Simulations
- Group breakout room discussion and presentation

## Learning through failure

**Instructions:**

- Divide the class into groups of 3-4 students.
- Assign groups the task of deliberately designing something for failure. Groups may be assigned the same thing or something different.
- Allow groups the opportunity to share what they’ve created, along with their thought processes for the creation.

**Examples:**

- In a civil engineering course: Design a bridge that is likely to collapse or a tunnel that is likely to flood.
- In a food science course: Create a diet totally lacking in nutrition.
- In a political science course: Outline the most oppressive or unworkable government imaginable.

**Variation:**

Present students with a scenario that includes a failure, such as why a bridge collapsed. Ask students to brainstorm all the reasons they can imagine, in the context of the scenario, why the bridge collapsed. Follow-up with an activity that would allow the students create a solid bridge suitable for the given scenario.

Silberman, M. (1996). Active learning: 101 strategies to teach any subject. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, p. 62.

## Send-a-problem

**Instructions:**

- Divide students into groups.
- Provide each group with a problem.
- Ask students to write a solution to the problem on a sheet of paper.
- Instruct students to pass the problem—with the solution hidden—to another group, who will write a different solution to the problem without looking at the previous group’s solution.
- After several passes, have each group examine all solutions on the paper they ended up with and decide on the best solution.
- Call on groups to present their chosen solution to the whole class.

**Example:**

In a political science course, “How would you increase voter participation among voters with limited physical mobility?”

Barkley, E. F., Major, C. H., & Cross, K. P. (2014). Collaborative learning techniques: A handbook for college faculty. (2nd Ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, pp. 232-233.

## Pass the problem

**Instructions:**

- Divide students into groups.
- Give groups a problem to solve or a case to analyze.
- Ask students to identify and write down the first step in solving the problem or analyzing the case.
- Have students pass the problem to the next group for them to identify and write down the next step.
- Continue until all groups have contributed.

**Example:**

In an urban planning course, address how a city could pilot and then implement a city-wide composting program over a period of several years.

Yee, K. (n.d.). Interactive techniques. Retrieved from https://www.usf.edu/atle/documents/handout-interactive-techniques.pdf. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA.

## Ranking alternatives

**Instructions:**

- Give groups a problem to solve or a case/situation to explain.
- Ask students to think up as many alternative courses of action to solve the problem or explanations of the case/situation as possible.
- Compile a list. (You can designate a student to take notes.)
- Ask students to work in groups to rank the alternatives by preference.

Yee, K. (n.d.). Interactive techniques. Retrieved from https://www.usf.edu/atle/documents/handout-interactive-techniques.pdf. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA.

## Buzz groups

**Instructions:**

- Divide the class into small groups.
- Assign students a specific problem to solve or a question to address. Allot a set amount of time for students to engage in the task; enforce the time limit.
- Ask students to briefly present their findings to the whole class so that you can respond to comments and encourage discussion.

**Example:**

In a communications class for engineers, students receive a technical manual and are asked to re-write different sections to make them accessible to a non-expert audience.

**Variation:**

When students present their findings, challenge groups to contribute only ideas that haven’t yet been mentioned.

## What's the principle?

**Instructions:**

- Provide students with a list of principles used to solve problems in your field.
- Present students with a problem.
- Have students assess what principle to apply in order to solve it.

**Variation:**

Have students generate the list of principles used for problem-solving.

Yee, K. (n.d.). Interactive techniques. Retrieved from https://www.usf.edu/atle/documents/handout-interactive-techniques.pdf. Creative Commons BY-NC-SA.

## Roundtable writing

**Instructions:**

- Divide students into groups of four.
- Communicate a time limit for this activity that will allow all group members an opportunity to participate.
- Display a discussion prompt on the screen or board.
- Ask students to pass around a sheet of paper clockwise on which they write—in short phrases or sentences—their respective responses to the prompt.
- Have students read their responses aloud in their groups so that peers can reflect upon them while the paper moves around the group.
- Conclude with a whole-class discussion of students’ responses.

**Example:**

In a course on scientific principles, this prompt is shown to the class: “Identify important scientific discoveries of the 20th Century in the field of medicine.”

Barkley, E. F., Major, C. H., & Cross, K. P. (2014). Collaborative learning techniques: A handbook for college faculty. (2nd Ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, p. 299.

**Variations:**

- Use fairly simple, straightforward prompts that keep the paper moving around the group.
- Encourage student to respond or build on) the comments of those who have already written on the sheet.
- Use in conjunction with the “muddiest point” strategy: students write down their muddiest point, check those muddiest points that have already been written by others and expand as appropriate. Follow up by facilitating a discussion of the muddiest points.
- One student can assume the role of Scribe. The Scribe writes down each student’s responses on a computer, creating a file that can be saved and emailed to the group participants or the whole class.

## Simulations

A person, system or computer program demonstrates an action, symptom or scenario that illustrates a problem.

**Instructions:**

- Ask students to take the appropriate action or to give a detailed verbal explanation of what they would do to solve the problem or address the situation.
- In a whole-class discussion, debrief students’ responses.

**Examples:**

- Students in a health and safety course practice using a defibrillator with a lifelike mannequin.
- Students in an investment course buy and sell stocks in a trading room simulation, evaluating the success of their portfolio and explaining their rationale for various decisions made.

**Variation:**

Students take turns role playing the appropriate action, symptom or scenario, to which peers then respond.

## Group breakout room discussion and presentation

**Instructions:**

- Pose a question or share a discussion prompt in the chat.
- Provide students with guidelines for discussion (e.g., how long they’ll have to discuss; if roles, such as moderator and note-taker, should be assigned; how/where they should record their discussion).
- Send students to breakout rooms to discuss the question or prompt. Let students know that the instructor and TAs might circulate through breakout rooms.
- When the discussion time has elapsed, close the breakout rooms so that students return to the large group.
- Students from each breakout room group present a synthesis of their discussion to the class.

**Variations**:

- Students debrief in larger groups, still in breakout rooms.
- Students take notes on their discussion in a collaborative document (e.g., OneDrive) for sharing with peers in myCourses.
- Students share a synthesis of their discussion (e.g., two key take-aways) in the chat or orally.

(Variation from instructor responses to McGill’s March 2021 Remote Teaching Survey)