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Problem Solving Strategies

Solving a problem means...
Finding a way out of a difficult situation,
Finding a path around an obstacle,
Reaching a goal that was not easily achievable.

How to solve it

Independent learning requires structured working methods and thinking.

  • Orientation phase:
    What is it about? Search for the given data and for the data to be found; if required, structure and illustrate.
  • Creative processing phase:
    Compiling the data that may be missing. Take the similar assignments into account. Identify the central theme and prepare strategies. Develop a solution idea. Using heuristic strategies and aids (see below) can simplify and accelerate the time required to search for a solution.
  • Actual solution phase:
    Implementing the solution idea, finding the results.
  • Evaluation phase:
    Re-assessing the solution process and the solution. What are the new findings derived from the task? Was the strategy known? Other solutions?
  • Extension and cross-linking phase:
    Cross-linking with existing knowledge and known tasks. Generalisations, variations of an assignment.

Heuristics - art of problem solving

One can learn and teach how to solve a problem.
Click here for more information on heuristic aids, strategies and principles >>


Polya, G. How to solve it. (1957) Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Co., Inc.

On Wikipedia, one can find detailed information and an extensive list of references.

Material from Tom Reardon's Home Page:

  1. Teaching Problem Solving Strategies:
    A 16-page document that has an explanation of George Polya's 4-step method. It also highlights 12 different problem solving strategies and supplies an in-class example of each with a complete solution. For each example there is an accompanying exercise that is similar to the example.
  2. A collection of 83 problems for students:
    This 14-page document has the 12 examples and 12 similar exercises and another 71 exercises for a total of 83 problems.
  3. 3. Solutions to the 83 problems :
    This 17-page document has 'hand' solutions to the 83 problems.