EL Study Guide:
How can educators effectively
integrate authentic problem
solving into the classroom? How
can problem-solving projects be
used to build on, rather than skirt,
content knowledge? What shifts
in practice and expectations do
teachers need to make? Explore
these and other essential questions from this issue in our EL Study
Guide, designed for use in professional learning communities or personal reflection. Go to: www.ascd.
Numbers of Note
Stop Guessing: The 9 Behaviors of
Great Problem Solvers by Nat Greene
(Berrett-Koehler Publishers, April 2017)
Call them sticky problems, Gordian knots,
or just unsolvable, the hardest problems are
those for which a detailed manual or step-by-step problem-solving method doesn’t help. Think of the
leak no plumber can diagnose or the blueprint an architect
just can’t get right using AutoCAD—or even why two
countries won’t stop warring.
Industrial engineer Nat Greene details nine behaviors
great problem solvers use for such “impossible” challenges.
Although many of his anecdotes involve technical problems
(like a loose bolt that makes a machine freeze up), these
practices could work with any academic or life challenge.
Conventional problem-solving approaches fail with
“impossible” problems, Greene says, because they rely
on guessing what’s causing the glitch, then trying many
responses until one works. Much better is “smelling the
problem”—looking closely at the symptoms and rigor-
ously identifying what’s going wrong before you start
acting. Vague problem statements (like “the toilet is leaky”)
don’t help a problem solver know where to start. Precise
statements (“The toilet is leaking water from this area”)
do. To avoid frustration and idle time, educators might do
well to introduce students to these practices for complex
ASCD / WWW.ASCD.ORG
“In the past, many of us tried to protect our students from failure, especially
in math class. As a result, generations of students have learned to give up
when a problem gets hard.” —Cathy L. Seeley, p. 32
Girls and STEM
22% of female 11th grade
students report enrolling in
an advanced science class
(compared with 18.2% of males).
Of students enrolled in
AP Computer Science A,19%
are female and 81% are male.
Only 29% of employees in the U.S. science
and engineering workforce are female
(although women make up 1/2 of the
total U.S. college-educated workforce).
Source: National Science Board. (2016). Science and Engineering Indicators 2016.
Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation.