Updated 12/7/04


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Roles of Computer Technology in Problem Solving

Syllabus for a 1-credit (quarter hour system) Fall 2004 course CERN 16344, TED 610. Course meets 4:00 to 5:50 on Tuesdays for the first five weeks of the term, in room 201 Condon. Click here for a calendar for the course. Click here to access the free calendar maker software.

Course Instructor: Dave Moursund.

Office: 124A College of Education

Office Hours: Thursdays 1:00 to 3:30. Also by appointment.

Office Phone: 541-346-3564

Email: moursund@uoregon.edu

Brief Description. This short course includes a solid introduction to problem solving and roles of computers in problem solving. While some people think that "problem solving" means solving math problems, the fact of the matter is that problem solving lies at the core of every academic discipline.

Each discipline can be defined by its unique combination of:

  • The types of problems, tasks, and activities it addresses.
  • Its accumulated accomplishments such as results, achievements, products, performances, scope, power, uses, impact on the societies of the world, and so on.
  • Its history, culture, language (including notation and special vocabulary), and methods of teaching, learning, and assessment.
  • Its tools, methodologies, and types of evidence and arguments used in solving problems, accomplishing tasks, and recording and sharing accumulated results.

Thus, this course is not a math course, although math (and many other disciplines) will be mentioned from time to time. The course includes an introduction to brain science and mind science oriented toward helping you better understand human problem solving versus the aids that can be provided by Information and Communication Technology (ICT) systems. The course is specifically designed for preservice and inservice K-12 teachers. Others interested in the course must have permission of the instructor to enroll. Parents of school-age children may find the course quite useful.

Problem solving is closely linked with critical thinking and higher-order thinking skills. This linkage is discussed in the assigned readings from Moursund's book on problem solving. Here is an additional reference that is not an assigned reading, but is of considerable importance to preservice and inservice teachers.

Pogrow, Stanley (2004). The missing element in reducing the learning gap: Eliminating the "blank stare." TCRecord.com. Accessed 10/7/04: http://www.tcrecord.org/Content.asp?ContentID=11381. (Registration required.)

Pogrow developed the H.O.T.S (Higher-Order Thinking Skills) program many years ago. This recent, relatively short paper, summarizes some of his years of research and practical experience in helping students improve their thinking skills. It also helps to explain why students from lower socioeconomic home situations tend to have so much difficulty in problem solving and higher-order thinking.

Disclaimer: This is a draft version of the Syllabus. Changes are likely to be made before the start of the course and during the course. Changes made during the course will mainly consist of corrections to errors, added information, and answers to questions raised by students.

Class meetings. The class is scheduled for five Tuesday meetings, 4:00 to 5:50, Room 201 Condon, UO Campus. The class meeting dates are September 28, October 5, 12, 19, and 26. Attendance is required.

Course prerequisites. This course is specifically designed for preservice and inservice teachers at the K-12 levels. Others may be admitted with the permission of the instructor. It is assumed that:

  • You have taken a number of education courses designed to provide you with general background knowledge on the theory and practice of teaching. Alternatively, you have gained quite a bit of knowledge about education, kids, and schools through volunteer work and being a parent with kids in school.
  • You know how to use a computer for word processing, desktop publication, email, Web browsing, and Web searching. It is expected that you will submit assignments as attachments to email messages sent to the course instructor. The required reading assignments all come from materials that are on the Web.
  • You are a mature and responsible learner, able to function well at a graduate student level.
  • You are able and willing to commit the time that this course requires. The total amount of time required by this course is about 40 hours. This is based on about 10 hours of class meetings and about three hours of work outside of class for each hour in class.

Participants. There are five different categories of students who might be taking this course.

  • Students enrolled in TED 610 Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age I. The 1-credit course Roles of Computer Technology in Problem Solving constitutes 1/3 of the requirements of that course.
  • Preservice teachers from the Middle School/Secondary School teacher education program at the University of Oregon.
  • Preservice teachers in the Graduate Elementary Teaching (GET) program.
  • Inservice teachers.
  • Miscellaneous other people who are interested in the field of computers and problem solving, and who have the flexibility to fit into a course that is not specifically tailored to fit their needs.

Rules and Regulations. Yes, there are rules and regulations. See Rules and Regulations for details.

Resources and Reading Assignments. Essentially all of the required readings for this course are available free on the Web. If additional readings are required, copies will be provided free in class.

Moursund's book, Brief Introduction to Roles of Computers in Problem Solving, is required reading for the course. Click here to access a PDF version of the book.

Additional assigned readings come from Moursund's book, Brief Introduction to Educational Implications of Artificial Intelligence.

The reading assignments include:

Date and Comment
Before or very soon after Class meeting # 1 Prefix, and Parts 1,2 of Moursund's book on Problem Solving.
Before Class meeting # 2 Appendix A, Moursund's book on Problem Solving.

Chapter 1 of Moursund's book on Artificial Intelligence.

Before Class meeting # 3 Parts 3, 4, 5, 6 of Moursund's book on Problem Solving.
Before Class meeting # 4 Parts 7, 8, 9 of Moursund's book on Problem Solving.
Before Class meeting # 5 Appendix B, Moursund's book on Problem Solving.

Part 10 of Moursund's book on Problem Solving.

Outline of Course Content

Major Content Topics for Class Meeting

Each Content Topic Can Be Thought Of As Defining A Course Objective

  1. Introduction to and overview of the course; requirements and expectations.
  2. Discussion of the idea that problem solving is an important component of each academic discipline, and that ICT is a powerful aid to problem solving in each discipline. Examples of problems in a wide range of disciplines.
  3. Introduction to the general topic of problem solving, critical thinking, and other higher-order cognitive activities. Definition of a formal, clearly defined problem.
  4. Domain-specific and domain-independent knowledge and skill needed in problem solving. Exploration of roles of ICT as an aid to problem solving from domain-specific and domain-independent points of view.
  1. The general idea of learning facts versus learning to think using one's facts. What constitutes "fact?" Here, one aspect is research-based facts, where the research might be library-based or empirical. There are many different kinds of empirical research.
  2. Brain/mind science and problem solving. Theories of intelligence, with an emphasis on: the General factor "g"; the two-factor model of Fluid and Crystallized Intelligence, gF and gC; Howard Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences; and Robert Sternberg's Triarchic Theory.
  3. What topic (B) tells us about how to teach for problem solving.
  4. Problem-solving expertise within a discipline from a point of view of four factors: Piagetian development; general knowledge and skills; discipline-specific knowledge and skills; and "maturity" within the discipline. Maturity includes a lot of factors such as: learning to learn; learning to find and build on the work of others (for example, using the Web and other publications); being able to solve problems within the discipline and problems related to the discipline from other disciplines; understanding the logic of arguments within the discipline, and being able to create and present such arguments; being able to communicate effectively in the discipline; and problem identification, recognition, and clarification; and problem posing.
  5. What topic (D) tells us about teaching for problem solving.
  6. Introduction to Artificial Intelligence. Compare and contrast human and artificial intelligence, and explore implications for teaching and learning problem solving. Perhaps the key idea is to think carefully about curriculum that is designed to teach students to do what computers can do quite well. If a computer can solve a particular category of problem, what do you want students to learn about how to solve this category of problem?
  1. Discussion of and feedback on first assignment. Special focus on problems associated with the discipline of reading. More generally, how does one identify "problems" within a discipline, and distinguish between lower-order and higher-order cognition?
  2. Posing clearly defined and cognitively challenging problems, questions, and tasks. Helping students learn to ask higher-order thinking skill questions. Breaking the pattern of teachers mainly asking lower-order questions. Distinguishing between problems that can be solved once and forever, and those that can't. What are characteristics of problems or categories of problems that can be solved once and forever? How does ICT fit into this?
  3. Problem and Task Team: Roles of people, aids to the human brain, and aids to people's physical capabilities in solving problems and accomplishing tasks.
  4. Transfer of Learning. Near and far transfer. Low-road and high-road transfer. Teaching for transfer, and the idea that every instance of teaching problem solving is an opportunity to teach for transfer. Roles of ICT in transfer.
  5. Meaning of Expertise within a specific discipline. Roles of a teacher or coach in helping a student move up an expertise scale. [What roles might ICT play in providing feedback that is helpful in increasing one's expertise in a domain?] Domain specificity versus domain independent knowledge and skill contributing to increased problem-solving expertise. How long does it take to achieve a very high level of expertise in a discipline or a limited part of a domain? Athleticism—a word for "natural talent" in athletics? Nature versus nurture in achieving a given level of expertise within a discipline.
  1. Some Problem-Solving Strategies. Here we will emphasize strategies that tend to transfer across a number of disciplines, and strategies in which ICT makes a significant contribution.
  2. Representations of a Problem. There are advantages and disadvantages to various ways of representing a problem.
  3. Representing Problems Using Computers.
  1. Computer programming.
  2. Summary, general conclusions, what else is there to be learned in this field, and final questions.

Homework Assignments. There are three assignments. The three assignments are related to each other. I suggest that you read all three assignments before starting the first. You will want to use ideas and materials from the first two assignments as you do the third assignment. Turn in assignments by appropriately attaching the completed document in an email sent to me <moursund@uoregon.edu>. Remember that assignments are to be appropriately word processed and desktop published. When submitting via email attachment, please indicate in the body of the email what word processing software you have used.

If you do not know the meaning of "appropriately word processed and desktop published, you are well advised to seek help from someone who does. Very roughly speaking, appropriate desktop publication includes:

  • Use of a Serif font (probably 12 point) for the body of the text. Use of a Sans Serif font for headings.
  • Use of styles that are either provided by the word processor or that you create. (It is important to know how to build a style sheet and to make use of a style sheet.)
  • Use of appropriate headings and subheadings to break your paper into readable and understandable chunks.
  • Use of only one blank space between sentences. It is easy to remove extra blanks. Do a global "serach and replace," searching for two blanks in a row and replacing by a single blank. Note that if you have three blanks in a row, the global search and replace needs to be done twice to correct this.
  • No use of tabs for achieving indents at the start of a line or paragraph. Generally speaking, use of two tabs in a row is following spacing ideas used in typing. A global search and replace can search for two tabs in a row and replace by a single tab. (In Microsoft Word, the two characters ^t stand for a tab when doing a search. Similarly, the two characters ^p stand for a "return" or line feed.
  • Spacing and other aspects of the layout and design that facilitate effective communication and aid the reader. Among other things this means not using a lot of different type faces, not skipping lines between paragraphs, and not using a nonproportional font such as Courier.
  • Generally speaking, use of blank lines to force a page break is very poor desktop publishing. Learn to use a Page Break or a Section Break. Also, learn about keeping lines together. Microsoft Word has this feature available in the Paragraph option of the Format menu.
  • Use of a hanging indent for a document's bibliography. Appropriate indentation for numbered and bulleted lists.
  • Finally, please be aware that many word processors include a built-in style named "Normal" that is automatically used when no style is specified. Thus, as I read through a document and look at the styles being used in various components of the document, I can quickly see if the writer has made use of user-defined styles or a comprehensive list of built-in styles. Use of "Normal" tells me that the user is using the computer like an electric typewriter.

Nowadays, most students in the class are using Microsoft Word for their word processor. This word processor has a built-in set of styles. Much of the task of editing styles or adding styles can be done through the menus available in the Formatting Pallet. However, one can also make use of the Style item in the Format menu.

  1. (Due before the beginning of the second class meeting, October 5.)
    Select an academic discipline and a grade level from the K-12 curriculum. For example, you might pick science at the third grade, or history at the 10th grade. (Most likely you will want to select a discipline that you know fairly well. You will use this discipline and grade level for all three assignments.)

    For that discipline, identify and discuss what students learn about problem solving during the year. What aspects of the curriculum, instruction, and assessment foster growth in problem solving. Be as specific as possible.

    This assignment requires that you focus on a specific discipline and that you have good insight into problem solving within that discipline. A good starting point is to think about the types of problems that people within the discipline have solved and are working to solve. From a problem solving, task accomplishing, critical thinking, higher-order thinking point of view, what distinguishes a novice problem solver in the discipline from a person who has made progress in moving up the expertise scale in the discipline?

    Next, think carefully about what contributions to increasing expertise in problem solving in the discipline are considered to be part of the year's instruction in the discipline and grade level you select. You might want to look at a scope and sequence provided by a school district or a state. How can you tell at the end of the year that students have become better at solving the problems of the discipline than they were at the beginning of the year?

    Notice that there is no mention of computers in this assignment. The focus is on non-computer-related aspects of problem solving, critical thinking, and so on within the discipline. The total paper that you product should be 450 to 600 words in length. Please do not make it longer.

    In both this assignment and assignment # 2 you are encouraged to discuss the ideas with your colleagues in this course and with others. You are encouraged to make use of resources such as the Web, state benchmarks and essential skills, and local benchmarks and essential skills. However, the final document must be your own writing. Please avoid any behaviors that might be construed as plagiarism. When writing papers to be turned in to Dave Moursund, you are strongly encouraged to include a short set of references that are relevant to and supportive of your work.

  2. (Due before the beginning of the fourth class meeting, October 19.)
    This is a follow-up to the first assignment. You should use the same discipline and grade level that you used in the first assignment.

    For that discipline, use introspection and metacognition to make a list of three or four "strategies" that you understand and that you routinely use in thinking about, communicating about, and solving problems within the discipline, Your list must include at least one ICT-based strategies and at least one non-ICT-based strategy. For each of the strategies in your list, write a brief paragraph explaining the meaning of the strategy to you, why this strategy is particularly useful to you, your thoughts on the usefulness of your students developing/learning a similar strategy for themselves, and your thoughts on why the grade level you have selected is a suitable grade level when a student might develop/learn such a strategy. The total paper that you product should be 450 to 600 words in length. Please do not make it longer.

  3. (Due by 5:00 PM on Tuesday November 2.) Use the same grade level and discipline used in the first two assignments. For that discipline and grade level, develop a unit of study on ICT and problem solving that is at least five lessons in length. (Here, I take the word "lesson" to be something that is perhaps 40 to 50 minutes of instruction.) The goal of the unit is to have students gain increased knowledge, skill, and understanding of problem solving and roles of computers in problem solving within the discipline. You want this increase knowledge, skill, and understanding to transfer into the future.

    The unit of study must include both an overview of problem solving appropriate to your student audience and also an introduction to roles of ICT in problem solving suitable to your student audience. One possible approach is to focus on the two ideas: strategies and "maturity." A unit of study might include an introduction to the idea of strategies in problem solving, review some strategies that the students have previously learned about or developed on their own, and cover one or two ICT-based strategies. All of this would be done in a manner designed to increase a student's "maturity" within the discipline.

    A good unit of study is apt to contain:
  • An introduction that provides an overview of key ideas to be taught, why these were selected, why they are appropriate to the intended audience and instructional task, and so on. This includes goals and objectives for the entire unit.
  • Abbreviated daily lesson plans. There is no specific required length for this overall assignment, and there is no specific length or format for a daily lesson plan. However, I am looking for the "guts" of the curriculum content, instructional process, and assessment in each lesson. A half page to a page per lesson will likely suffice.
  • A limited amount of new material that is at an appropriate developmental and maturity level for the students. Many people developing lesson plans make the mistake of expecting that they will cover far more than students can learn and understand in the time available. It is easy to "teach over their heads." In many ways, "less is more." Strive for student understanding, rather than coverage of a lot of material.
  • How you will assess the student learning and progress from the unit of study. This need not be a long discussion. However, it is not adequate to just say something like: "I will observe the students as they are doing the activities in the daily lessons." If you are going to do such an observational approach, what specifically will you be looking for? Can you observe the work or activity of each individual student during a lesson, and tell if the learning you are looking for is occurring or has occurred? [Note added 11/28/04. Think about both formative and summative assessment. During and at the end of a lesson, you will gather some formative assessment information. How will you do this? What will you learn from this information?. At the end of the unit, you will likely do some sort of summative assessment activity. What will you do, and how will you analyze the results? Thus, your overall report to be turned in is apt to contain a short statement about assessment as part of each lesson, and then a statement about assessment at the end of the entire unit.]
  • Copies of reading material and handouts and for the students, if any.
  • References.

Your unit of study needs to contain sufficient detail so that I can readily understand it. One way to think about this is, could another student in our class understand and teach the unit? There are no specific requirements on the length of this document. Grading will be based on quality, and will take into consideration the bulleted items listed above.

Grading. Grading in this course is based on a 100 point scale with possible points given in the table below. Each assignment is penalized 10% of its total possible points for each day (or fraction there of) that the assignment is turned in late.

Attendance & participation @ 7 points per class meeting. Three points is awarded for being present during the class meeting. Four points is awarded based on a very short quiz that will be given some time during each of the first four class meetings. Four points is awarded for completing the course evaluation form at the end of the final class meeting. 35
Assignment # 1, due before the beginning of the second class meeting, October 5. 15
Assignment # 2, due before the beginning of the fourth class meeting, October 19. 15
Assignment # 3, due by 5:00 PM on Tuesday November 2. 35
Total Possible Points ----->

Percentage Letter Grade
78% or above P (Pass) on a P/N Basis
78% to (but not including) 80% B minus
80% to (but not including) 88% B
88% to (but not including) 90% B plus
90 % to (but not including) 92% A minus
92% to 97% A
Above 97% A plus

Frequently Asked and/or Very Relevant Questions Raised by Class Participants

  1. Can I have permission to take the course if I am going to miss the first class meeting.
    Answer: No. The first class meeting in 1/3 of the entire course/workshop and provides the foundation for the remainder of the course/workshop.
  2. You talk a lot about increasing expertise within a discipline and as a teacher. Can you summarize some of your key ideas?
    Answer: If you watch a young child develop physically and mentally, you will see increasing physical and mental expertise. Crawling, walking, running… a natural progression along a physical movement expertise scale. Babbling, saying a few words, talking in phrases and whole sentences, carrying on an intelligent conversation …steps along a scale of increasing verbal communication expertise.

    Within any discipline one can think of an expertise scale moving from a very beginner (a novice) toward a personally useful level of knowledge and skill, and then moving toward ever increasing levels of knowledge and skills. We use the term "world class" to talk about a person who has achieved a very high level of knowledge and skill. As you help your students learn a particular discipline, think about what you are doing to move the student toward increasing expertise. Increasing expertise tends to be a mixture of gaining increased lower-order knowledge and skills, gaining increased higher-order knowledge and skills, and gaining experience in using the lower-order and the higher-order knowledge and skills. As a teacher, you want to create a learning environment that fosters this growth.

    Finally, think about your own growth toward increasing expertise as a teacher. Teaching is a very complex and challenging profession. There is a huge and continually growing Craft and Science of Teaching and Learning. Some of this you learn as a preservice teacher. However, much is learned on the job, especially during the first half-dozen years. Because of the complexity of the field, as well as the steadily growing Craft and Science of Teaching and Learning, the challenge to be a good teacher is never ending.