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Small Group, In Class Problem Solving Exercises

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1997 Annual Conference


Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Publication Date

June 15, 1997

Start Date

June 15, 1997

End Date

June 18, 1997



Page Count


Page Numbers

2.363.1 - 2.363.4



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Steven P.K. Sternberg

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2513

Small Group, In-Class Problem Solving Exercises.

Steven P.K. Sternberg University of North Dakota

Introduction This paper discusses an informal group cooperative learning exercise. The technique has been used in two chemical engineering classes, 1) mass transfer and equilibrium staged separations (junior level) and 2) chemical kinetics and reactor design (senior level). The exercises are designed to allow students to simultaneously practice their technical and communication skills. The technique uses informal cooperative group learning to augment traditional lecture material. Group learning helps the students by allowing them to observe how others solve problems, to question each other about problem solution techniques, and by allowing them to take on a leadership role in a non-stressful situation. Finally, the role playing aspect of the exercise allows multidisciplinary teamwork to be modeled in the classroom.

Time for this exercise is made by reducing the lecture time spent on working example problems at the board. This trade off appears beneficial, as students have an opportunity to be active learners with the material as opposed to passively watching a problem solved. It has been shown that active learning increases attention and motivation [Wankat and Oreovicz, 1993]. An additional benefit to the students comes from the small group interactions with their peers and with the professor.


This activity is a modified form of the Whimbey-Lochhead pair method (Whimbey and Lochhead, 1982; Lochhead and Whimbey, 1987). The Whimbey-Lochhead method divides the class into pairs, one person is designated the problem solver, the other person is the recorder. The problem solver does the entire solution method while the recorder provides encouragement, but not direction. The recorder takes notes on what the problem solver is doing. The purpose is to allow students to observe how other students solve problems, which can help them understand their own way of problem solving, and perhaps improve their own skills.

The problem solving exercise used in these classes is similar, but also includes opportunity to practice group problem solving and multidisciplinary group communication. Implementation involves forming the class into small groups (a size of three is ideal, two is acceptable), and giving each group member a separate role. This activity occurs approximately ten times during

Sternberg, S. P. (1997, June), Small Group, In Class Problem Solving Exercises Paper presented at 1997 Annual Conference, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 10.18260/1-2--6785

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