Problem solving strategies — why aren’t these taught in schools?

A few days ago i was back to solving some basic math (trigonometry and geometry) with a cousin of mine as she was preparing for her crucial school exams.

i somehow managed to solve the problems as i remembered the techniques (read formulas, theorems) i had used over 10-15 years ago.

However, what struck me was this instance — as i demonstrated a mostly-arithmetic solution to one of the problems that appeared primarily a geometry one, my cousin asked “are we allowed to use that technique?

My answer was obviously “why not?”. At the same time, i instantly remembered that at that stage of my learning, i too used to have such a question. Just that the same question appeared sort of alien to my system of thinking at this stage.

So, why do we have such a question in the first place?

1. We need to be perfectionists in problem-solving so as to solve any random problem given to us during the examinations.

2. Upon knowing the solution, in retrospect, we honestly figure out that we too could have solved the problem as we had the intellect, but we did not know the rules of the game!

High-school Math and science textbooks are full of formulas, examples and exercise questions. But where are the basic problem-solving strategies covered? Here, i mean the problem-solving strategies the human mind uses and therefore, what i’m referring to falls purely into Cognitive science. Why not introduce school kids to the basic ways their minds can work on to explore problem-solving and to make decisions along which strategies fit the given problem and which ones are the shortest to solve the problem?

In short, how does the human brain work while evaluating problems across domains/areas?

i have been through situations in my school days when i was equipped with all the formulas and theorems and sometimes ended up thinking “No i can’t solve that one. It’s too tough”. Maybe, the real problem was that i could not figure out a strategy to solve the problem. And strategies are few and finite in number, are something that stand good in all fields of problem solving and can form a good part of life-long learning.

So, schools must seriously consider introducing problem-solving strategies in plain words as part of the foundation curriculum taught to young students. After all, we all are equipped with a good mind, just that most of us are not aware of how to harness it’s true power!


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