HOW DOES PROBLEM SOLVING VARY?
WHAT IS A PROBLEM? This book is about learning to solve problems, so ﬁrst I shall describe what a problem is, that is, what is being solved. There are many conceptions of a problem. The word “problem” derives from the Greek problema, meaning obstacle. The word “problem,” as used in this book, refers to a question or issue that is uncertain and so must be examined and solved. Everyday life and work are ﬁlled with uncertain situations for which no resolution is immediately known. What route should I take to work to minimize traﬃc congestion? How can we aﬀord an addition to the school building? How can we accelerate the collection of receivables? What will be the most eﬀective method for marketing our new product to the target group? How can we increase fatigue strength to this material without increasing cost signiﬁcantly? Which medical-insurance program should I select? These are all questions about situations that are currently unknown and therefore need resolution. Those problem situations vary from algorithmic math calculations to vexing and complex social problems, such as mitigating violence in the schools. For me, ﬁnding or solving the problem must have some social, cultural, or intellectual value. That is, someone believes that the problem is worth solving. “Problems become problems when there is a ‘felt need’ or diﬃculty that propels one toward resolution” (Arlin, 1989, p. 230). That is, someone believes that the question is worth answering. If no one perceives a need to answer the question, there is no problem. This latter attribute may eliminate most formal, in-school problems
from the category of real problems because students often do not perceive a need to ﬁnd the unknowns to the types of problems posed in schools. However, because their teachers do perceive such a need, they are normally regarded as problems.