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Theories of Problem Solving

What is Problem?
According to Killen (1996), problem can be defined as any situation where some
information is known and other information is needed. t might be something that can gi!es
any doubt situation or something that hard to understand, or difficult task or "uestion, or it
might be any gi!en condition to in!estigate.
What is Problem Solving?
#rom the definition of problem abo!e, it can be said that problem sol!ing is
considered as the process of applying e$isting knowledge to a new or unfamiliar situation in
order to gain new knowledge Killen (1996). t is important for students to reali%e the
knowledge that they ha!e can be applied to the new situation and this will lead them to gain
new knowledge.
&eanwhile, according to &ayer and 'ittrock (())9), problem sol!ing is achie!ing
goals that in!ol!es cogniti!e processing when no solution method is ob!ious. &ayer and
'ittrock (())9) also add some information to their definition that consist of four parts* (1)
problem sol!ing is cogniti!e, it means that, problem sol!ing occurs within the students
cogniti!e system, and their beha!ior, (() problem sol!ing is a process, it means that, problem
sol!ing in!ol!e applying students+ cogniti!e to the new situation to enrich their cogniti!e, (,)
-roblem sol!ing is directed, it means that, problem sol!ing is guided to reach some goals, (.)
problem sol!ing is personal, it means that problem sol!ing depends on the knowledge and the
skill of the students.
Types of Problem Solving
According to &ayer and 'ittrock (())9) problems are categori%ed as ill/defined or
well defined, based on how problem and goal are represented. A problem that ha!ing a clear
single solution and can be sol!ed by an algorithm are termed well defined, for e$ample in
arithmetic problems ,$ 0 ( (sol!e for $) or in crossword pu%%le. A problem usually ha!ing
multiple possible solutions* cannot be sol!ed by an algorithm are termed ill/defined, for
e$ample writing a story.
Cognitive Processes in Problem Solving
According to &ayer and 'ittrock (())6) there are four ma1or cogniti!e processes in problem
1) 3epresenting / in which the problem sol!er constructs a cogniti!e representation of
the problem.
() -lanning / in which the problem sol!er de!ises a plan for sol!ing the problem.
,) 4$ecuting / in which the problem sol!er carries out the plan.
.) 5elf/regulating / in which the problem sol!er e!aluates the effecti!eness of cogniti!e
processing during problem sol!ing and ad1usts accordingly.
Gastalt Theory of Problem Solving
6his theory described by 7uncer (19.8) and 'etheimer (1989) in &ayer and 'ittrock
(())9), where problem sol!ing occurs with a flash of insight. nsight means that when the
students mo!es from state not knowing how to sol!e a problem to knowing how to sol!e
problem. #rom this point the students will find out the way to sol!e the problem. n this
situation, the students probably will build a schema, or !isuali%e the information to sol!e the
problem. 6he nsight also in!ol!e the students to create a new way that makes the problem
easier to sol!e or "uickly sol!e the problem that already knows how to sol!e.
Information Processing Theory of Problem Solving
6his theory described by 9ewl and 5imon (19:() in &ayer and 'ittrock (())9), in
which problem sol!ing is carrying out a series of mental computations. t means that the
problem that represented to the students should carrying a new idea for them to learn.
The Problem should be a Means
-roblem sol!ing as a teaching strategy should be !iewed as the strategy that can enter
e!ery aspect of the curriculum, rather than seeing it as 1ust a topic in the curriculum.
-roblem/based learning should gi!e the students immediate effects on what students learn
and also gi!e long/term effects on the type of problems that the students can sol!e. 'hen
problem sol!ing is used as a teaching strategy, the emphasis should be on the students
learning about the sub1ect, rather than simply learning to sol!e problem. 6his point is
important to be considered because some students may 1ust finding the answer rather than
de!elop an understanding of the principle and concepts inside the problem. 6herefore,
students must learn how to sol!e problems in order to learn about the sub1ect as well as when
they work in small group. 6he choice of the problems also will ha!e a !ery significant impact
on what students can learn about your sub1ect (Killen, 1996).
Advantages of Problem Solving as a Teaching Strategy
According to Killen (1996), when used effecti!ely, problem sol!ing has a number of
ad!antages o!er direct instruction. 6he ad!antages as follows*
1) -roblem sol!ing pro!ides a challenge for students, and they can deri!e great
satisfaction from disco!ering new knowledge for themsel!es.
() -roblem sol!ing engages students acti!ely in learning.
,) -roblem sol!ing helps students to de!elop new knowledge for themsel!es and feel
responsible for their own learning.
.) -roblem sol!ing teaches students that their solutions should be e$plainable and
8) -roblem sol!ing can de!elop students;< critical thinking skills and their ability to adapt
to new learning situations
imitation of !sing Problem Solving as a Teaching Strategy
1) =nless the problems are moti!ating, 5tudents may see them simply as busywork.
() =nless students are interested and belie!e that they can sol!e the problem, they may
be reluctant to try.
,) Appropriate problems take time to de!elop since each problem needs to be carefully
structured to produce specific students learning outcomes.
.) =nless the students understand why they are attempting to sol!e a particular problem,
they may not learn what the teacher want them to learn.