Problem Solving Workshops at a distance

Problem Solving Command Center

My teaching agenda includes weekly problem solving workshops. The idea is that students should have time to work together on solving some problems. It has taken three different flavors thus far.

  1. Students have a question about the homework problem that is due on Mondays. If someone asks, we will work on the problem in small groups and then come back together.
  2. Students all work on a problem that illustrates something that I want to emphasize. This is good practice when I want students to have a common starting point for more complex problems or when I want to emphasize different approaches to solving a single problem.
  3. Students are in groups and each group is assigned a different problem. This works well when they are not struggling with the problems, and I want them to have the opportunity to see lots of different problems.

So how to make this work at a distance?

First, I use Google Jamboard, because I can set up a separate board for each group before class, with a unique url. In the jamboard, I include the problem that I want them to work on, either as a link, or a picture, or today I used a sticky note. One of the things that I have to remember is to set the sharing options so that anyone with the link can edit (otherwise no one can write on the jamboard).

Once I have set up the jamboards, I find it important to keep a google doc that has the links for each group and the group number, so I can quickly share these.

In Zoom, I have people join breakout rooms (3-4 per room). Then I cycle through the rooms and using the chat function assign each room a problem (that is why having the links handy is useful).

Today, I managed to put all four jamboards on my extra monitor, so I could keep track of how groups were making progress. It was so cool!🎉👏👍 I felt like I was in some sort of problem solving command center. I was able to see groups making progress, I didn’t have to move from Zoom breakout rooms to pose questions (in one group I asked a question by adding a sticky note), and then I noticed another group didn’t seem to be making much progress so I joined that breakout room and was able to help out a bit.

I love having students work problems out together because I think it does a ton of good. This isn’t quite that, but I’ll take small victories💥!

Eric Brewe
Professor of Physics and Science Education

Physics Education Researcher