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Best Teaching Practices

Real-life Situations and Problem Solving

Research Findings

Research support for the use of real-life situations (or simulations of these) in classroom instruction continues to increase as the technologies for bringing real-life situations into the classroom become more available to teachers. The leading research group in the United States using anchored instruction to increase students' problem solving skills is located at Vanderbilt University.

Students frequently compartmentalize learning. For example, many students who have studied mathematics are unable to apply it in solving problems in chemistry and physics. Many fail to associate the variable "x" used extensively in algebra problems to letters standing for variable names in physics problems. Even within the science course itself, many students fail to recognize that the topics they are studying apply to real-life situations. One reason proposed for this lack of transfer is that problem solving and learning have not taken place in real-world contexts. The use of videotapes, DVDs and CD-ROMs depicting real-life situations or simulations of these (either alone or in tandem with computers) makes it much more feasible to teach using real-world situations.

DVDs using simulations of real-world problem-solving situations, developed to improve students' mathematics and science problem-solving skills, have been used successfully by middle school students at several different sites. Although results indicate no difference in standardized test achievement, this finding was considered to be positive because time normally spent on conventional instruction was reduced to allow for the use of the problem-solving videodiscs, which did have a positive effect on students' problem-solving skills. Classroom teachers very carefully structured the instruction surrounding the use of the videodiscs, and this appears to be an important factor in the use of technology in the classroom. In addition, children can answer their questions about real-world phenomena by using the Internet to collect data. However the teacher facilitates the children's investigations, the activities should be nested in authentic, real-life problems.

The use of interactive video is also proving to be an important instructional strategy. Guidance in using videodiscs and CD-ROMs is programmed and controlled by a computer that directs students' attention and frequently requires students to make decisions about their own learning. Effective programs, particularly at the secondary and college levels, show that student achievement and attitudes improve with their use, and that in some cases interactive videodiscs are an effective substitute for conventional laboratory experiences such as dissections in biology.


Journal Articles - To access most of these Journal Articles, you must be a student, faculty or staff member at an OhioLINK affiliated institution. Access to OhioLINK may be available to Ohioans through their local, public, or school libraries. Contact OPLIN, INFOhio, or your local library for more information.

Research in Purpose and Value for the Study of Technology in Secondary Schools: A Theory of Authentic Learning
International Journal of Technology and Design Education, Vol. 15, Issue: 1, April 2005. pp. 19 - 32
Hill, Anne Marie; Smith, Howard A.

This paper briefly examines the literature on (a) problem-based learning (PBL), including constructivism and problem solving, and (b) learning in context, including mediation, embodiment, distribution, and situatedness. We use this literature, our previous research [Hill & Smith Journal of Technology Education 9(1), 29–41 (1998)], and some initial findings from our present research as a basis for a theory that we call authentic learning. The Theory of Authentic Learning provides a theoretical framework on which to scaffold purpose and value for the study of technology in secondary school curriculum. Initial results from Year One of our present three-year study contribute to the refinement of our Theory of Authentic Learning. First, we present some relevant literature, then we illustrate the Theory of Authentic Learning, and finally we conclude with some preliminary findings from our present research.

Critical Thinking as a Citizenship Competence: Teaching Strategies
Learning and Instruction, Vol. 14, Issue: 4, August, 2004. pp. 359-379
ten Dam, Geert; Volman, Monique

This article is about enhancing critical thinking as a crucial aspect of the competence citizens need to participate in society. First empirical research into the question which instructional strategies are 'effective' in enhancing critical thinking is reviewed. Characteristics of instruction that are assumed to enhance critical thinking are: paying attention to the development of the epistemological beliefs of students; promoting active learning; a problem-based curriculum; stimulating interaction between students; and learning on the basis of real-life situations. Research has failed to prove the effectiveness of programs especially devised to improve critical thinking (higher-order) skills. In the second part of this article, the various proposals for instructional formats for critical thinking are discussed from a social constructivist point of view. Learning to think critically is conceptualized as the acquisition of the competence to participate critically in the communities and social practices of which a person is a member. If education is to further the critical competence of students, it must provide them with the opportunity at the level of the classroom and the school to observe, imitate and practice critical agency and to reflect upon it. Learning contexts must be chosen which students can make sense of and in which they can develop a feeling of responsibility for the quality of the practice in question.

Using Integrated Electronic Environments for Collaborative Teaching/Learning
Learning and Instruction, Vol. 10, 2001. pp. 1-9
Kirschner, Paul A.

Comparative international reports and evaluation reports or audits on the quality of university studies reflect a concern about the quality of graduates in their plea for more skills-oriented education, more real-life orientation of study, more group work and interdisciplinary collaboration, less emphasis on declarative knowledge, et cetera. This transformation of education requires a new approach to the design, development, and implementation of both curricula and education; a reengineering of the instructional design process. The position of this contribution is that traditional didactic instruction and instructional design models - at least at the level of higher post-secondary education - must be relegated to the past. The future (and even the today) of learning is constructivist design and development of collaborative and cooperative learning situations in powerful integrated electronic environments.

Using a Science/Technology/Society Approach to Prepare Reform-oriented Science Teachers: the Case of a Secondary Science Methods Course.
Issues in Teacher Education, Publication Date: 22-MAR-05
Dass, Pradeep M.

Recent science education reform efforts have focused on science instruction that enhances student understanding of the nature of science, enables them to critically analyze scientific information as well as to apply it in real-life situations, and sets them on a path of life-long learning in science. These aspects of science instruction are evident, for instance, in the goals that underlie the National Science Education Standards (NSES) and in the NSES identification of science and technology, science in personal and social perspective, and history and nature of science as science content standards (National Research Council, 1996, p. 13). In order to prepare teachers who can provide the kind of science instruction envisioned in NSES standards, professional preparation of science teachers must be substantially reformed. Reformed preparation of science teachers is indeed vital for the vision of science teaching reform to be accomplished (Raizen & Michelsohn, 1994).


This article examines the theoretical underpinnings of situated cognition and derives implications for the design of situated learning environments. The conceptual framework centers on four basic issues: the role of context, the role of content, the role of facilitation, and the role of assessment.

Describes problem-based learning (PBL) as a science teaching approach that combines both school and real-world science. Explains how to design an ill-structured problem considering local, state, and national standards; finding and preparing data; implementing PBL in the classroom; and its benefits and student assessment. Includes an example of PBL with a content rubric on water management.

The aim of this study was to determine the effects of problem-based active learning in science education on students' academic achievement and concept learning. In the face of the data collected and the evaluations made in the research, it was determined that the implementation of problem-based active learning model had positively affected students' academic achievement and their attitudes towards the science course. It was also found that the application of problem-based active learning model affects students' conceptual development positively and keeps their misconceptions at the lowest level.