For many students, something very fundamental is missing from the problem solving process. Many of my students simply couldn’t see the “obvious” as it glared at them from the question paper in front of them. Because they missed the simple sign posts that point the way to the solution in a problem solving activity, they quickly became hopelessly lost, and almost all would give up the moment the hopelessness attacked.
It took a while to realize that many of the students who struggled with the challenges of science or mathematics were not tripped up by a lack of knowledge of the subject. They knew the facts – they just didn’t know how to make the facts evolve into a solution to a fact-related problem. There are a number of reasons for this happening, but from my observation, the most common problem is that the students simply missed the “obvious”. It’s not that the students were rebelling against “common sense” just for the sake of rebelling. Most students simply had no idea that they lacked that vital ingredient to successful problem solving, that simple human quality which previous generations called good, old “common sense”. Sadly, it has become apparent that “common sense” is no longer common.
If common sense is missing, is it possible to put it back where it belongs? As we explore the process of learning, we will try to answer this question.