Interrelated Processes: Problem-solving, Critical Thinking and Creative Thinking

Do you think that problem solving, critical thinking, and creative thinking are synonymous?

In order to solve problems effectively and efficiently, you need to use creative thinking and critical thinking.  Jonassen (2000) created a typology of problem solving.  He identified 11 types of problems: logical problems, algorithms, story problems, rule using problems, decision-making, trouble-shooting, diagnoses solution, strategic performance, case analysis, designs, and dilemmas.  He described each type of problem’s resolution process.  For example, if a problem presents limited variables that can be controlled through manipulation, then an analyst would know that they have a logical problem by referring to Jonassen’s typology chart.  Logical problems are “discovered” in Jonassen’s description of its structuredness, where discovered refers to solutions drawn from logic.  Determining the logic model is a type of critical thinking process.  Problem solving depends on the type of problem and its structuredness, context, inputs, abstractness, and activities (Jonassen, 2004).  Therefore, one should critically analyze the type of problem and its structuredness.

The overarching strategy for problem analysis involves the steadfast engagement of critical thinking processes.  Using a systematic process assists you with adequately thinking though the complexity and multifarious components of problem solving.  Some instructional design approaches ask questions in a stepwise process to analyze problems.  For example, Harless’ (1974) first question in the process of front-end analysis (FEA) asks: “Do we have a problem?”  Learners must use critical thinking to avoid making assumptions about a situation.  Is it a problem or an opportunity?  Dick, Carey, and Carey (2009) suggested that novice instructional designers develop their critical thinking skills to become effective performance analysts.  They urged analysts to be open-minded and view problems from multiple perspectives.  Critical thinking processes include synthesis of a problem statement, FEA, triangulation of data collection, root cause analysis, active listening, system-wide checks and balances, and reflective thinking.  Thinking critically helps you avoid various FEA pitfalls such as Groupthink.

Addressing a problem strategically takes some creative thinking.  For example, there are timesaving strategies and models for problem analysis such as Jonassen’s idea of keeping a fault database.  When I read about this, I thought of how simple, yet, creative this strategy was.  Have you heard of Toyoda’s Why Tree? It’s a creative and simple technique for getting to the root cause of a problem.  He first used the method in the Toyota manufacturing process in 1958.  It consists of five why-questions that represent deeper levels of understanding the problem.  For each answer, you ask why until you uncover the true root cause.  Responses are mapped out according to different leads/reasons.  There are three benefits to using this process.  First, the different branches/reasons that stem from a problem statement can lead to more than one root cause and various interventions.  Second, it creates a mental map for synthesis of a presenting problem.  Third, it aids novice analysts in digging deeper to uncover the real root causes and avoid superficial conclusions.  This creative process utilizes deductive reasoning, which is a type of critical thinking.  Therefore, critical thinking, creative thinking, and problem solving are interrelated processes but not interchangeable terms.

Why I Think Non-violent Video Games Are a Valuable Learning Environment

Students wearing decorated boxes on their heads and hip to  look like characters from the Minecraft video game
Students in Minecraft Costumes at FIRST Robotics Competition

Gee’s (2007) description of semiotic domains reminds me of what my language peers refer to as multiple literacies; that’s the literacy required to perform a task beyond reading, writing, and arithmetic.  Semiotic domain refers to the ability to detect the signs, symbols, merit, value, and language of a particular activity in order to function properly within it. For example, children who play video games are learning the semiotic domain of that particular game environment.  If they’re playing Minecraft, then they’ll learn to appreciate their physical surroundings, system alerts, personal alliances, and any help section embedded within the game.  In essence, the game’s affordances, and their role within it, become the semiotic domain that must be learned in order for the learner to be successful.

I don’t think that children should play violent video games for these same reasons.  Even though the Supreme Court declared no age-limit to graphically violent video games in 2011 (due to the lack of evidence in inciting violence among young players), I believe the semiotic domain of those violent actions become imprinted on the child.  Due to the potentially harmful activity, scientists cannot properly study this phenomenon.

Gee stated that video gaming offers important semiotic domains which include active problem-solving, critical thinking, and unique language functions (“design grammar”) in-world as an avatar and in real life as a gamer playing the game.  Additionally, the learner discovers how they would react in new situations; they can replay the situation to manipulate outcomes.  In this way, the learner is able to make corrective actions on their own or through resets by termination. We seldom get the opportunity to manipulate our outcomes in real life. These are a few of the reasons why I think that nonviolent gaming is a valuable learning domain.

When I taught preschool at the University of California’s laboratory elementary school, I encountered parents who disliked my use of the series called Rotten Ralph by Jack Gantos. It’s a story about an undisciplined cat that always gets into trouble.  I thought the book would make a nice counter match with the popular Clifford the Big Red Dog series by Norman Bridwell. Clifford causes trouble not because he’s undisciplined but rather because of his large size.  Hence, he was not really ever in trouble for misbehaving.  I liked how Rotten Ralph showed that even if you act badly, your family will still love you and want you around. Children need to know that there’s room for error in their development of knowledge about the world around them.  In a sense, gaming can provide that error-safe environment—a world of resets.

Children should participate fully in semiotic domains to produce virtual objects, create alliances, and develop new meanings.  In Minecraft, they can create Lego-like structures for their alliances (guilds) and learn to survive various physical threats to self and environmental threats to their structure(s). This affords the child the feeling of accomplishment. Children still learn about life and death but not in a graphically violent way. Play is beneficial for humans’ assimilation and accommodation throughout life.  Piaget first posited this in his theory of cognitive development in the 1950s, which stated that play and imitation are essential human strategies.  Nowadays, there’s little time during the school day for play. There is, however,  an emphasis in computer literacy and developing critical thinking.  Perhaps gaming could meet that demand and allow for playtime, too.


Gee, J. P. (2007). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

WebQuest for Creating Critical Thinking Job Aids

Silhouette of head with different objects floating overhead

I created my first academic Webquest to search for the critical thinking processes particular to a student’s field of study.  For example, I give them key words to use like “thinking frames” + “critical thinking” + “reading” + “medicine”.  Once they find 10 different resources, they are to place at least 6 key elements into a job aid to help them read critically.  I provided them with information on the various job aid formats from the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD).

The WebQuest was one of my assignments this past week for my doctoral course in Web-based course design. Actually, I could do it on any topic, but I choose one for a hybrid course I’m creating titled Critical Reading 101.  I already submitted the assignment but find myself going back to tweak it.  Webquests are great, but they have so many little loose pieces of information that you need to tie up in a nice bow in order for it to work.  Plus, there’s the fine line of providing too much help and not enough.  My assignment stated less than 10 hyperlinks; mine only has 6.  

I used Zunal, which allows you to make one freebie Webquest.  There’s something wrong with their PDF maker, as it publishes the document with errors and without the hyperlinks.  Nevertheless, it’s a great site to host your Webquest or find an existing one.  Zunal serves a a job aid for creating a Webquest as it takes you through the introduction, task, process, evaluation, and conclusion.

Here’s my Webquest:

P.S. You can evaluate my WebQuest on the Evaluate WebQuest page.  It even offers a self-evaluation tool that was very helpful.  I still need to add the references to the Teacher Page and Common Core Standards for Grades 11-12.

Scoop.IT! The Critical Reader

One of my assignments this week is to create a e-magazine with Scoop.IT!  This social media application allows you to “scoop” interesting information all over the Web and add it to your e-magazine.  Mine is called The Critical Reader.  It’s geared toward first year college students.  I can only post 10 items a day; so on Day 1, I only have a few.

What’s nice about the app is that it searches content for you.  Simply provide key words and then cull through the list they propose.  Make sure you preview all the content before adding it to your e-magazine!

Scoop.IT has been around for a while.  I’ve used it in the past to share resources for a nonprofit.  I also follow several of my colleagues Scoop.IT accounts on e-learning, virtual worlds, etc. This is a great way to learn about a content area, too.  Check out mine on critical reading:


Your blogger,

Sandra Rogers

Ideas for Teaching Problem-Solving, Critical Thinking and Reasoning

Note: Last semester, I took a graduate school course on advanced theories of learning.  One of our tasks was to apply the information we learned to describe how we might develop a curriculum for teaching problem-solving, critical thinking, and reasoning.  What follows are my musings on the topic.

If I were to teach problem solving, critical thinking, and reasoning, I’d embed it into the content already being taught (e.g., math or science class). The selection of instructional strategies would depend upon the nature of the subject matter, as different content requires different ways of thinking. Bruning, Schraw, and Norby (2011) refer to this as thinking frames such as how one would think about scientific inquiry and the use of research methods.

PROBLEM SOLVING. I’d determine the thinking frame that corresponds with the content. Possibilities include scientific inquiry methods for science, engineering method of systems approach for information technology and machinery, or the use of cause and effect when writing analytical essays.  As for instructional strategies, I’d use Dewey’s 5-step problem-solving model, which solves different types of problems.  I’d consider various instructional models: team-based learning, problem-based learning, and tools for discovering the root cause of a problem (e.g., Ishikawa’s Fishbone Diagram and Toyoda’s Why-Tree).  Bruning et al., encourage educators to teach how to evaluate solutions, products, and processes.  They found that most of the time when an improvement has been made from problem solving it is because there was some type of evaluation or reflection of it.  The means-ends analysis could help learners evaluate each step in the process of problem solving.   Here are some options for problem-solving formats: Web quests, gaming, report writing, brainstorming, natural frequency formatted problems (Gigerenzer, 2002), worked problems for case studies, and real world problems.

CRITICAL THINKING. I’d include information on functional fixedness and divergent and creative thinking.  Functional fixedness is the inability to view common objects in a new way, which inhibits critical thinking about things.  Divergent and creative thinking are skills that can be taught to students, so that they think outside the box.  Second, it’d be important to include information about groupthink (conforming to group consensus instead of individual concerns), overgeneralizations, and prejudice when dealing with people and ideas.  I suggest the following instructional strategies to teach critical thinking: advance organizers, imagery, concept maps, Frames Type 2(there’s a rule involved with the matrix), jigsaw group work, reciprocal teaching, and metacognitive strategies (e.g. self-regulation of understanding).  Appropriate formats include debates, HyperInquiry, mock trails, writing, simulations, gaming, cooperative group discussions, journals, think-alouds, case studies, and apps that teach critical thinking.

REASONING. I’d create measurable objectives that address verbal and written reasoning skills on the topic, or mathematical reasoning if warranted.  I’d include logic models and frames to analyze and evaluate.  In my opinion, educators should explicitly teach how to make inferences (inductive and deductive reasoning). Inductive reasoning is a bottom-up approach to exploratory research, while deductive reasoning is a top-down approach to comparative research.  I’d include the Bayesian model (a logic model), so that students could understand probability errors and other probability theories.  I suggest the following instructional strategies to teach reasoning: metaphors, analogies, Venn Diagrams, case studies, cognitive apprenticeships, and metacognitive strategies.  Appropriate formats include persuasive essays, debates, HyperInquiry, mock trails (persuasive arguments), simulations, and gaming.


Your blogger,

Sandra Rogers

Process Map for Reading and Remembering Information

Comprehension, Critical Thinking, Vocabulary and Reading Rate
I used this map to explain to my students the content to be covered in our class.