Crystallizing Student Connections to the Problem Solving Pentagon

For a number of years of I have taught a university-level, general education course with the  aim to have students learn researching skills as part of a learning routine and a strategy used across various assignments in the course.  I found the OPS ( pentagon delineating research/problem solving skills to the perfect framework to underpin student’s research skills.  The questions became, “How do I introduce the research process, and this framework, to the students”?  I developed an  activity that most undergraduate students could related to – panning a hike (See OPS Hiking WI Exercise).  Throughout the semester I would link assignments back to the framework to indicate what portion(s) of the pentagon that we were using during any one assignment.  This was an acceptable starting point.  However, students never connected assignment activities to the OPS pentagon or  to their larger education or life experience.  The OPS pentagon was discussed in class.  Students could use the terminology but with rare exception I was not convinced students “got it”.

Over the last week I tried something new.  I added a second exercise asking to students to engage with the framework using the Crysatllizing Connections Observation Worksheet In addition to the hiking exercise I broke the students into 6 groups.  I assigned each of the groups one of the OPS facets to examine.  I began by asking each of the groups to brainstorm examples of their assigned facet.  Over the course of the next few days students were instructed to collect examples of their assigned facet when they were sitting in their courses.  After several days students were re-grouped so that there was a person in each group that represented each one of the six facets of the OPS pentagon.  Individually each of the group members completed the chart as they listed to other group members explain what they had observed relative to their assigned facet.

I asked students what insights they had gained over the past few days from relative to this exercise.  So far the results seem promising with insights such as:

  • the categories of the OPS mix together
  • all professors use elements of the OPS
  • I can process the OPS and use it in my other classes
  • helps teachers sort through learning
  • we use the OPS without realizing it

Do any of you have strategies that you have found work in your classrooms?  I would be interested in hearing about them.  Let me know!


Author: johnwillison

Senior Lecturer, School of Education, University of Adelaide. Director, Bachelor of Teaching (Middle) Acting Associate Head of Research

One thought on “Crystallizing Student Connections to the Problem Solving Pentagon”

  1. That’s fantastic Sylvia- thanks for sharing this.
    It throws up how explicitly that connection needs to be facilitated for students to see it. But if students realise the thinking that they use in their normal lives (hiking) connects to their university study- how empowering for them!
    Just last week I worked with one teacher in introducing what we called the Investigation Brainstorm- a version of the MELT pentagon- to his 2 year 10 science classes in a local school. In the first class, we introduced the Investigation Brainstorm via an exploration of Kitchen Oil fires with the help of some graphic footage on youtube and some of the students own experiences of such a fire. Students then defined independent and dependent variables for determining what factors effect flame height in an oil fire and moved onto experimental design based on an hypothesis, filling in the Investigation Pentagon to do so. Then we moved into connecting this to their Assessable task on Experimental Design on the topic of reaction rates, and they used the Investigation Brainstorm to develop that design.
    In the second class, we introduced the Investigation Brainstorm in the context of their Experimental Design on reaction rates , without any other activity.
    The second class engaged better with the Investigation Brainstorm in the beginning of their experimental design work, but after several sessions, the group with the life context (kitchen oil fire) introduction seemed to use the pentagon for their design in a deeper and more considered way.
    We are yet to find out how students fared in their final report, but given the two classes had the same teacher, it will be interesting to get his considered opinion about the two different approaches.
    We are planning a substantial long-term study of MELT in the Middle years (Year 7 to 10)-hopefully commencing in late 2020 and involving a number of subject areas.


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