Problem Solving Labs

At the University of Minnesota Department of Physics we have cooperative group problem solving in our laboratory sections. In plain English, this means we have groups of students working together to confirm if their solution to a problem is correct. These groups are more than just students sitting together, but are structured learning groups, but this is the subject of another WWW page.

Our labs are not cookbook, verification labs. Rather they use a learning cycle of predict-explore-measure-explain. Our labs did not originally use any computer data acquisition or analysis. This was deliberate. We wanted to create good problem solving labs without simultaneously working to create good computerized labs. Since we now feel that we have "good" problem solving labs, we are spending the next few years computerizing and enhancing our current labs.

The problems in our labs come in two flavors; quantitative and qualitative. The quantitative problems require the students to create a mathematical expression that they feel describes the system to be investigated. The qualitative problems require the students to use their intuition to predict how the system being investigated behaves. The qualitative problems are called exploratory problems in our lab manuals.

Frequently Asked Questions about our problem-solving labs.

  1. What is a problem-solving lab?
  2. What is the grading policy?:
  3. What goals are adressed by these labs?:
  4. Why this style of lab?
  5. How can I make my students like and value the labs?
  6. Why have students work in groups?
  7. Why are there so many problems in each lab?
  8. Why don't the lab instructions give the necessary theory?
  9. What is the reason for giving minimal laboratory instructions?
  10. Why should the students write up lab problems?
  11. What is the function of the pre-lab computer check out?
  12. Why have team meetings?
  13. How do I teach a Problem-solving Lab?