Activity planning: Solving the problem of problem solving!

Deciding on activities to demonstrate the skill of problem solving can be the trickiest of tasks; it is the most common unit to go wrong when preparing for delivery. ASDAN qualifications include several that require young people to demonstrate solving a problem: Employability (Tackling problems), Award of Personal Effectiveness (Dealing with Problems in daily life), Certificate of Personal Effectiveness (Introduction to Problem Solving) and Wider Key Skills (Problem Solving).

For the purpose of this blog I shall concentrate on Levels 1 and 2. The advice offered here is my own opinion of how problem solving could be tackled, based on my experience in the classroom. This blog does not cover everything – so it is not a substitute for the Standards with Guidance or a specialised training workshop: training is a mandatory requirement for ASDAN qualifications.

However, here are a few golden rules that could be followed when planning for problem solving skills units.

1. Understand the differences between Level 1 and Level 2

  •  At Level 1 the learner can be given the problem by the assessor but at Level 2 the learner should help to identify the problem. Support may be given at Level 1, whereas at Level 2 the support must be identified by the learner.
  • At Level 1 it would be appropriate to have one aspect to the problem, whereas at Level 2 the problem should have two aspects to it.

2. Choose an appropriate challenge

  • Problems should ideally be solved, or at least create the opportunity to be solved. For example, a problem such as ‘how to get the country out of a recession’ should not be selected. It’s too big and could not, in reality, be solved by a Level 1 or 2 learner!
  • Likewise, choosing a problem with not enough depth (e.g. deciding which top to wear on a non-uniform day) would be equally inappropriate. It does not have the depth to meet the standards.
  • I would recommend that the problem is specific for each learner. In fact, at Level 2 the guidance suggests that the problem cannot be theoretical so for this reason alone it makes sense to personalise the challenge for all learners

3. Personalise the problem-solving activity

  •  This could be achieved within a large-sized group by having a class discussion about the problems they are facing at the moment (try to avoid problems such as bullying or other deep-rooted personal problems). When running this activity, learners will come up with some great ideas that are personal to them. It may be that some learners will need prompting, or an engagement strategy you have planned in advance, to illicit the response that you are looking for. I am always amazed by the ideas that learners come up with – everything from the problem of repeatedly breaking their mobile phone screen to working out how to acquire an up-to-date skateboard. The learners will generate the ideas, which can then be moulded into an appropriate problem-solving challenge for the level they are working at.

4. Provide evidence

  • Advise the learner that their portfolio of evidence should concentrate on demonstrating the problem-solving process. The evidence should show how they have attempted to solve the problem based on their specific choice. Evidence of having solved the problem should be included, where possible. Do not include other superfluous evidence that is not specifically linked to meeting the standards.

Finally, this is an example of a challenge I have used that can be adapted for Level 1 or Level 2. This could be used as a starting point for creating the challenge. Note how the Level 1 problem has one aspect and the Level 2 problem has two aspects to it, as mentioned previously.

  • Level 1 example
    My task is to create a family meal but the problem is I only have a limited budget.
  • Level 2 example
    As above, but with the addition of…. and one member of my family is a vegetarian.

Alongside this blog please take advantage of the CoPE Level 1 Problem Solving Approved Problems and CoPE Level 2 Problem Solving Suggested Problems documents which can be downloaded from the members area of the ASDAN website.

Author: Gareth Lewis, Former ASDAN National Development Co-ordinator


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