PD Discussion Topic: Real World Problem Solving


Take some time and think of possible problem solving situations relevant to your students.

Then share your ideas on the forum.


This really is the crux of the problem, not just in CS but in all areas. How do we make the problem/task/information relevant? Algebra tries to do this by using word problems giving examples of how students might use their algebra skills to solve problems, but the problems seem contrived and spark little interest in students. Social studies could spark interests if the students truly see themselves as being affected. Discussing immigration laws with a group of immigrants is an easy example.

When I introduced random number generators in my programming class I tried to make this relevant by comparing a non probabilistic video game like Pacman to a very probabilistic game like Rogue (OK, old game example that none of the kids had heard of, but I was able to find a copy and demo the game).


As I’ve taught before, in my other CS classes, i.e. CompTIA, Web Design, etc. I bring up a real world problem. Usually I will start with the classic “Car won’t start”. So, starting at the beginning…You turn the key, in the ignition. What happens? Based on the answer, like a flowchart, where does that lead you? Then going from there, what are the possibilities? Step-by-step, tracking every possibility. Research, track, find the answer.


In our minds I think we use the flowchart process mentioned quite often. My grade isn’t quite as high as I would like it to be, what are my major assessments, can I retake those, have I missed any smaller assessments, etc.


I think it’s important to come up with problems that are relevant to students - relate to things they are interested in and that everyone would have equal footing with. Connecting to wifi, charging a cell phone, etc.


Password and website log is a project that I give. they are to write down every website they have every created a user name and then had to figure out a way to keep track of the websites, user names and passwords that best works for themselves.


I talk about troubleshooting equipment with my students. I will purposely disconnect a monitor or loosely connect it so that it may or may not work (same with a mouse or keyboard) so that the student has an opportunity to solve the problem. I know they are going to expect me to solve it but I tell them that “this is a great lesson in problem-solving and troubleshooting… enjoy the process now and the success after you figure out what is causing your computer/monitor to not function properly.”


I teach Mathematics also, so this is a major concern. Finding something relevant is the key in both of these areas, requires really knowing your students.


This is a tough one…with students…this can change from day to day; therefore it is crucial to know your current students and the problems they deal with.


In this unit I noticed the first problem to give to students involved garbage collection. Well I explained to my students this is one of the few community problems that plague a lot of other places the State of Nevada actually does well. So for them to start thinking about their Final Project for Unit 2 I gave them this list as a starting point:
Examples specific to Las Vegas valley:
Traffic Lights
Zero Fatalities
Water Shortage in Lake Mead (Our Water District actually does conservation extremely well based on efficiency and cost but Lake Mead that draws in tourists is still a problem. Plus Lake Mead is voted "Most Likely to Stumble Over a Dead Body;) )
Yucca Mountain
Over Population (schools, building, etc)
Get Out the Vote (North NV runs NV but So NV brings in 90% of the money to support gov and programs.)
Others you can think of??? (Then the option of finding and solving their own community based problem.)


I taught Geometry for 9 years prior to moving over to computer science so trying to relate the material to how they would use it in real life is a struggle I am familiar with. For geometry I would always tell them proofs are here to help you to learn to think logically, to follow steps, to create an algorithm. It’s really not that much different in computer science except that you can create computer programs that help solve problems that span a variety of topics. So far, I have really enjoyed the challenges within the curriculum in the problem solving unit. I will likely revisit some of these problems when we get to the programming unit.


Having students participate in problem solving activities where they attempt to solve a problem in their community helps students understand the steps to problem solving.


I use the attendance situation with my students. I ask them what impact does not being in attendance/being in attendance to class have on their future being. Most students relate it to getting a job. This get this thinking and then they are able to come up with other real world situations that we can explore and bring out the fact that they all have growth mindsets.


Splitting up of some kind of item between multiple people. How to determine the best fair share.


Students often ask, “Why do I need to know this?” or “When will i need to use this in the real world?” When they do, I illustrate the real world applications of the things I’m teaching. This is actually fairly easy as I teach vocational classes. Though I have used math and percentages to convince my future NBA superstars that maybe spending more time on math would be to their advantage.


I use real world examples all the time in my hands on classes(shop). We have several projects that are focused on alternative energy(solar, wind, etc) so I will often start the project as if I am a representative from an oil company or an auto company (I teach in a suburb of Detroit) and ask the kids to help me create a new form of transportation or innovate around an existing technology.
Since we are an IB school we have to tie in real world situations through our global contexts, so I have been mapping these for a while and try to vary them every unit or year.


I think given your relationship with your students, it may be interesting to ask your students about problems or issues that their communities are facing, discussing how these issues can be quantified and problematized, and then allowing students to brainstorm strategies about how to take action to address these problems. Students can have the optional choice to take action if they feel comfortable employing their strategy for change which would really give students a sense of ownership and agency.


Some of the problems that my students face are: how to solve a math problem, which play to use in a game, how to prioritize their time with all that they have in their busy schedule.


The situations that students have been thinking of throughout of discussion tend to revolve around social situations. I could see students carrying over these strategies to other classes since it is such an interdisciplinary unit (history, math etc).


Creating projects and trouble shooting are places where students would use problem solving. Also, creating budgets and learning money management. Doing logic puzzles can help them practice problem solving and working in a team.