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November 19, 2007
Your students can engage in active problem-solving even before they master theories or equations. 'Teaching backwards' is a worthwhile technique to introduce them to complex and realistic problems. There is a broad range of inductive teaching methods available to you. They include:
Inquiry- (or Problem-) based learning: Have your class do a student-driven, inquiry-based learning project. Your role is to act primarily as a coach, guide, or facilitator helping the students arrive at the true questions surrounding a topic. When students choose the questions, they are motivated to learn and they develop a sense of ownership in their learning. Project-based learning: Have your students work in teams to explore real-world problems and then have them create presentations to share what they have learned. This approach results in deeper subject matter knowledge, better self-direction, and improved research and problem-solving skills. Case-based learning: Have your students discuss specific situations, typically real-world examples. Examples should be recent, telling a story with a conflict requiring a forced decision. Have students justify their reasoning for arriving at a particular decision or course of action. Just-in-time learning: If available, leverage classroom technology through Web-based tutorials, interactive CD-ROMs, or other tools that give students just the information they need to solve problems, perform specific tasks, or quickly update their skills.
What these methods have in common is that you present your students with a challenge and they then learn what they need to know to address the challenge. The methods differ in nature and scope and in the amount of guidance you give students as they attempt to complete their tasks. (Adapted from James Trevelyan, University of Western Australia, Richard M. Felder, North Carolina State University, and Michael Prince, Bucknell University. Related materials are available online at http://www.asee.org/publications/jee/)